Your Writing Mentor Judith Heneghan
Personal mentoring from an ex-commissioning editor and MA tutor
Judith began her career as a commissioning editor of nonfiction for Hodder & Stoughton. Her writing credits include middle-grade historical novel Stonecipher (Andersen Press) and over 60 nonfiction books for young people, including Love Your Hamster, winner of the SLA Children’s Choice award. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Winchester and led the MA programme there for ten years. Her contemporary adult novel Snegurochka (Salt) was shortlisted for the Edward Stanford ‘Fiction with a Sense of Place’ award.
Specialises in: Contemporary fiction, historical fiction, fiction for young people aged 7+, nonfiction and educational books for all ages.
Judith provides tuition for our Mentoring Service.
Why we love Judith
Judith is an experienced writer, editor and mentor who has an impressive background in both writing and publishing – especially on the non-fiction side.
Judith’s fresh approach to mentoring is suitable for writers at all stages of their career. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with someone who knows writing from the perspective of an author, publisher and MA tutor.
What Judith says about Mentoring
Every writer has needs that are specific to their project, their circumstances and their experience, so I view the mentoring process as a conversation, primarily. The first stage is to discover the writer’s intentions. I’ll ask questions to establish how they view genre, and gauge awareness of craft issues. I’ll ask what they like to read and discuss their approach to their own writing practice, along with any specific concerns they may have, before agreeing a way forward that supports them and helps them achieve their writing goals.
If a client is relatively new to the process and in need of a confidence boost, I encourage them to free-write using prompts/stimuli to investigate character, setting and narrative voice. This often reveals new ideas but it also puts words on the page without the pressure of ‘final work’. If they are keen to push forward then I ask to see a draft first chapter and discuss a general narrative arc with a focus on the main character’s aims, motivations and desires as well as tone and end point, or destination. For me, a plan is useful only if/when it yields results for the writer, so a vague idea is fine at the start; plans often change as a story evolves. However, identifying a sense of purpose or through-line – especially if this is one of emotion or mood – is helpful in the early stages, and can provide important clues about the writer’s voice.
Structure will, at some point in a first draft, become paramount. More often than not it requires an in-depth session of its own, and if the client is writing nonfiction then this will happen early on in the mentoring process.
Then there are technical issues. These may concern dialogue, or using scenes to best effect, or narrative voice or tense. Time is often a tricky area for less experienced writers: how to use flashback, or jump cut; how to increase pace or focus in slow motion. Is the client telling, or showing, and when/why does this matter? My approach to this type of issue is to highlight a particular problem area in the draft, then provide extracts to read (even ‘writing in the style of…’) along with short, focused exercises to practise technique. The results, again, can be a significant morale booster.
The objective, always, is to support the writer on their way to a complete and viable first draft – one that the client can summarise, propose or pitch effectively, possibly with a tagline if they are writing children’s or commercial fiction or nonfiction.
More experienced writers may seek help moving half a draft, or a messy first draft, into something more coherent. This requires more of an overview – the ‘big picture’ in structural and thematic terms as well as input at the level of, for example, chapter breaks, or a secondary character’s narrative arc, or sharpening the narrative voice or developing more subplot. Sometimes, of course, it is about taking things out.
At all times, my job as mentor is to listen, encourage, challenge (gently) and help the client make substantive progress, as they define it. As such it is the most rewarding work I know.
Start your mentoring today
Get expert one-to-one advice from Judith Heneghan as you write and edit your manuscript.