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Stewart Ross

Mentoring writers

Exeter's career mentor scheme takes many forms, and over the past five years I've had the pleasure of being involved in one of the more unusual ones. My mentees were fearless souls who wanted to become full-time, professional writers. What follows is a plug, blatant and unashamed, on behalf of these splendidly independent-minded, intrepid individuals.

At first, I had serious doubts about being a career mentor for would-be writers. ‘Career’ conjured up images of mad dashes, like the Charge of the Light Brigade or trying to get to the pub before closing time. As far as I am aware, no writer – except perhaps Charles Dickens – ever careered in their work. They hacked and hammered, sweated and swore, got sad and got sozzled, but never did they career.

Creative lives don’t work like that. They don’t do management or HR, board meetings or away days, and they certainly don’t follow defined career paths.

Then I recalled my own foolish dreams of golden Rollers dropping from heaven as sales of my first novel soared into the stratosphere, my angry ‘they’ve got no bloody taste’ reaction to rejection letters I knew in my heart to be truthful, and painful memories of the clumsy gobbledegook I presented as commercially viable text in the early days – and I reconsidered.

Yes, perhaps I might be able to pass on something helpful to wannabees. Not up-the-career-ladder stuff nor, God forbid, a how-to-write class, but practical tips based on the things I wish I’d known when handing in my notice from a full-time teaching job all those years ago.

Whether benefitting from my advice or not – only they will know – I am delighted how the writing lives of former mentees have flourished. I recently wrote to them asking how they were getting on and learned that almost all of them are making a living by crafting words. Some work in print, most online, and all are names to watch out for on LinkedIn, on Amazon, and in bookshops.

So if you are in publishing, the media or any industry needing quality copy for brochure / website / blog / or anything else, think Exeter and check out these brave and very talented alumni:

Senior writer at Wunderkind, lives in London, website: and LinkedIn. Various pieces of creative writing published, and shortlisted / longlisted for prizes.

Authored Giving Up the Ghost at Edinburgh Festival, commissioned to write an historical thriller based around the JFK assassination, and uses his considerable (persuasive) writerly skills in a new position as a marketing executive.

My first mentee is a published novelist who makes a living by extremely successful copywriting and creating prizewinning children’s stories for Fiction Express as she completes a second novel (Spectrum) and finishes a magic realism PhD. LinkedIn for top quality copy.

Works as a freelance music writer / editor and is understandably excited by the November ’22 publication of his first book Death Metal (a history of the heavy metal subgenre) by Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury.

Newly graduated and bursting with energy, Natasha is doing postgraduate work at Glasgow Uni. Her short story Walking Backwards, written at Exeter, was shortlisted for a prize, and she is now exploring journalism (two pieces for the Glasgow Guardian) / historical fiction / BBC and other avenues.

Claudia works in Greater Brighton Metropolitan College while making a name for herself as a quality copywriter. Her recent article on women and diversity in Formula 1, for example, was very well received. If you need strong copy, check Claudia out on LinkedIn – you won’t be disappointed.

And me? I continue to weave between an annual output of nonfiction (The First of Everything), fiction (Solve It Like Sherlock) and drama (Attagirls). In recognition for the way they have helped keep me in touch with a changing world, my latest book Hologram & Other Sinister Stories is gratefully dedicated to my inspiring Exeter mentees.