In December Cinnamon press awarded me a place on their year-long writers’ mentorship programme. Last week I learned who my mentor for the year will be: Adam Craig. He co-runs Cinnamon Press, and is the author of two novels, a collection of short stories and a prose poetry sequence. His novels are literary, his short stories, he says, more genre “generally in a fantastic/SF/weird fiction vein.” I write this without our relationship having started yet, filled with excitement and anxiety, a little like a bride in an arranged marriage.
The prospect is exciting and daunting. The last time I took my work to a published author, I was 18, and the author was the poet in residence at my University.
“Come back in a week,” he said.
A week later, he said. “I have to ask you a question first: are you serious about writing?”
I said I was.
“Then,” he thundered “who the f*** do you think you are? Do you believe you’re the first person who’s ever had those emotions? Get a grip, lad. Get some distance.”
It was brutal, but I learned a lot from him. I’m hoping Adam will be less brutal, but equally insightful.
The mentor-mentee relationship is a sensitive one. Sure, it’s about the transfer of knowledge and experience, but it’s also about building trust and understanding and establishing an agreed way of working. Perhaps, it’s a little like making a friendship, if not a marriage.
I think I can see why Cinnamon paired me with Adam. This is the blurb for his experimental novel Vitus Dreams:
“An explorer dreams of a sea and a land beyond that can be found on no map …
A naval officer becomes lost inside maps of his own making, his wife lost inside her pleas that someone search for her husband …
And, as a singer struggles to make sense of the ordinary things around her, a hitman is trapped in an endless bid to escape …
Meanwhile, two complete strangers plod through their day-to-day lives as they pour their hearts into writing a novel — but which one is the fictional character and which the author?
An ever-shifting kaleidoscope, by turns moving and funny, intense and tender, Vitus Dreams draws you into a place where our basic assumptions about the real and the concrete are shattered to leave us with no choice but to rely on instinct and the people around us, if they exist.”
My novel on which I’ll be working with Adam, The Tears of Boabdil, is also about uncertainty, though there are huge differences. Adam’s book is anti-narrative and poetic, while mine is a story, albeit a fractured one. My protagonist is an undercover policeman attempting to penetrate a jihadi cell. He embarks on a doomed taboo liaison with a beautiful quarry, and must choose to betray his love or his duty. This book, about politics and passion, tracks the magic and the tragedy of a lie. These stories are doubled by a magical tale of a fifteenth century Spanish nobleman who falls in love with a Muslim woman in Moorish Spain. Gradually, the magical rules of this tale permeate the policeman’s world, and reality becomes the story we tell about it.
I have sent Adam the manuscript. All will go quiet now until he gets back to me around the end of February. I will keep this diary updated as a chronicle of a mentee’s journey.