Here at Literature Works, we’re always looking out for the latest resources for writers and readers, so when our friends the Royal Literary Fund contacted us to share ‘Showcase’, we knew it was one that the writers in our network should see. We caught up with President of the Royal Literary Fund, novelist Tracy Chevalier to find out more about the work of RLF, how Showcase was created and the importance of multi-disciplinary art-form relationships to literature.
To those who may be just starting out in thinking about a career in writing, can you tell us a little bit more about the Royal Literary Fund and the work you do?
The Royal Literary Fund was established over 200 years ago by writers to help “poor and distressed authors of published works of approved literary merit”, according to the first Object of its Charter. Ever since the RLF has provided grants and pensions to writers in need.
Almost 20 years ago it also developed the RLF Fellowship programme, which places authors in UK universities to help students with essay writing. These Fellowships fulfil not only the first object, but the second as well, the rather delightful command in the Charter to support “the advancement of public education and the improvement of the public taste in the field of literary work.” I love that.
We’ve just discovered ‘Showcase’, RLF’s new resource for writers. It’s so refreshing to see such an extensive resource available for free. Can you tell us how it came about and what it includes?
We are always looking for new ways to provide income to writers and also to “improve public taste in the field of literary work”, and it occurred to us that commissioning authors to write or speak about the process of writing and other aspects of literary endeavour would achieve both goals. Writers are also employed to commission, record and edit the contributions. So Showcase is run almost entirely by writers.
When ‘Showcase’ was being compiled and as it continues to grow – is there a particular topic or piece of advice that keeps reoccurring throughout the various different sources that make it up?
Showcase includes such a wide variety of topics that it’s hard to generalise. But I would say that behind many of the pieces is an exploration of what inspires a writer to take on a certain subject, and how to keep going with it. It’s about curiosity, really. Most writers are passionately curious about the world; indeed, it’s hard to be a writer otherwise. And that is reflected in Showcase.
Can you describe a day in the life of the RLF President and can you say, how does your role with the charity impact on your career as a novelist?
I admit, I have it easy compared to the RLF’s small, very hard-working staff. I chair about 13 meetings a year and attend a few others. Every month the Trustees meet to review grant applications and discuss various issues about the running of the charity. On those days I review all the grant applications, which I confess have made me cry on occasion. Like anyone, writers go through difficult times, and I am just glad the RLF is there to help.
As for the charity’s impact on my career, hearing about the hardships of other writers has made me aware of how lucky I am, and of how fragile our lives are. Illness, caring for others, financial mismanagement, the vagaries of the publishing world: all of these factors can impact on our lives suddenly and without warning.
Luckily, Showcase always reminds me of the happy side of writing – the creativity and the variety of experience of so many authors.
One of the features we particularly enjoyed about ‘Showcase’ as we explored was the articles written by various writers on wider literary topics. Speaking of literature more generally, do you think it’s important that multi-art-forms work collaboratively to create unique experiences for writers and readers? In your own work for example it’s clear to see influences of art, history and literature.
Absolutely. I have always felt that writing should intersect with other disciplines. The world is interconnected, and writing ought to be as well. I’m thrilled when a reader contacts me to say they look at paintings differently after having read Girl with a Pearl Earring, or they have a better understanding of an historical period from reading one of my books.
Your latest novel, New Boy is a retelling of the Shakespeare tragedy Othello as part of the Shakespeare Project. Can you tell us a little about why you chose to become involved with the project and why you chose that play?
When Hogarth Press approached me to ask if I would choose a Shakespeare play and write a novel inspired by it, I was immediately intrigued. It’s not at all how I normally work, but I liked the idea of shaking up my creative process a bit. Here I was handed a characters and a plot already made, which freed me to other considerations. I chose Othello because I am interested in stories about outsiders and how societies treat them. Maybe that’s because I have lived my adult life as an American in Britain, always ever so slightly out of step with people around me. I’m not saying I got treated like Othello – not at all! But it made me want to write about him.
Thank you Tracy!
New Boy is available now from Hogarth Shakespeare.