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Working with Me

Find out a bit more about who I am, my background, and the values, principles and aspirations I bring to working with writers. Further down this section you can read some recommendations, and see examples of books I’ve helped along recently.

About me


I’ve worked with writers all my professional life. I started out in literary agencies, where I learned how to dig for the potential in story ideas, get manuscripts into saleable shape and support authors through all the ups and downs of a commercial writing career.

After an intense decade in London publishing I moved to Scotland, where I did a lot of freelance work, including talking about books on the radio, reviewing for the national press, editing for independent publishers and mentoring for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ scheme. In 2008 I was hired, along with former 2000AD editor David Bishop, to design a new Creative Writing MA for Edinburgh Napier University.

The MA we launched was pretty unusual: we put genre fiction at the heart of the course, replaced the usual peer-critique workshops with individual mentoring, and learned how to invent new teaching methods. Described by The Times as ‘a radical departure in creative writing’ and by students as ‘a life changing experience’ the MA now has an international reputation, recruiting aspiring novelists from all over the world. Recently I’ve also been working with the wonderful Nicole Peeler at Seton Hill University near Pittsburgh, on a new joint postgraduate programme in Writing Popular Fiction.

I’m based in Blackford in the south of Edinburgh, where I can also be found volunteering in my local Amnesty International bookshop. And I still teach a fortnightly class at Napier. But after nine years of leading, developing and teaching the MA full time, I felt it was time to work differently. I wanted to use my twenty years of expertise to help as many writers as possible, without the barriers of academia or the publishing industry.

This consultancy gives me the freedom to work directly with writers wherever they are and whatever their circumstances; to stick with them for as little or long a time as it takes to get to where they need to be, and to focus wholly on their work and on the unique development journey of each potential book.

If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you! Contact me and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can, or keep scrolling down to see testimonials and examples.

My philosophy


  • Purpose
    The feedback I give is grounded in my understanding of your individual purpose and creative ambitions, not based on abstract, generalised rules.
  • Dialogue
    My work is a process of collaborative enquiry and inventive problem-solving. It’s about potential, not correction.
  • Development
    I want you to leave not just with a better book, but also as a more confident, technically informed and self-sufficient creative practitioner.
  • Challenge
    Aiming for breakthroughs means a mutual commitment to tackling big questions.
  • Pleasure
    From the fun of energetic conversation to the satisfaction of measuring your progress, what I do is designed to increase your lifelong enjoyment of your work.
 

I’ll be writing more in the blog about the influences behind this enterprise — it’s something I’ve been learning and practising for decades, so there’s a lot to say!

Comments / Questions / Chat?
If you’re interested in the ideas here, I’d love to hear from you.

Quick Q & A


Who is this for?

This consultancy is for tentative beginners, writers looking for a mid-career boost, and anyone in between.

What kind of writing do you work with?

My specialism is working on full-length narrative, across all aspects of idea development, technical decision making and artistic expression. Over the last twenty or so years I’ve worked with every kind of author there is — when it comes to telling a good story, my curiosity and enthusiasm are pretty universal! But here are a few types of project I particularly love:

Novels:

  • Crime, mystery or detective fiction: particularly if it features a non-traditional sleuth.
  • Science fiction, speculative fiction or fantasy: especially if comes with an awesome high concept, complicated worldbuilding challenges and powerful ethical / political / emotional aims.
  • Any novel which expands the range of lived experiences represented in commercial fiction. Diverse ethnicities, LGBTQ+ and characters with disabilities are all extremely welcome.
  • Experiments: of any genre, or none — if it hasn’t been done quite that way before, I’d love to help it happen!

Non-fiction, particularly:

  • Memoir based narratives with a strong social justice agenda. Stories that need to be heard.
  • Narratives driven by original research — the more unusual, the better!

What if I’m just a bit stuck and need some instant, free advice?

Be my guest! Email the Agony Column or suggest a topic for the Blog, and I’ll see what I can do. Keep an eye on the Events & Resources page too, and look out for free drop-in sessions — these will be occurring in Edinburgh and maybe even further afield in the coming months.

More questions? Get in touch, and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Testimonials


I was fortunate enough to have Sam as both a mentor and programme leader while I was a student on Edinburgh Napier’s Creative Writing MA. Witty, astute, magnificently energetic, and brimming with expertise; no-one on the course was ever left in any doubt that she had faith in us and truly believed we could and should — with effort and determination — realise our goals.

In particular, I, as a dyslexic writer, am hard pressed to think of any other teacher, mentor or guide who has done more to inspire me to channel my strengths and to have the confidence to express myself to the fullest. It was in large part thanks to Sam’s commitment to lessening the barriers to learning whilst, at the same time, raising the stakes in terms of ambition and creativity that I flourished on the course: as a student, as a writer and as a person.

Anna Haldane (MA student 2016-2017)

Sam was my mentor for two years during my MA. In this time I drafted two novels, including Truestory. Sam had the ability to see a novel in its entirety, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and then asking precise questions to enable me to make it as good as it could be. She was highly motivating and stretched me as a writer.  I would recommend working with Sam to any writer who is serious about improving their work.

Catherine Simpson, author of Truestory (Sandstone Press, 2015) represented by Joanna Swainson, Hardman & Swainson

It is a privilege to be one of Sam's students. Through Sam's mentoring I've improved my writing and developed my work from a one-line idea to a fully realised project. Sam's dedication and passion make working with her a joy, and her expertise is invaluable.

Emily Still (MA student 2016-2017)

The work I did with Sam on my first novel went way beyond the page. No matter what level we worked on, be it language, structure or concept, her insights were about more than showing me what worked and what didn’t — they got down to the heart of my creativity and decision making. I saw my work and myself more objectively, and left every session with a better book and a better sense of professional purpose. She gave me the tools to think with discipline and accountability, in a way that allowed me to innovate meaningfully.

Sam is the person who helped me professionalise my writing. She’s trained me in craft and technique where so many others preached to me on the nebulous ideals of ‘talent’ and ‘instinct’. I owe my current success to her commitment, enthusiasm and technical acumen.

Errol Rivera, co-author of the Ministry of Time series (forthcoming; three-book deal with Bastei Lübbe)

After being matched up with Sam through the Scottish Book Trust Mentorship scheme in 2007, she quickly proved to be the ideal mentor, providing practical, technical advice along with the support and encouragement needed to get me through the intimidating process of writing my first novel.

Without Sam's help it's unlikely I would have gained the confidence to see that novel through and the fact she continues to provide guidance and feedback that improves my work some ten years later shows the level of dedication she offers to writers along the path to publication.

Working with Sam has undoubtedly made me a better writer and to have such a critically engaged reader offering sound constructive advice makes her a powerful writing ally.

Kirsti Wishart, mentee

Examples


Here are some examples of books I’ve helped along recently: three wonderful novels which were all developed using the methods I created for the Edinburgh Napier Creative Writing MA, before being taken on by agents and sold to commercial publishers.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

Goblin
Ever Dundas

Wasp By Ian Garbutt

Wasp
Ian Garbutt

Truestory by Catherine Simpson

Truestory
Catherine Simpson