Television producer and director Sally-Anne Lomas has just completed a year of the Escalator Talent Development Scheme, working on her YA novel Live Like Your Head’s On Fire. Below, she reflects on her experience and where it has positioned her on her writing journey.
I finally made it onto the Escalator Talent Development Scheme on my fourth time of applying. I mention this to show off what a plucky little trier I am but also to emphasise that it was worth the pain of repeated rejection to get there in the end.
Central to Escalator is the opportunity to work closely with an experienced writer acting as mentor over the course of a year. I didn’t realise until I was accepted onto the programme that although a team from WCN short list the applicants, the final selection is made by the mentors themselves, with each mentor choosing two writers to work with. There is something very encouraging in knowing that your mentor feels an affinity with your work. I was lucky enough to be chosen by Man Booker-longlisted writer Yvvette Edwards. Having Yvvette read and respond to my writing has been, as she promised at our first meeting, life changing. I have always struggled with confidence and having Yvvette on my side was like acquiring a jet pack – suddenly I could fly.
We met face-to-face five times over the year. I had a completed manuscript but I knew it was flawed. Yvvette was both supportive and ruthless, praising what worked and insistent on ridding the world of any weak and flabby scenes. My final manuscript is tighter, funnier, more truthful and much more powerful. I enjoyed our sessions immensely, soaking up the detailed attention a kind, talented, and experienced writer was giving my work.
I can now call myself a writer
The other key ingredient in Escalator was meeting up with nine other writers. My fellow mentees were an impressive bunch. Most of them had already completed at least one novel, many had Creative Writing MA’s, were represented by agents and had either published already or knocked up a list of awards. I felt honoured to stand amongst them. They were also lovely people. The weekend residential provided an opportunity to get to know each other, bonding over delicious meals, and having time to share our experiences, top tips, dreams and fears. I have made new supportive writer friends who know what it’s like to feel rejected, ignored, and alone with an empty page, but with whom I hope to share some celebratory moments as we move forwards with our writing careers.
Finally, the Writers’ Centre Norwich team are a tremendous resource; friendly, interested and informed, they have not only supported us as writers throughout the scheme but are prepared to help us in the future. My first novel is currently being considered by a number of agents and I’m starting work on a second. I can now call myself a writer without feeling like an imposter. I’ll never be able to thank Escalator enough.
Sally-Anne shot to fame at the age of twelve when she won Little Miss Go-Go Dancer at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp. Just two years later she made it into the Guinness Book of Records by creating the World’s Longest Daisy Chain. Since then her life has been unremarkable. She works as a television producer/director and her most recent documentaries are Wild Australia with Ray Mears for ITV and Julian of Norwich: The Search For The Lost Manuscript for BBC4. Website | Twitter