A Bursary and a Strategy by Angela Graham
Angela Graham, a Welsh-speaking TV Producer from Northern Ireland, was awarded a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary 2017 to complete a collection of short stories. She describes getting to grips with the business side of writing.
Even before I knew I’d been awarded a Literature Wales Bursary I’d decided I would commit to writing as soon as a major work project finished on the 29th April. When the Bursaries were announced on the 30th I’d already booked myself a fortnight of relative solitude in Strangford, Northern Ireland. The encouragement of the Bursary was a real boost for this period.
On the shore of Strangford Lough, the village has two shops, two pubs, two restaurants and two cafés plus a small ferry trundling to and from the other side of the Ards Peninsula every half hour. What more could I want?
I stayed in the main street in a quirky, little house owned by friends. A lack of central heating meant I holed up in the front bedroom with a table at the window and Strangford Castle, an early-fifteenth-century tower-house, as an attractive foreground to a glimpse of the fast-running waters of the Lough and the castle-like ruined mill on the hilltop beyond. This ‘strong fjord’ was a base for King Magnus (Bare Legs) Olafson of Norway who met his end in a skirmish nearby in 1103.
Having nothing to do but write was brilliant and I savoured every moment. However, I am determined not to reach the end of my bursary period no closer to having a publisher so I’d taken some steps before heading for Strangford which I hoped would bring me closer to that goal.
Although I know the world of broadcast media well, as a producer and a media policy consultant, I am a novice in publishing. I had no way of comparing myself to the practice and output of other writers. I do understand marketplaces to some degree so I knew I needed an objective assessment of the quality and sellability of the work I’ve already done.
I asked for advice from Literature Wales and as a result I looked into the work of literary editors. Pointers are available on the Literature Wales website on the Information and Advice for Writers page. I opted for Gwen Lloyd Davies, editor of the New Welsh Review (www.newwelshreview.com). We agree that she would read 18 of my stories, assessing them individually and as a group and exploring whether or not there was already a publishable collection there. This detail of a collection was not something I had properly understood myself. I had simply written the stories because I was compelled to.
Gwen Lloyd Davies asked what the ‘theme of the collection’ was. I had to ask myself! For the first time I sat back, as it were, and considered those 18 and other draft stories as a whole. A theme leapt out at me, with a couple of sub-themes. I wrote them in a sealed note which I asked Gwen to read once she’d formed her own impression.
I want my writing to find a readership in Northern Ireland so I planned to spend some of my time there getting to know about possibilities. I asked Literature Wales to introduce me and my work to their counterpart in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (artscouncil-ni.org).
I found my meeting with poet, Dr Damian Smyth (www.damiansmyth.com), ACNI Head of Literature, very valuable indeed. I respond well to professionalism, knowledge of the market and an appropriate stringency. He approved of the fact that I was already putting my work to the test of a professional editor’s scrutiny. We discussed publishers and as I result I contacted one of the most prestigious publishers in Ireland and was delighted to have a meeting with a senior figure. I have subsequently sent three stories, at their request.
In the meantime, Gwen Davies got back to me with an outline response which was very encouraging, both about the calibre of my work and a sense of coherence overall. On my first day back in Cardiff my stories came back to me in the post with her full annotations. Her comments chime with my own instincts. I love the sense of fine-tuning I get from this, the craftsmanship. Such a pleasure.
I have arranged to send her the stories I polished up while in Northern Ireland so that she can give me her opinion as to whether or not they fit the shape of the collection she has already identified in my work.
I admit that discovering the theme that has driven my writing has been an uncomfortable experience. Who knew I knew so much about …
Before sitting down at the desk on Monday morning I was delighted to learn that I’d won First Prize in the Bridgend Writers’ Circle Open Short Story Competition for Acting Abby: “This multi-layered story stayed with me long after each reading, which is always a sign of a job well done… a very accomplished and thought-provoking piece of work.”
So now ‘all’ I have to do is keep writing and revising and find an agent and a publisher. My bursary has a few months to run. Let’s see how far I get.