Since it was established in 2014, the Rathbones Folio Prize has sought to set itself apart from existing literary awards. This means not just championing the finest contemporary writing, but looking to the future to promote a diverse and inclusive literary culture and nurture outstanding new talent.
With these aims in mind, the Rathbones Folio Mentorships were created with First Story, a charity which places professional writers in English secondary schools serving low-income communities in order to foster creativity and communication skills, with the support from Arts Council England.
The mentorships pick up where First Story leaves off, providing the most gifted First Story students in A-level education with an exceptional opportunity to develop their writing through sustained one-to-one coaching from a leading author.
Four young fiction writers were awarded mentorships in 2017 on the basis of their commitment and promise: Sophie Crabtree (Bradford), Shakira Irfan (London), Imaru Lewis (London) and Vincent Otterbeck (Bristol).
Each mentee was then paired with one of four award-winning novelists drawn from the Folio Academy of writers and critics: AL Kennedy, Kamila Shamsie, Ross Raisin and Evie Wyld.
Throughout the 2017/18 academic year, the mentees worked with their mentors in person, by email and over Skype, receiving focused and rigorous feedback as they developed a portfolio of their writing.
Imaru Lewis, whose novel-in-progress blurs the boundaries between crime and fantasy, described how the process had transformed his outlook.
“Writing has always been a hobby of mine, but I never thought it would go anywhere,” he admitted. “But after this, I’m really hopeful that I can make it as a professional writer.”
Sophie Crabtree was just as inspired. “At school you get told you have to include a metaphor, a simile, everything else,” she said, explaining how Evie Wyld had encouraged her instead to discover her own, distinctively playful, style. “We learn that you don’t have to do any of that for it to still be an interesting story.”
And for Shakira Irfan, who hopes to combine writing with a career as a doctor, there was the satisfaction of finally finding a voice that had the power to connect with readers. “I wanted to be genuine in the way that I wrote my work, but I didn’t quite know how to go about it,” she said. “With Alison [Kennedy]’s help, I’ve really been able to see what it means to make a piece of work relatable or understandable to someone out there.”
For the mentors too the programme has been a chance to reflect on their craft. “It got me thinking how, at every stage in a writing career, you need to take a step back and remember to experiment,” said Evie Wyld.
Publication is the ultimate goal for each of the mentees; however, the ten-month mentoring process hasn’t only helped them hone their technical skills. It’s also seen them grow in the self-belief, grit and resilience that are the foundations for success in any form.
“I hit a point where I thought: ‘I really think somebody else should have this, because I can’t use it’: I just couldn’t write,” Sophie Crabtree said, recalling how she had been struck by writer’s block during the early stages of the scheme. “I was really determined to work through it, to prove that I was worthy of having [the mentorship], because I knew what an opportunity it was.”
Aspiring novelist Vincent Otterbeck’s experience was similar. “You have to get past your low-self confidence in your work… and start to realise that just going for it and writing whatever’s in your head is one of the biggest gifts you have as a writer, because that’s where the originality comes from.”
All four mentees’ achievements were recognised in May at an innovative showcase public reading. Held at the British Library as part of the Rathbones Folio Prize Sessions, it was a moment for an ambitious new generation of writers to enjoy the attention and exposure usually reserved for established stars.
No less importantly, it gave those in the audience an exciting first taste of four authors of striking imaginative and empathetic reach. As the co-founder of The Rathbone Folio Prize Andrew Kidd observed, “They were referred to as ‘the voices of tomorrow’ but, frankly, they felt more like the voices of today.”
The Rathbones Folio Mentorships will continue in 2018 with another four talented young writers being paired up with experienced, published authors for the school year.
“First Story is delighted that the Rathbones Folio Prize Mentorships will continue” said Monica Parle, Executive Director or First Story. “From our pilot residency, First Story has emphasized intensive, high-quality creative writing support for young people from who might not otherwise get the chance to develop their writing. This partnership allows us to build on that critical work, and in so doing, we work together to broaden the range of voices in contemporary literature. It was a joy to see how much these students had grown in just ten months, and we are thrilled that even more First Story alumni will be able to benefit from this exciting opportunity.”
Interested in knowing more about Rathbones’ Folio programmes? Explore more from Rathbones or visit First Story or Rathbones Folio Prize web pages.