Emily took part in the Young Writers Programme during the pandemic, as a sixth form student at Dukeries Academy in Nottingham. In July 2021 she secured one of 16 places on First Story’s summer (virtual) residential writing course. Afterwards she applied successfully to take part in the Rathbones Folio Mentorships scheme during 2021/22. Emily also won a place to read English at the University of Cambridge.
Before beginning the First Story programme, I knew I wanted to be a poet. I’d been writing since I was a child and found my feet in poetry in my early teens. I had the desire, but I just needed a little opportunity and direction, and First Story gave me that.
I hadn’t had the opportunity to speak with a writer about my work before, and my poetry was getting to a point where it needed that specialist advice. Also, I wanted to connect with other students who had similar interests and learn from them.
Kevin Fegan’s writing workshops were the highlight of my week; they were consistently engaging, yet somehow relaxed. I loved being pushed to experiment with different forms, and I revelled in the opportunity to share my work as my writing had previously only been a solitary endeavour.
First Story really motivated me at a time when I (and others) felt so exhausted and anxious. I felt like I could write, and I should write, and connecting with other creatives has solidified my dream of becoming a writer. I now have a sense of direction, and lockdown helped me in that respect.
The virtual residential made the pandemic much less lonely. Every day I looked forward to getting up and working with students and writers that could help me make creative progress. My confidence grew massively when I had a one-on-one chat with Vicky Foster, and the residential is what made becoming a writer feel much more achievable.
Being a Rathbones Folio mentee and having Fiona Benson as my mentor has helped my writing in ways I find (ironically) difficult to describe. My instinct when it comes to the editing process has improved massively, and I’m now aware of my style and favourite subjects when it comes to writing. I am not afraid to experiment and understand that the first draft will never be perfect. Fiona has been so reassuring and speaking with her has helped me visualise myself as a poet. Her advice has been invaluable, and I feel like I am improving with every poem that I write.
After completing my first year of studying English at Cambridge and the mentorship scheme, I realise now that they had quite an interesting, almost symbiotic, relationship with one another. Improving as a poet has helped me understand the works of other writers in a way I couldn’t before, and I have often been inspired by the writers I have studied. For example, medieval passion imagery holds a lot of weight in my poem ‘Bleed-through’, and my ear for rhythm has improved after diving into so much poetry every week.
First Story has changed my view of writers. I used to think they were like some strange species, like little gods or something like that – people I could never become. Through the mentorship and workshops, I realise that this isn’t necessarily the case, and that I can be a writer if I set my mind to it.
I’m working towards applying for new schemes and entering poetry competitions. I really hope to produce a collection, but not quite yet. For now, it’s all about experimentation and getting to know myself as a developing poet.