I am bad at saying no. As part of a better-late-in-life-than-never self-improvement exercise, I try to turn down extra work—especially the non-paying variety.
So last summer, when Michelle Sylvestre of the Make A Wish Foundation phoned to tell me about a volunteer opportunity—Raphaëlla Vaillancourt, a young survivor of a life-threatening illness, wished to publish a book and needed mentoring—I referred Michelle to Lori Schubert at the Quebec Writers’ Federation.
A few days later, Lori contacted me. If the QWF could fund a mentorship for Raphaëlla, would I take the job?
I still tried to get out of it. I explained I was on sabbatical from my teaching job at Marianopolis College and that I needed a break from editing young people’s writing. But in the end, I agreed to take a look at the project.
I only had to read a paragraph of Raphaëlla’s story (a novel in progress tentatively entitled Keep Breathing) to know that she is really talented—and that I’d save my No for another time.
Over the summer and fall, Raphaëlla and I met several times—at my house, and at coffee shops in NDG and Laval, where Raphaëlla lives. Besides responding to Raphaëlla’s work, I explained a little about my own process. I saw right away that Raphaëlla had a great attitude. Not only is she open to suggestions and criticism, she is grateful for editorial feedback.
Monique Polak is the author of seventeen novels for young adults. She has two new YA novels coming out this spring, as well as her first non-fiction book for young people. Monique is the inaugural CBC/QWF Writer-in-Residence. She teaches at Marianopolis College. www.moniquepolak.com
You can hear Raphaëlla read from her novel along with this year’s crop of QWF Mentorship Program writers at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 5 at the Comedy Nest (in the Forum: 2313 Ste-Catherine St. West in Montreal).