As I have mentioned, many times before, there are so many awesome things about going to conventions. Aside from the development opportunities and the catching up with existing friends, there is also that great feeling when you make a new friend and stay in touch with them beyond the convention itself.
I met Kimberley at Conflux last year, and I have been fortunate enough to read some of the novel that she has been working on. I am really looking forward to seeing the finished product because it is clear to me that Kimberley is an exciting new talent who is going to achieve big things, and will be around for a very long time. Of course, with a mentor of the calibre of Kaaron you would be surprised if the end product isn’t something special!
Here you can read all about Kimberley’s experience of being a mentoree, something I found fascinating as I have just embarked on a similar journey myself.
After moving to Canberra from Melbourne a few years ago, it took me a little while to get the hang of the way Canberra road signs work. In Melbourne, when a sign reading ‘Cheltenham’ points a certain way, it’s because Cheltenham is in that direction. In Canberra, when a sign reads ‘Belconnen’ and points a certain way, it’s because if you travel down that particular road you will eventually end up in Belconnen, but you may have to travel 180-degrees around and across the sun to do so.
My past 12 months in the JUMP National Mentoring program has been very similar, only instead of a suburb name, my sign read ‘becoming a writer’ followed by one of those fat yellow emoticons that might be laughing with you, but is probably laughing at you.
Well, jokes on you, emoticon! I might not have achieved everything I thought I would, but I’ve balanced that by achieving things that had never occurred to me, and now I’m a writer on the cusp! The cusp of what exactly remains to be seen, but there’s definitely a cusp involved.
The JUMP National Mentoring program is an Australian Council for the Arts initiative administered for the past three years by Youth Arts Queensland. It links young artists in the first few years of their career with an established mentor in their field. The program is now being directly administered by the Australia Council. You can find out more about it at http://jump.australiacouncil.gov.au
It isn’t essential to know someone personally to approach them as a possible mentor, but through working in the arts industry I am lucky enough to know a few writers I particularly admire. Once I decided to apply for the JUMP program, I did the sensible thing and made a list. Then I threw out my list. Everyone on there was amazing. Why would any of them want to give up their time to help me?
I felt sorry for myself for a bit, then manned up and made my list again. At the very top was Canberra based writer, Kaaron Warren. Kaaron is one of the best horror writers Australia has produced. I can’t say the best – I’m biased and no-one would believe me. Better you go read her stuff and find out for yourself.
Kaaron doesn’t just focus on horror though. She writes prolifically across many spec-fiction sub-genres, usually leaning towards the dark side but with a strong sense of social commentary and purpose to a lot of her work. Her stories make you think. Sometimes they make you curl up into a ball and cry for a bit first, but afterwards you get to thinking, and you see things in a slightly different way than you did before. She affects people.
Mentorships are not about trying to replicate your mentor’s success by writing the way your mentor writes. They are about recognising the deficits in your own skill-set and finding people who can help you overcome them, so you can be the best writer you can be. Kaaron demonstrates skills that I know I lack, like perseverance, consistency and, most importantly, a strong, unique style. She has a voice that is completely her own. So do I, but it’s buried under the voices of every writer I’ve ever read. Emulating others is a great way to develop skill and technique, but I fluctuate so widely that my books read like they’d been crowdsourced, and the point I was originally trying to make often gets lost in the confusion.
I don’t necessarily want to write like Kaaron, but I want to affect people the way Kaaron does. I want her clarity, her maturity and her passion for writing and literature. Basically, I want to squeeze Kaaron until I have a bottle full of her, distil it into its pure form and spritz myself until I turn into a genius. Whatever’s left I’ll sell, and be rich as kings I tell you!
But I digress.
I didn’t expect Kaaron to say yes. I’m still not quite sure why she did. I’ve had very little writing success – enough to know that I love writing in a way that makes my gut hurt, but not enough to be anything worth noting. When I ask her, Kaaron says wonderful things about seeing talent and potential in me, and enjoying the chance to help me find my way. I try to believe her, but part of me will always suspect she lost a bet. I just can’t work out with whom…
I was accepted into JUMP in December 2011, and began working with Kaaron in early 2012. My major JUMP project is a YA speculative fiction novel with the very clichéd working title Dark Souls. I promise I’ll think of something better, but right now I’m focusing on the words inside the cover. The first draft is finished, as much as first drafts can ever be finished, and the money I received as part of the JUMP program is paying for a professional edit with Stephanie Smith, who I couldn’t have imagined even meeting prior to JUMP.
I had a lot of other goals at the beginning of the year too. Those are the ones that the fat emoticon is laughing at me about, because they aren’t quite as finished as the novel. I had grand short-story writing plans, and they are… getting there. I had the best of blogging intentions and that is…. a work in progress I was going to be a social media queen! (There’s no sugar coating that one. I flopped. I only just worked out how the Facebook chat function works.)
But my unexpected achievements far outweigh my short falls. I – cue orchestral crescendo – made friends! In the world of writing, which can be so isolated, so competitive, and so full of death-of-the-book doomsday prophecies, I now have connections to people across all levels of writing. People I feel comfortable with and encouraged by, people who inspire me, people who teach me (even when they don’t realise they’re doing it) and people I’m pretty much in awe of.
And of course, there’s Kaaron, who hangs umbrella-like across all those categories. I am endlessly encouraged by her belief in me, am constantly learning subtle and not-so-subtle lessons, and am proud of every one of her achievements. Not because I think I had anything to do with them. My contributions to Kaaron’s work begin and end with the pastries I occasionally bring to our writing sessions. But when Kaaron does amazing things, I know it’s because she’s an amazing writer. Every time one of my new friends or role-models succeed, it reminds me that I’m surrounded by brave, talented people. And when someone like that takes the time to teach me, encourage me, or just kick me up the butt, it makes me think that one day there might be something amazing in me. In the meantime I’ll just keep following my road signs and trust that I’ll get there. Eventually.
Kimberley Gaal studied writing and editing in Melbourne until 2005, then moved to Canberra and realised she still knew absolutely nothing. She worked as a writer for the corporate sector, then took a massive pay-cut and saved her soul by shifting to the arts. She now works in the not-for-profit education sector, has remembered why she loved writing in the first place, and has never been happier.
Kimberley just completed a 12 month mentorship with Kaaron Warren as part of the JUMP National Mentoring Program, during which time she surprised herself and wrote a novel.