Query package: First 3 chapters plus query letter and synopsis
YA, Teen (Upper end of MG or 12+)
I was lucky enough to be a mentee in the first Write Mentor programme in 2018. I’m very keen to pass on what I learnt, as I hugely benefited from the experience. I was mentored by the amazing Kathryn Clark, and found that I learnt so much in a very concentrated period of time.
Since then I have been signed by the fabulous Jo Williamson from Antony Harwood agents. My Teen novel, with the working title ‘Troglodyte’ (which Kathryn mentored last summer) with any luck should be published next year. Details are still frustratingly under wraps! Suffice to say it’s an adventure with ghosts, horror and lots of mystery, told in a dual timeline (a contemporary narrative and an historical one set 2000 years ago at the time of the Roman invasion). Most of the action centres around a cave. I’m currently going through edits.
With all this fresh experience, I feel I have a lot to pass on.
I run a SCBWI South-West critique group which meets monthly, where we give detailed feedback on everyone’s work. I hope, therefore, I can respond sympathetically to all writers, and really value their strengths, as well as flag up areas for improvement, or suggest alternative routes to try.
Having studied English at Oxford University, I went on to train as a teacher (amazingly with Philip Pullman as one of my tutors!!) Teaching at secondary level has given me plenty of experience nurturing writing, and I know how much positive encouragement is required, as well as constructive criticism.
More recently I completed a Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children Course online, taught by the excellent Catherine Johnson. I am also one of the mentors for the Write Mentor Spark programme.
That’s my writing background!
When I’m not writing…
I love walking my little red collie and taking her agility training. She’d be very good if she had a handler who wasn’t a beginner as she’s extremely fast and focused! I’d love to compete at Crufts someday, but I think I lack the commitment.
I’m often outdoors, exploring the countryside, or walking in hills and mountains. I’m pretty knowledgeable about wildflowers, and wildlife in general. I wish young people were more in touch with the natural world, and knew more about it, to appreciate its wonder. Folklore, myths and legends fascinate me, as does Ancient History with its sense of the deep, mysterious past.
If you follow me on Twitter @lydia_massiah you’ll be bombarded with my photos of flowers and landscapes. Or my dog, Poppy.
On Instagram: lydiammassiah you’re more likely to see pictures of caves…
I’ve a bit of a thing about caves, though I haven’t done a huge amount of caving. The area where I live has loads of caves, and they are often situated in romantic locations, and have complex, fascinating histories, as well as bags of creepy atmosphere.
I live off tea, mainly Earl Grey. That and Cheddar Cheese. Which is perhaps appropriate as the caves I find are near Cheddar in Somerset.
I have three sons, two of whom are teenagers, and they are all adventurous spirits who enjoy mountaineering, caving, rock climbing, surfing, kayaking – and rugby. I’ve generally been dragged along to watch or join in with these activities.
I currently live in Bristol in the UK, a beautiful city with masses going on, but also a place with a dark past. Walks take me to the Mendip Hills, the Quantocks, or the Wye Valley – anywhere within reach. Just give me a map and I’m off.
My favourite books
So many wonderful books and authors! Where to begin? As a child I loved The Dark is Rising sequence of Arthurian-based fantasy by Susan Cooper; Alan Garner and his wonderful eerie work, especially The Owl Service; and also Leon Garfield with his 18th century set stories full of rogues and misfits.
From there it was a short step to Dickens, with more weird and extraordinary characters. I love Sarah Waters too: Fingersmith and The Little Stranger especially (the latter is the best ghost story I’ve ever read). I do like a ghost story! Michelle Paver has written a couple of good ones, and I enjoyed her Wolf Brother MG adventures set in the Stone Age very much too. Robert Cormier is wonderful for original and disturbing writing, and I like Daphne du Maurier’s style in Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel. Anything unsettling or slightly supernatural appeals, or Gothic tales with lots of mystery. Oh, and I adore Frances Hardinge too: The Lie Tree, A Skinful of Shadows…
Stories with interesting historical settings often catch my interest: Catherine Johnson’s The Curious Tale of Lady Caraboo, Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains – all are doorways into periods and experiences I knew little about.
I don’t read a huge amount of high fantasy but Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy was superb, especially the first book, and of course A Monster Calls is heart-breaking and powerful beyond belief. (Siobhan Dowd began the novel, and her writing in Bog Child is extraordinarily beautiful.) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo took me into a fast-paced exciting fantasy adventure, which I enjoyed, especially for its world building. It’s often said that historical and fantasy writers do a similar job, when they create their settings.
Like so many I loved The Hate U Give, because its story was so original, engaging and thought provoking. It was wonderful that Angie Thomas smashed stereotypes throughout her novel (a totally supportive, loving family, a boyfriend who stayed decent and loyal), and she left the reader with an uplifting message of the possibilities for change for everyone.
I could go on for ever, but can I just say Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, and his writing generally? No one else seems able to use the natural world as a setting so well at the moment. I’d love to see more for younger readers like his work.
I’m not hugely into romance, or comedy (I love funny shows with quirky characters but somehow it just doesn’t do it for me on the page.)
Films and series: Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, are more recent favourites. The Detectorists, Car Share… Well written quirky characters with lots of heart. To be honest my sons spend a lot of time watching anything Marvel, and although I’m not a huge fan, I end up seeing them too. That or anything set in space they like… But I loved The Martian, Apollo 13, Hidden Voices… It’s not about the genre: good stories well told, with fewer explosions work for me 🙂
My wish list:
Historical, Thriller, Adventure, Mystery, Paranormal, Crime, Magical Realism, Time-Travel…
YA or Teen the upper end of the MG market suits me best – about 12+
What I’m looking for is an original and engaging concept! Yes, of course good writing is important, but a really hooky idea, which draws me straight into the story is what I really want to read.
Genre-crossing narratives are brilliant especially something with a little magic and mystery in the mix, but I like my stories believable, even if they’re fantastical, in well-realised, amazing settings. I like exciting plots with adventure and thrill, which might have historical settings or contemporary ones, which play with dual narratives, or interesting timelines. Obviously I want a character who draws me in, but I like complexity: heroes who have serious flaws and make mistakes, and antagonists who could be heroes. (I really dislike stereotypical villains.) I like stories which are thought-provoking, which make me re-examine the way I see the world, or show me unique insights into unfamiliar lives and places.
I believe #ownvoices narratives tell their stories better, and would love to see #ownvoices outside contemporary writing: historical, mystery, thriller etc – and the same for LGBTQ+ – where the representation is part of an exciting or thought-provoking story. I want stories with high stakes, and emotional impact that will move me, but nothing slushily sentimental.
My mentoring style
I’m offering a query package which would be the first three chapters, plus the query letter and synopsis. I would love to offer more, but am unsure of the demands for my current novel, since this is my first time through the process. If time allows, and I’m really involved in your novel, I’d hope to be able to offer advice on the whole book, though perhaps not in huge detail.
I fully understand how difficult it can be to make changes to your work, and take on board criticism. Obviously a mentor cannot provide all the answers, but with any luck we can be well-informed readers, whose judgment a writer can trust, because we are a little further along with our writing experience.
From running a critique group for SCBWI, from being mentored and critiqued myself, I know the emotional demands of having feedback on your work. I would ask that you are ready to make changes, that you are ready to try out new ideas and be open to other possibilities. Critiquing can be a very creative process.
Communicating via email, messenger, Skype, phone calls or even in person would be fine for me – or a mixture of all of these. Whatever suits my mentee best.
I would give reports on each section of your writing, and add notes, picking out everything from fine detail to bigger picture issues in pacing, characterisation, stakes… whatever is required.
As I say, it’s the story and concept that counts – something unusual please! Play with the tropes, and surprise me!