Sally-Anne Lomas is a writer, film maker and artist.  For most of her life she has worked as a television producer making documentaries and short films for BBC, C4, ITV, and Animal Planet. She also works with children and young people to make films. 

Your work has recently been featured in the A.M. Heath TLC Free Reads anthology, tell us a bit about that!

I completed a final draft of my novel at the end of the Escalator programme and began sending the manuscript out to agents. I was really pleased with Live Like Your Head’s On Fire, and my mentor, Yvvette Edwards, was enthusiastic. Sadly the agents I approached did not share our optimism. I was very disappointed.

When the opportunity to get a Professional Read came up I thought this could provide a way forward. I was delighted to be accepted onto the Free Read Programme. Having dedicated so much time to my novel I was extremely poor!

I received the Free Read report with excitement and ….was devastated!  The opening line was ‘this novel is not up to industry standard’, and there followed pages of examples of the ways in which the work was lacking. I cried for three days, vowed to give up writing, and went back to my day job.

Three months later I got out the Report and read it more carefully and with less emotional involvement. The final paragraph said ‘Congratulations on writing such a brilliant, lively, entertaining novel.’ I made myself go through the report underlining the positive comments in green and the critical in red. The green far outweighed the red and when I engaged with the analysis I found that much of it was accurate and helpful.

I began work on another draft to address some of the challenges the Report had thrown up. I also entered, without much hope, the first Chapter for consideration for the AM Heath Free Read Anthology. I was delighted to be selected and that helped build my confidence back up.

My new draft, shaped by the Free Read Report is nearly finished and will be ready for the launch of the Anthology. It is stronger and who knows maybe someone in the industry may one day find it of a suitable standard.

A few years ago, you were selected for the Escalator mentorship at NCW. How did this shape your writing process?

Being accepted on the Escalator programme was a huge step for me. The experience helped me to gain confidence, take my writing seriously and to realise what being professional about writing involved. I met some great writers and people in my fellow Escalatees, and the NCW staff running the programme. Working with my mentor Yvvette Edwards is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. She has been an amazing support; loving, tough, loyal, entertaining, in every way glorious.

You have worked on documentaries with BBC, C4, ITV, and Animal Planet. Do you ever find a crossover between your writing and film-making?

Writing for television has, I think, helped me to write in a way that is clear, simple and accessible to a wide audience. I also think it’s been useful for understanding structure. Making a film is very much about building the structure of the story before painting in the detail and this has been helpful in plotting my novel and being able to stand back and see where the structure isn’t working and make the necessary changes.

But perhaps the most useful crossover has been that working in the TV industry, every programme goes through a rigorous editorial process of rough cut, fine cut and final cut, with what seems like an army of executives having their say. So although it always hurts I am used to accepting and responding to feedback and knowing that the end result will be stronger.

What is your favourite thing about writing?

I love making myself laugh and cry, and that incredible feeling when you write a sentence or a paragraph that really works and think where did that come from? How did I even do that?  It’s like being a magician or a God, bringing something new into existence.

Any advice for emerging writers?

Find your truth and write it. Don’t give up. DON’T GIVE UP. Go on, get better.

Sally-Anne Lomas was selected, along with another Escalator mentee Jon Ransom,  for the first ever TLC/A.M.Heath: Free Reads anthology which launches on Thursday 5th September 2019 in London.