Meet Mahsuda SnaithJul 11, 2021
We are thrilled to have the wonderful Mahsuda Snaith join us as a writing coach at The Novelry! Mahsuda was an Observer New Face of Fiction in 2017. Her 2017 debut novel The Things We Thought We Knew was brilliantly received, soon followed by her second novel, How to Find Home, which was chosen as a BBC Radio 4 ‘Book at Bedtime’.
Before publishing her novels, Mahsuda also won the SI Leeds Literary Prize and the Bristol Short Story Prize 2014. And her experience as a writing coach is also impressive – she has led creative writing workshops in universities, hospitals, schools and a homeless hostel, and worked as a writing mentor for a variety of writing organisations.
In this blog post, Mahsuda introduces herself and her history with writing. See if she’s the writing coach for you!
Falling in love with writing
Can you remember the feelings of first love? The giddy excitement, the blissful sigh of your body as the whole world became covered in a honey-tinted glow? That’s what it felt like for me with my first love: story.
I had a solitary childhood. The only Asian family on a predominately white council estate, my mother rarely allowed anyone over or let us out to see friends. Growing up, what kept me company were stories. The ones read to me at the end of the school day, the TV shows and films I watched when I got home and the books I borrowed from libraries and devoured in my room, their words filling my mind full of vibrant worlds that felt as real as the walls around me.
Stories have helped me get through the hardest of times, they have been there for me when I needed them most but, more than anything, they have shown me there is always another way.
As soon I was able to, I was making up and writing my own stories, so when I discovered there were people who could make up and write stories as a job, I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do.
Realising my dream came true
I still have to pause every so often to absorb the fact that this is what I do now.
I have two novels published with Transworld, an imprint of Penguin Random House, I was chosen as an Observer New Face of Fiction, have won prizes for my writing work and have had my short stories commissioned and published in a variety of collections. ‘The Things We Thought We Knew’ was chosen as a World Book Night book and ‘How to Find Home’ was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. Even reading this list I think, ‘Really? Me?’
It didn’t come easily, there were many rejections, many roadblocks, especially as a female, dyslexic, writer-of-colour who comes from a council estate. But the thing about roadblocks is this, if you keep on pushing against them, they will eventually move.
Why I love working with writers
I think this why I’ve found such joy working with writers, whether it be teaching, mentoring or giving feedback. Helping others identify their roadblocks, and finding ways to push them out of the way, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my work.
Being a primary school supply teacher for 15-odd years has given me an insight into how we learn. There are some children who won’t understand if you simply tell them something; they have to see it, or feel it, or do it for themselves.
Similarly, there are writers who won’t understand a story by being told about it; they have to see it, or feel it, or write it for themselves. My aim when working with writers is to help them find their own personalised method. To identify their strengths, point out their blind spots, advise but not demand what can be done with their writing and, above all, make writing fun.
I remember when I was teaching on a creative writing degree, a student talking through her (brilliant) idea for a thriller which was going to be from the viewpoint of a number of people witnessing a tragic incident. I could see she was getting muddled with how she was going to write this story, who she would focus on for each part, how she would switch viewpoints whilst also keeping the story flowing. I suggested that she focus on just one of the characters, the one she was most drawn to, and make them the central focus. I remember her looking at me with astonishment.
‘You mean, I can make it easy for myself?’ she said.
Writing is not simple; we have to use so many different parts of our mind, so many parts of our heart and soul. It can be mentally challenging, emotionally and physically tiring, but what writing should not be is a chore. Believe me, I’ve had moments when my writing has begun to feel this way and the way I, and most writers I’ve met, have dealt with that feeling is usually the same.
They stop writing.
My role at The Novelry
I see my role at The Novelry as the person who keeps you writing.
You may have a plot problem, or an issue with voice or style. You might be struggling with time management or you just need someone to tell you, ‘This bit is great, don’t worry about that bit. Move on. You’ve got this.’
We all need that support, whether you’re a professional or emerging writer. The Novelry gives you tools to get you writing a cracking bit of fiction, but it also gives you the experience of working with feedback from someone who’s been there. This will prepare you for when you go on to working with agents and editors and, eventually, your audience (my favourite, and most helpful, reviews are usually from readers).
I love helping writers in this way, answering their questions, helping them find their ‘sweet spots’ and preparing them for the road ahead, roadblocks and all.
As a creative writing coach, mentor and past judge of the Costa First Novel Award as well as other writing competitions, I’m used to reading a wide variety of genres of writing. For me, it’s not so much whether I’m reading a dystopian thriller, or a historic romance, or a literary piece that stands out, but the creativity, the voice and the heart of a story.
I’m so excited about discovering those elements in your writing, helping you nurture your seedling ideas so they grow into their full potential. And, with a bit of guidance, I hope you’ll get the same feelings of first love I had for story, except this time it won’t be for other people’s writing, but your own.