My Golden Year by James Nicol

My Golden Year by James Nicol

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 Yep – that’s me, long of limb and curly of hair!

 I was sorting through some old emails the other day and found two from about a year ago, when during an unusual moment of craziness I emailed Imogen Cooper at The Golden Egg Academy.

Through the vagaries of social networking I had stumbled across Imogen and Golden Egg, and had read all about what she was trying to do for people just like me – no, not tall, gorgeous, curly-haired rogues, but writers of wonderful stories for children and young adults.

I was working on my current middle grade novel at the time, but to be honest, had not a clue as to exactly what I was doing with it or where I was going. I was not really sure that what I was writing was not just drivel! I was a bit lost and didn’t really have anyone I could ask for help.

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 The first line of my WIP in Tweet form! #GEAQA

 My creative writing tutor had encouraged me to seek professional help – no, not that sort of help! – and get some editorial advice once I thought the book was ready. Golden Egg seemed to be the right thing, with the added bonus of being run by a team of super, well-respected and knowledgeable people.

Imogen’s two emails, which came back really quickly, were so kind, encouraging and welcoming that I knew at once Golden Egg was the place for me! I decided that once I was ready I was going to submit some work to Golden Egg, even if it was just to get some more feedback, which was actually all I thought would happen.

Over the next couple of months I set about finishing my book and polishing a few chapters to send. I started to follow a few Eggers on Twitter and they were all so funny and scarily talented that I felt a little foolish in hoping to join them. I read with fascination about workshops and one-to-ones, and daydreamed of the time it would be my turn, though knowing deep down it probably wouldn’t be.

In September I sent off my three chapters to Vanessa, fully expecting to get a polite email back saying, thanks for sending through your chapters, they’re OK-ish and here are a few ways you might be able to salvage it…

I marked on my calendar the date I assumed I would hear back and waited … and waited. Every time I opened my email I would hold my breath and nervously scan the inbox to see if there was a reply.

And then, one damp October afternoon, there was.

(Now if you can’t guess which way this is going, my skills as a storyteller are far greater than I ever hoped, and Imogen and co are quite sadistic in asking me to write this post!)

But yes, you guessed it, Vanessa said she liked what she had read, that I wrote well and whilst there were issues to address she felt I would benefit from joining The Golden Egg Academy.

DR VANESSA HARBOUR said I wrote well! The grin on my face was massive and I did a full mad dance routine out of the dining room, down the hall and into the living room …. twice!

To say I was thrilled, is an understatement (and a cliché as well!) But I felt so, so honoured to have been accepted that I was just bursting! I quickly signed up to the next book-mapping workshop which wasn’t until January and settled down into being in the incubator. Everyone was so kind and welcoming (again).

January found me at the book-mapping workshop surrounded by amazingly talented writers, some of whom wrote pretty much full-time, clearly had more talent and could spell better than me – I felt like a total fraud waiting to be spotted at any minute.

I even told people what I was writing about; I hadn’t really told anyone before what I was writing about, what my characters were called, or anything. This was a nerve-racking but exhilarating experience for me.

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 The secret of the book map is … well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you!

  In March I attended a weekend residential wWorkshop – ‘Through the Narrators Eye’ with Beverley Birch & and Bella Pearson. The weekend workshops are excellent opportunities for any ‘egg’ to get away from the everyday and to focus entirely on whatever you need to focus on.

During my one2one session with Bella she suggested I get myself booked onto the next editorial surgery so that she could read some more of my work. She gave me some great feedback and so much to think about that I went away from the workshop invigorated.

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 This rather looks as though Beverly and Bella are listening intently to me… I don’t think they were!

 I met Bella again a month later at the end of April and we had an hour together in the Royal Festival Hall coffee shop amidst hundreds of people. We talked about what she had read and what my next steps should be. I’d imagined some more workshops perhaps, a few more editorial surgeries. But Bella mentioned mentoring … and I think I went into shock.

It was only on the train on the way home that I realised she was suggesting I move to mentoring with her.

A month ago I had my first mentoring meeting with Bella. (Pinch me please, I must be dreaming!?)

Bella loves stories. She was as caught up in the world I had created as I was, BUT she knew exactly what to ask. She helped to wheedle out the weak points, made me question things and make the decisions myself – nothing was imposed or forced.

I’m now in the process of tightening chapters, firming up the plot, dropping bits here and there – including a whole chapter and a whole character – and making life just a little tougher for my main character (who now hates me!).

So, a year on and where am I? Well, I now have the three things that were missing this time last year:

Confidence: My confidence in my own writing and abilities has grown. Thanks to all the helpful and insightful feedback from the GE team, I now happily talk about my writing and about my book. And from reading other eggs’ work and getting feedback on mine, I feel more confident in offering advice to others as well.

Advice and guidance: I don’t feel lost, I can see where I am going, and, yes, there may still be a few twists in the path and the odd collapsed bridge, but that’s what makes life interesting!

Having a mentor who asks all the right questions and is as enthusiastic about my story and characters as I am is second to none. I was so surprised at how collaborative and creative the editing process is. I’d imagined it would be something like getting your homework back, all red ink and ‘could try harder’s. But it is every bit as creative as writing that first draft, like adding another layer to an oil painting.

The Twitter Q&As (#GEAQA), workshops, editorial surgeries and now mentoring sessions have all added more, made me think more about what my story is about, who my characters are and where they are going. I feel safe in guiding them all to the finish line now, even if they won’t actually all make it there for one reason or another 😉

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 Workshop eggs.

 Community and friendship: You cannot underestimate the importance of this and I must say it has been the most unexpected part of Golden Egg for me, and also the most enriching.

I am a bit of a loner – I enjoy my own company immensely and like being on my own. I think as a writer this is important or you’d quickly go rather potty! But it can get lonely sometimes, and that’s quite different from being alone.

Over the past year I have met such a magical and inspiring bunch of eggs (and that’s only a few from hundreds now, I know!). Through the socials, the daftness that arises during and after #GEAQA each week (did someone mention Jaffa Cakes!?!) and the workshops, I’ve made friends, wonderful friends, friends for life I hope.

We support each other, read each other’s work, look out for each other, encourage, berate, cheer and laugh. That is the most marvellous and beautiful thing, and we wouldn’t have found each other had it not been for The Golden Egg Academy, so on behalf of us all – thanks a million! x

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 Just two of my egg chums.

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