We had talks from other brilliant writers such as James Kelman (who won the Booker that year), Pat Barker, Margaret Drabble and Barry Hines. For the first time in my life I discussed writing with visiting agents and those in the publishing world. Jane Rogers read part of my novel, told me it was fine in the first person (I’d been wondering whether to rewrite it in third person, anxious about a spurious comment someone had made to me that third person novels have more ‘authority’), and encouraged me to complete it. I did, and the novel became my first novel, Trick of the Light, published by Sceptre the year I graduated.
These days if you want to find an MA in writing in Britain there are over 300 of them. There are also excellent writing courses and I and other mentors on our team teach on many of them. But if you want, as I did, an established, published, acclaimed novelist to read your whole novel and give you detailed input on it, you may still struggle to find it.
Most writing courses work on the peer review, or workshop model. Rather than individual time with the tutor they offer you group discussion; the input of the other course members. You spend a great deal of time reading other student’s work. You wait your turn to have yours commented on. If you have a good group and other talented participants in it, you may get some very useful feedback. You may not. And to get an MA in Writing, even one with Distinction, you usually have to write only a good 30 thousand word submission. This leaves many writers with the most challenging task still un-tackled – how to write and complete their first draft.
So, what does Gold Dust offer first time novelists, short-story writers and biographers?
If you are selected, Gold Dust offers sixteen hours from a Gold Dust mentor. This usually takes the form of eight meetings spread over eight months to a year, plus eight hours of the mentor reading your work. You will meet with them privately at a café or library (some of our mentors offer online mentoring if that’s not feasible) and they will read your work in progress in between. You can ask questions about publishing and agents and the business-side of being a writer or you can concentrate wholly on the writing.
You can also read the books your mentor writes and know exactly who they are – we don’t use any mentors who are not named on the site. All Gold Dust mentors have been nominated for, or won, or judged, major national and international prizes, such as the Orange, the Whitbread, The Booker, The Governor General’s Prize, The Costa, The IMPAC and others. We have crime writers, best-seller writers and thriller writers. The Gold Dust mentors are all named on the website and if you click on the photographs you can read their biographies, their awards and book titles.
Our mentors are not editors or new writers who’ve published one or two novels. So much of a writer’s life is about keeping going, recovering from set-backs or rejection, struggling to find time or money as a self-employed person, facing new challenges. I wanted mentors who’d been through that themselves, and triumphed, so that they would offer encouragement to newer writers going through it for the first time. Relying on such a prestigious group is what makes Gold Dust distinctive. All our mentors are represented by agents of course, and might recommend a new writer to an agent – I leave that up to them. I’m always happy myself to do this, if I believe in a writer’s promise.
The price – £3300 – reflects the calibre of writers mentoring, and the fact that they work individually with you. It is the same hourly rate the writers would be paid to tutor on all the top courses, but of course with Gold Dust they are working one to one, and reading your work too. Gold Dust has had lots of successes so far, despite being small. Several of our new writers have already signed two-book deals; many have signed to agents. For four years in a row, Gold Dust mentees have been on the shortlist for the Tony Lothian Prize for first time biographers and another won a national writing competition, coming first out of 27 thousand entrants. We put un-edited testimonies on the website from ‘graduates’ so that you can get a feel for what we offer.
Not everyone is accepted – it’s competitive. We might be unique in taking this tough view but Gold Dust is for those who are serious, committed and talented. Gold Dust aims to be the ‘gold standard’ among mentoring schemes, and that’s why we’re selective. We don’t promise publication but we do promise to improve your writing and therefore your chances. It’s satisfying to have dreamed up and created the scheme I wanted to find, years ago. I’m able to offer a new generation of writers the expertise of my mentor Jane Rogers, as well as another superb tutor on that course, Lesley Glaister. Oh and my fellow MA student Kathryn Heyman too, who went on to publish five distinguished novels and is now director of the Faber Academy in Australia. I would have paid to have an experienced novelist help me with my novel in 1992 if I had known how to arrange such a thing. And now, with Gold Dust, twenty years later, if you’re any good, you can do exactly that.