A huge welcome, please, for Kerry Hudson, whose second novel, Thirst, is published on Thursday. Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma was a great debut – funny, foul-mouthed and emotional – and I’m honoured to be the starting point for Thirst’s blog tour. Kerry’s vibrancy, generosity and energy is evident not only in her writing, but in the WoMentoring Project. As a very proud WoMentoring mentor, I asked Kerry to write about the project – what inspired it, what it took to get it together and what her hopes are for it moving forwards.
Kerry writes: The WoMentoring Project came out of a conversation on Twitter where I asked people what peer support opportunities were available to female writers. I knew some writers who I felt sure would be happy to offer a few hours of their time to chat with, support, guide and, well, mentor female writers and I thought if I did probably others did too. So I went on Twitter and I simply asked, ‘would you help too’?
I always say that the response was overwhelming and that is precisely what it was. Over sixty amazing women, some I knew personally, but many more people I’d only ever chatted to online, responded within the hour to say they would help. What they all had in common was that they were successful in their fields – largely writers, editors or agents – and they were prepared offer their time for free.
Women wanted to help other women. Perhaps because we’d all read the articles about women being paid and reviewing less than male writers and felt frustrated. And this was a way to address, even in a small way, the gender bias which still exists in publishing as well as levelling the playing field for those who didn’t have deep pockets but had lots of talent. As a working-class female writer trying to build a career I knew I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn’t act on the enormous promise generosity from these women.
I moved to Budapest a few days after that first Twitter conversation and so for the next three months I sat in my little studio in a beautiful ruin of building in the 8th district and began gathering all the information I’d need from the mentors. I started building the website and put in place procedures and guidelines, mindful of the fact they needed to be simple for both mentors and mentees. I wrote copy for the website and a mentor (the lovely Shelley Harris) found us free PR support in the shape of the power-house Lisa Devany. Sally-Jane Thompson, an incredibly talented illustrator, offered to make some bespoke artwork for the project. One of the most remarkable things about the WoMentoring Project – and I say this as someone who worked as project manager for charities for years – is that the whole thing was achieved on zero budget. It was literally through goodwill, offers of assistance, through the power of a collective of women that it ever happened and during those three months, slowly, slowly, momentum started to build.
The WoMentoring Project launched on the 16th of April and the website, that I’d built in my pajamas drinking gallons diet coke to keep me going into the wee hours, had almost 30,000 page views on that single day. We now have over one-hundred mentors. They span the broadest range of genre, some are debuts, some bestsellers, while some edit Booker longlisted books and other represent bright young things. Our mentees are just as diverse. The project has somehow spanned the usual lines drawn, the usual barriers put up to keep us corralled into specific boxes.
It’s called the WoMentoring Project because at the moment it’s set to run for a twelve month pilot period. And what then? Well, it’s early days but if it continues to be as effective and beneficial as it’s been so far, it’s likely we’ll start seeking funding. That funding would go to improving the website making it more accessible and easier to find mentors, it would pay for group mentor training and for a ‘time to write’ bursary for our most promising mentees.
In the meantime I’m planning the WoMentoring summer party which will be the first time all mentors and mentees will have come together as group. It will be an opportunity to build connections but mostly it will be a celebration. A cenelration of what is possible through kindness and collaboration. A true celebration of exceptional women helping exceptional women. Here’s to that!