We're sharing an article written by our CEO Helen Chaloner, first published by the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.
Helen shares her knowledge of the many agencies, networks, awards and opportunities available to writers, to provide funding, inspiration and encouragement as they develop their talents.
Prizes, bursaries, awards and other opportunities for developing your writing are widespread and can really support your efforts. The process of putting yourself forward for one of these provides focus in the form of a deadline. It can lift your horizons and help you view your writing ambitions in a wider context. However, there is a balance to be sought, as always; the hard graft of seeking and applying for opportunities will eat into precious writing time.
A good place to start is your regional literature development agency. These agencies are Arts Council England-funded, not-for-profit organisations that exist to support writers and generate opportunities. Helen wrote this article in her role as Chief Executive Officer of Literature Works, the literature development agency for South West England. The other agencies are: New Writing South, New Writing North, Spread the Word, London, National Centre for Writing, covering the East of England , Writing East Midlands and Writing West Midlands. There are non-regional agencies, too, such as Speaking Volumes, which produces Breaking Ground: Celebrating British Writers of Colour, a resource aimed at improving representation and diversity in live literature events.
Signing up for your regional agency’s online newsletter will instantly connect you to networks and opportunities. Amongst other things, we run writing courses, offer mentoring and bursaries, administer prizes, oversee festivals and tour live literature. Some of us have membership schemes, through which you can access advance information and connect with other writers. Creative Scotland supports an equivalent in the Scottish Book Trust , and the Arts Council of Wales supports Literature Wales . We all survey writers on a regular basis about their priorities and needs, so that you can have your say and feed into what we offer as well.
In a constantly changing landscape, there are hundreds of writing prizes. They sometimes charge a small fee per entry and often offer publication in an anthology as part of the prize package. A significant number recognise new talent or previously unpublished work.
• The Bridport Prize is one of the biggest and aims specifically to encourage emerging writers, with categories for short stories, poems, flash fiction and first novels.
• The Royal Society of Literature’s annual V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize is for the best unpublished short story of the year, which is then published in Prospect Magazine and the RSL Review.
• The Betty Trask Prize and Awards distributes substantial prize money every year to the best published or unpublished first novels by writers under the age of 35.
• The Creative Future Literary Awards showcase the work of talented writers from under-represented groups, with prizes and mentoring offered for writers of poems and flash fiction.
There are many others and the smaller prizes should not to be overlooked. They offer better odds of winning, with closely defined areas of interest that may just dovetail nicely with your interests.
Awards and bursaries are another prospect. They can provide crucial cash support that reduces financial pressure and frees up time for writing and research.
• The Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award supports an unpublished prose writer to complete their first book.
• The Royal Society of Literature’s Giles St Aubyn Awards help writers complete their first commissioned work of non-fiction.
• For more experienced writers, the Royal Literary Fund runs year-long writers’ fellowships at universities and colleges to help students with their academic writing.
Be aware, though, that demand outstrips supply for all high-profile awards; your regional literature development agency may well be running similar schemes on a smaller, more attainable scale.
Do also sign up for information about Arts Council England’s funding streams. These are generally grants for activities over a set period that engage people in arts activities and help artists and arts organisations to carry out their work. Individual writers can apply to the ‘Developing Your Creative Practice Fund’ for a grant of between £2,000 and £10,000 to support periods of research, developing new ideas, international work and training, networking or mentoring.
If you are looking for objective external feedback on your writing, there are a number of services on offer. The Literary Consultancy’s ‘Free Reads’ scheme produces detailed assessments from professional readers for promising writers on low incomes or from under-represented groups. The regional literature development agencies and other partners select and submit work to the scheme each year and the same service is also available from The Literary Consultancy (on a paid basis).
Perhaps you crave time and space to write, away from day-to-day responsibilities and in the company of other writers? Arvon has been making this possible for 50 years at residential writers’ centres in secluded locations in Devon, Shropshire and West Yorkshire. Course members make the house their home for five days and immerse themselves in writing. They are tutored and guided by two established authors, who encourage them to take themselves seriously as writers. Courses run all year round, in many genres and for different writing stages. The list of tutors, past and present, is an impressive roll call of contemporary writing talent. Arvon offers substantial bursaries to people who cannot afford the full course fee and works in partnership with other organisations to provide bespoke courses for particular interest groups. Moniack Mhor runs a similarly impressive programme in the Scottish Highlands and Tŷ Newydd, on the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales is the National Writing Centre of Wales.
If you enjoy time away from the desk, bringing writing to other people, opportunities for paid writer-in-residence work come in many other forms and settings. A writers’ residency can be a one-off event, or it may actually involve a writer living at a property. Usually it entails some combination of activities for the writer, between running workshops and developing their own work.
Writers can be paid to work in prisons, in commercial firms and, in the south west, at National Trust properties with a literary heritage. Literature Works also places poets in community dementia care settings, remembering and creating poetry with people living with memory loss and their loved ones.
Schools will often engage a local writer to work with children and there is good guidance on this from the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE). It is well worth looking out for opportunities to train as a facilitator or writing workshop leader. This can not only provide you with essential guidance on things like safeguarding and insurance, but will sometimes feed directly into projects as well.
Literary festivals are springing up everywhere and there will be at least one near you. Get to know the organisers; volunteer if you can spare the time. The big ones are well established and attract high-profile media sponsorship. Smaller ones are thriving, too, and they are often keen to promote local writers.
There are now a range of themed literary days or weeks throughout the year:
• World Book Day, in early spring, is a celebration of books and reading marked by many schools and a great opportunity for author events.
• The most prominent of the longstanding generic promotions must be National Poetry Day, celebrated in the autumn and firmly on the agenda of publishers, booksellers, schools and poets.
• A relatively new and welcome addition is National Writing Day, which takes place in the summer and provides a focus for all sorts of writing courses and opportunities. Check the dates for these and others, and put them in your calendar. Opportunities may well arise for events, volunteering and connecting.
In the south west of England, we have a long track record of working closely with libraries, based on the absolute knowledge that writers need readers and vice versa. Libraries often host or run writing groups and these, for many people, are a great place to start and sustain your writing. Libraries run regular author events and themed or local promotions. Though operating in a harsh climate and often under-resourced, they can be fantastic early champions of local writers and it’s worth letting them know that you’re around. For an up-to-date overview of library sector innovations and latest news, the Libraries Taskforce blog is well worth a read.
In summary, there is vibrant culture of development opportunities for writers, whether just starting out or more established. It is worth doing your research and it’s very easy these days to keep informed by signing up for newsletters. If you can meet face to face, pop into your local library, or get involved with writers’ group that will pay dividends, too. None of this replaces precious hours spent writing, but writing is a craft that can be improved over time and there are many people and organisations out there, ready to share their expertise with you.
Words by Helen Chaloner. This article appears in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (www.writersandartists.co.uk/store) © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2020. Reproduced here, by permission of Writers’ & Artists’.