Weronika completed the First Story Young Writers Programme at John Leggott College in Scunthorpe during the 2019–20 academic year, working with the writer Joe Hakim. She was one of five alums who participated in the prestigious Folio Prize Mentorship programme where she worked with the novelist Nikesh Shukla.
In many ways, I feel like my writing journey really began with First Story in 2019, as it was in those workshops where I realized that writing is something I wanted to pursue as a career. I was introduced to First Story through my college (John Leggott College in Scunthorpe). I was already part of the Creative Writing Society with my friends, which met weekly to share ideas and to broaden our imaginative horizons through discussion. When my English teacher approached us about taking part in a First Story programme, I had no idea what the organization was all about, but it sounded interesting, and I thought it would be crazy to let an opportunity like that pass! At that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I was keen to say yes to any opportunities that came my way.
The workshops were great! Never before had I learnt about narrative writing with such helpful precision. We had the pleasure of having Joe Hakim as our Writer-in-Residence. He inspired us with examples of the various structures of stories; he taught us neat ways of just putting your ideas down on paper; and he encouraged us to share and read out loud. It was amazing to finally be able to ask questions to someone who knew how to write professionally – someone who had experience of publishing and could guide us to realize our writing goals. Every Friday afternoon became something to look forward to! Personally, those sessions where what made me feel motivated to push through those times when I was just not feeling motivated at college.
What I can see, looking back, is how much my writing had improved. I finally had something to look back on and be really proud of. Looking back over my notes now, I am reminded of the several story plots and all different character types that came out of those workshops. It’s no surprise to me that I began feeling more confident in sharing my work too. In fact, the constructive criticism became welcome to me! I finally stopped feeling like criticism would stop me writing forever.
The launch of our anthology (A Slow Descent into Madness) was so exciting. We had been planning it for months and we finally launched just in time to avoid the first lockdown of 2020! I was so nervous that evening. I read through my story so many times that I could almost memorise it! From the moment Joe Hakim and Jess Fear (First Story Programme Officer) arrived, I knew this was it. They had been the support we needed and seeing them made everything more real. Not to mention how nice John Leggott College was to set us up with a wonderful launch replete with a gorgeous buffet for our all our family and friends who came along to support us!
Towards the end of our First Story programme, we were invited to send in applications for the Rathbones Folio Mentorship Prize – a project that selects four young writers nationally to be mentored one-to-one by a professional writer for six months. It was hard to believe there could be another brilliant opportunity so soon! I had nothing to lose, so I sent in an application. I was home alone when I got the email that I had been selected! Me! One out of only five people in the country! And I got selected! Amazing! I was assigned to Nikesh Shukla – an amazing writer who inspired me with his excellent worldview and superb writing. Though we had very different experiences with writing in quite different genres, we really made it work. I think we both had a good time working with different ways of writing. (As a horror writer, I was wary of scaring him off!)
Throughout my mentorship with Nikesh Shukla, my writing developed even more and in different ways than during my time with Joe Hakim. Joe had taught me what it is to write and ways to approach writing. I felt like I had gained basics and been left inspired to go it alone. Then, it felt like Nikesh was there to help me – specifically me – focus on the details. He had answered all my questions, while showing me what I need to develop on in order to improve. One thing I still try to work on is not going over the top on the description. If Nikesh had not mentioned it, I would have never known. It is something I am constantly aware of now and I try to apply a lighter touch. I will never be able to thank him enough for taking me on as a mentee!
Now, a year later, I am doing Creative Writing and Journalism at the University of Lincoln and I am continuing what I had learned from Joe and Nikesh. I have also started a blog about all of my writing and the things I am continuing to learn. It is where I share story ideas and poems, and even the interviews I have conducted as part of my Journalism course. I use this as a timeline for myself. In the future, I look forward to looking back and seeing how far I have come, with the hope that my readers have learned something or become inspired, themselves!
I hope to become a journalist, to travel, and help people I come across by telling their stories. I know now that writing will always be my passion. The university course has even opened me up to poetry and script writing, which I hadn’t even previously been all that interested in. I know for definite that no matter the form, no matter the obstacles, I will continue to write.