News and views
Escalator Alchemy- A Guest Blog from Escalatee Jon Curran
Escalatee Jon Curran writes about the transformative power of the Escalator Writing Competition
Most stories are about transformation – ugly duckling into swan, frog into prince, kilt-wearing Scotsman into wild-haired, woad-faced Mel Gibson. And like all the best stories, the Escalator scheme has been, for me, a story about transformation.
This time last year, I had a few thousand words written down and some ideas that excited me about where the story might go from there. I’d get up each morning before the sun had risen and the rest of the family was awake and write a few more pages, moving the story forward piece by piece. I didn’t think of myself as any kind of writer though, just someone who wrote in the spare corners of the day that no-one else wanted.
Over the last year, through the Escalator programme, that scant start has turned into something that’s starting to look like a real novel. More than that though, I’ve started to become someone who thinks of himself as a writer, albeit one still in the early stages of the journey. Being an Escalatee puts you in the company of nine fantastic and hugely-talented writers as companions in the journey, and that’s been a wonderful experience. The journey isn’t always smooth. After the elation of winning a place on the scheme comes the part when you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder to yourself how you’re actually going to manage to pull this off. Me? Write a novel? Are you kidding?
That’s where David Rain – Escalator mentor
extraordinaire – proved himself as adept an alchemist as any in medieval Baghdad, where my novel is set. I would troop down to London with characters, plots, themes all jumbled around in my head– and David would somehow help me to make sense of them all. We’d wash it all around over coffee and there! A glimmer amongst the base metals, and lead would turn into gold. It seemed effortless, but I’m sure it wasn’t, so I’m eternally grateful to David for helping to get the thing off the ground.
The Escalator scheme has been about pushing myself, trying things I’ve never tried before, and growing as a result. Reading from our work at a special showcase
for friends and family here in Norwich made for a great evening, and a fitting end to our Escalator year, but of course the real work – the actual writing – goes on.
I still get up early in the morning as it’s my best time to write, but I now think of writing as the thing “I do”, and other things rotate around that.
Over the summer, my six year old daughter made a sign to put on the door saying “Quiet Please – Writer at Work”.
That is quite a transformation for one year.
About Jon Curran
Originally from Rochdale, Jon Curran spent his formative years in West Africa, the Middle East and Suffolk. After leaving university, Jon worked in the magazine industry before following the dotcom boom into IT. He now lives in Norwich with his wife and two lovely daughters. Jon’s fiction has appeared in Inferno
magazine, and he was one of the co-founders of the community blog “This Low-Carbon Life”, writing on environmental and community themes. He is working on his first novel, The House of Wisdom
, set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Visit Jon’s website
Follow Jon on Twitter @jaysaulc
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom
Gods, Monsters and Weird Creative Processes - A Guest Blog from Molly Naylor
Former Escalator winner and Norwich-based writer Molly Naylor reports on the creative process, being around the busy WCN office, and learning to write anywhere.
I have been in residence at WCN for the past few weeks, partly because they are lending some support to the development of my new live show but mainly because I begged them to let me come and write here. I am temporarily living in Beccles, and so the necessity to have somewhere to write is also mingled with the desire to not lose my connection to The Fine City and its many cosmopolitan benefits (you know, like things being open; and there being more than one pub. No offence to Gary's Discounts and the rest of the Waveney Valley region).
I thought I'd be using the meeting room, a large and private space. I imagined pacing around in there with a coffee, reading things aloud, blue-tacking my extensive notes to the walls. Perhaps the staff would pause from their work to wonder about The Writer downstairs, discussing in hushed, probably super-impressed tones what they imagined I was up to.
The problem with this notion (aside the narcissistic delusions) was that the meeting room is actually in use quite a lot. For, well, meetings. Meetings about actual, proper things. So instead I was offered a desk. In a room. With... other people.
Right, I thought. HOLD UP. I don't know if you've ever met me, but there's a reason why I don't have a 'proper job'. I can't do other people! And more than that, surely these other people can't do me. I will interrupt the flow of this lovely, calm, functioning office with my Weird Creative Processes™.
If you're a writer, you'll probably have your own needs in terms of the ideal environment in which to write. When I did the scriptwriting MA at UEA, the brilliant course tutor Val Taylor asked us to write down our 'gods' and our 'monsters' - things that help us write, and things that hinder our process. My gods list was far longer than my monsters, but there was a sense that I was going through the motions. Making it up a bit, or at least exaggerating. I went to town with an imaginary rider, probably feeling a bit like whoever that band was who wouldn't have blue M & Ms in their dressing room. Van Halen was it? Or Scouting For Girls? One of the two. I put down that I ABOSULTELY COULD NOT AND WOULD NOT WRITE without things like: a massive wooden desk, natural light, a fountain pen, a dog at my feet, absolute silence, real coffee... you can imagine the sorts of things. You probably have your own list. Maybe you can only write in complete isolation, or while wearing a suit and cravat, or when sat on a bean bag, or when Shania Twain is playing the banjo in your airing cupboard, or when you are aware that there is a snake, in a bag, in Dorset... we all have our gods and monsters. Or at least, I thought I did.
I sat down on my first day feeling pretty self-conscious about what the other people in the office would think of my Weird Creative Processes™. I had a cup of tea and I opened my laptop and in lieu of any other option, I started to write. Which, considering that this is literally my only job, was probably a good idea. And as I wrote, and drank, and deleted, and sighed, and edited, and yawned along with everyone else, I realised that actually the only thing I had to be self-concious about was my seeming lack of WCPs.
I think so many of those specified conditions have been, for me, an exercise in procrastination. And let's face it, I do not need more ways in which to procrastinate. I already have social media, an attention span that's been vastly impeded by the aforementioned and pretty much every film that's ever been made available at my fingertips. In these times of crazy busy noise, I've started to realise that instead of trying to switch everything off I might just have to start finding my quiet somewhere and someway else. Perhaps through the comfort of basic human interaction and community. Through structure and routine (you know, like a normal person). Through not thinking or suggesting that what I – or writers in general - do has any particular mysticism. Through acknowledging every day that writing is a craft and a skill just like any other job. If you want it to continue being your job and also have a shot at being content, it has to be functional. I mean, if you are accidentally a bit Bukowski-eccentric, then that's not for me to judge. In fact I'll inevitably fancy you a bit. But it's perhaps not something we should be aiming for or hiding behind.
I hope they let me stay a bit longer, anyway. I think it's helping the show hugely, by making me realise what could be a writer's greatest skill - to be able to write anywhere. Under any conditions. To be portable, and flexible, and unimpeded by gods, monsters, or Shania Twain's banjo-playing.
Molly Naylor is a Norwich-based writer and performer. She makes live shows and writes scripts for radio, theatre and television. Her first poetry collection is published by The Book Hive and she has recently been commissioned to write a sitcom for Sky, with fellow Norwich writer & broadcaster John Osborne. Her new live show will debut at the Norfolk and Norwich festival in 2014 – working title If Destroyed Still True.
For more info visit www.mollynaylor.com
Permission to Write - A Guest Blog from Escalatee Kyra Karmiloff
Kyra Karmiloff, 2012 Escalator Winner, blogs about writing nerves, her experience of Escalator and how the programme helped her to improve as a writer.
It was about this time last year that my lovely friend, the talented novelist and past Escalatee, Susan Sellers
, started breathing down my neck to enter this year’s Escalator Literature Writing competition
. I was feeling very despondent about my writing – ready to give up on it all after 10 long years of heartache and two novels withering away in the lightless files of my laptop. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a bash and set out revisiting old pieces, tossing one after another into the bottomless bin on my screen.
A pointless endeavor, I told myself, as I picked the chosen one and started dusting it down. Two weeks and eight-hundred edits later, I had my five thousand words ready. Or so I thought. With just days to go before the closing date, I printed out my competition piece, read it aloud for the nth time, made a few last changes and printed it again. Sixteen prints and two ink cartridges later, I put the blasted thing in an A4 envelope, addressed it, stamped it and put it in my bag. I dressed to go to the post office, took one final look at the words still humming on-screen, made a very final change, opened up the envelope, threw its contents away, printed out a fresh copy containing the much-improved first line, and sealed up the envelope again. I got in my car, started the engine, turned it off, went inside and repeated the whole process again, all for one word which was never going to make the difference between success and failure, but the opening sentence really was better in its original form.
It was a blessed relief to finally push the heavily-sellotaped envelope into the post box. It was out of my hands now. “All done,” I told Susan. Then silence. For weeks. Then an email, one morning before Christmas, telling me that I had made the shortlist and would hear in the New Year if I was one of the ten winners. Weeks of worry followed. A flicker of hope had been reignited: perhaps I would become a real writer after all. No no, said my brain. My bank balance agreed. Yes, yes, said my long-suffering friends and family.
And so it was that I became one of the 10 Chosen Ones
. For this year at least.
What ensued was the most amazing, nurturing and spirit-lifting experience I have had as a writer. Writers’ Centre Norwich provided us not only with wonderful support and guidance, it gave us a stamp of approval, a permission to write. We received help applying for funding from the Arts Council
, allowing us to cut down on work in order to focus on our projects, and were given months of invaluable mentoring. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the amazing Tobias Hill, who not only helped me turn a scruffy idea into a fully-fledged story, but gave me back my confidence as a writer. Most of all, what the scheme provided us with was a license to be who we are – writers – and do what we love doing best: writing. No longer solitary scribblers, tossing hour after hour at a pursuit that felt like little more than pure indulgence, we were now recognized talent, bona fide novelists. It was like receiving Dumbo’s feather and jumping off a cliff, knowing we would fly.
I took my little competition piece, looked it in the face and decided that it deserved some limbs, a beating heart, a personality or two, and a name. What started as a few paragraphs bullied onto a page by a well-meaning friend now became the beginning of a novel, my third and hopefully the lucky one. The one that will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones, where there is space: I’ve checked. In fact, last time I went to peruse the rows of K’s, a thoughtful shop assistant had cleared a great big gap precisely in the spot where The Witchfinder’s Lover
will, with any luck, sit one day. Yes, yes, said my brain!
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition.
View all the 2012 Escalator Winners.
About Kyra Karmiloff
Half-English, half-Russian, I did most of my growing up in London. After completing my degrees at UCL, I set up as a freelance writer and researcher, mainly in the field of Language and Child Development, while continuing to dedicate as much time as possible to my fiction. I am the author of three non-fiction books and have had many articles published in magazines and online. During tough times I have also been a DJ, a dog-groomer, a stable-girl and cleaner – anything to stay self-employed and keep writing. I live in Fen Ditton with my boys and my partner, Rocky, a film director with whom I collaborate. I now make a living writing film treatments and researching new material, while continuing to pursue my novelist ambitions.
The Witchfinder’s Lover
is a coming-of-age story of two siblings growing up in Cambridge during the turbulent years of the Civil War, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of Matthew Hopkins, the man responsible for mounting the deadliest witch-hunt in British history.
Visit Kyra's blog.
Follow Kyra on Twitter @KKarmiloff
Keep Calm and Carry On- A Guest Blog from Lynsey White
Escalator Literature Writing Competition winner Lynsey White blogs about her experience of the programme and the importance of keeping on going.
In the immortal words of Ronan Keating, ‘Life is a rollercoaster. Just gotta ride it.’
There have been times, during this Escalator year, when I’ve joked that the scheme should be renamed Rollercoaster to better reflect the ups and downs of the process. From our inaugural meeting at Writers’ Centre Norwich, back in January, to the recent ‘Showcase’ reading at Foyles bookshop
, the year began and ended with stimulating and inspiring company (and some of the best nibbles I’ve ever tasted).
To have nine such talented writers
for bedfellows was an honour in itself. But as January turned to February an ice wind nipped at the heels of my Escalator win: ‘You’ve told these nice people you’re writing a book. You know what? Now you’ll actually have to write
And not only write it, but share
it. My lovely – and undeniably canny – mentor, Michelle Spring, was poised by her email inbox (or so I fantasised), waiting for the satisfying plop of my first delivery. Waiting to see right through me. ‘This woman thinks she can write
? Oh boy.’
Like a scene in a Hollywood movie, an ominous ticking began.
So I sat myself down at the empty white screen and the nagging black cursor was flashing in time with that ticking, and maybe the ticking was actually somebody’s fingernails drumming… and slowly that somebody took on a face, and that face was Michelle’s as she fired off a gently encouraging email: ‘You mentioned you might have some work for me, Lynsey…?’ And words would burst onto the screen in a frenzy of typing – and frenziedly vanish again in a fit of despair. I would hold up my plot for inspection and peer through the strange lacy holes in the framework. Oh god. I can’t do this. A short story, fine, but a novel? A novel’s so long…
But gradually, painfully, brewing my fiftieth tea of the day, I put fingers to keyboard one morning and started to write. The mere fact of a reader as witty and wise as Michelle being willing to read my poor efforts was more of a spur than I’d known it would be. The best book, we all know, is a book that’s not written yet. Something still wrapped in the cosy cocoon of your head. As that book takes its first clumsy steps on the page it’s invariably awful. It wobbles and stumbles and bashes its feet on the furniture. Hence, my first drafts had been jealously guarded till now. ‘No one’s died of embarrassment yet,’ I reminded myself as I mailed my first pages and met with Michelle, a week later, for tea in a quaint Cambridge pub.
There were things that she liked. There were things that she didn’t. Keep going, she said. So I did. When the feedback was more bad than good I would sit on the train home from Cambridge, my wreck of a book in my lap, and I’d ruminate on the pros and cons of giving the whole thing up and retraining in something more sensible – crocodile wrestling; clown school – instead. I was right. I can’t do this. I suck.
But the weeks and months passed, and in time – as I wrote and rewrote the damn book, and regrouped with my nine fellow writers for moral support – something started to happen. All right, so I’d written a terrible sentence, a scene that was dead on the page. I had too many characters. Far too much wallpaper. Barely the hint of a story… So what? These were challenges, gauntlets thrown down as we thrashed out the wheat from the chaff of my novel. I stopped being precious about it, and grew a new layer of skin. Michelle fizzed with ideas, and instead of resisting her input (it’s my book, get off!) I would hear the soft click of a brilliant idea as it fell into place, and rush back to the screen – mostly black now, not white – as that brilliant idea stitched a hole in the plot or suggested a subtext or sped up a scene.
Writing novels is hard. We Escalatees have been gifted with our first sniff of real professionalism this year and – for this Escalatee at least – that’s meant glimpsing the troubles as well as the joys. In these turbulent times for the publishing industry, a writer must sail in the cutthroat seas of the Amazon one-star review. Mere talent won’t keep you afloat. What you need is resilience. I’ve so many reasons this year to be grateful to WCN and my mentor, Michelle, but it’s this, above all, that I’m thanking them for: the simple, but vital, ability – in the face of the utmost despair and self-doubt – to keep calm, and keep going.
And so, as we come to the end of our Escalator year, I’m making another bid for a name-change – but this time to ‘Carousel’, in the vain hope that WCN will let me go round for another year.
Find out more about Escalator.
See the 2012-2013 Escalator Winners.
If you think you'd benefit from a professional critique, then take a look at our TLC Free Reads competition
, which is open for entries now.
About Lynsey White
Lynsey was six when she first fell in love with writing, eleven when she wrote her first novel (which, sadly, remains unpublished) and seventeen when she made it into print with a poem in The Rialto
. In 2002 she won the Bridport Prize for short stories and a Canongate Prize for New Writing. Her work has been taught on a creative writing syllabus at Birkbeck College and translated into Braille by the RNIB (alongside stories by the rather better-known Robert Harris and Agatha Christie). After a spell presenting arts shows on local radio she moved into Adult Education, where she currently teaches short story writing. She’s also a travelling piano teacher, a nonfiction copywriter and, occasionally, an editor. Most recently she was shortlisted for the 2011 Fish Short Story Prize. Her novel-in-progress is Madder Hall
: a playful take on the haunted house genre, set in the 1970s.
Visit Lynsey's website
Follow Lynsey on Twitter @LynseyAnneWhite
Read an extract from Lynsey's novel
, Madder Hall.
A Lovely Bunch- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees at the Showcase
Escalator Literature offers ten winning writers a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of workshops designed to help the writers improve all aspects of their craft, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support.
Laura Stimson, Programme Manager at WCN, writes on our Escalator Literature Showcase, an evening event where our ten Escalatees read short extracts from their work to an audience of friends, family and literary agents.
On Friday we celebrated the end of the Escalator Literature programme with a showcase event in London. This sounds rather final but in fact, it felt like the beginning of things, with the ten Escalator winners spending the evening talking to agents and each other about what comes next. I came into the Escalator programme half way through, having been on maternity leave, but feel I’ve gotten to know the ten writers quickly. They feel like a group, each of them integral to the dynamic, each of them glad to be part of a cohort. They’re a lovely bunch.
Chair of Mentors Michelle Spring kicked off the readings by introducing her mentees. First, Mary Nathan, whose novel Michelle described as having a vivid sense of time and place. Mary read from a scene of her intricately visualized book that was rather aptly set just the other side of Charing Cross Road, where the showcase took place. ‘I smile widely enough so that it will reach my eyes,’ she read, as her protagonist battles inner torment in Georgian England. Next up, Bridport short story prize winner Lynsey White, whom Michelle described as having moved ‘confidently into the role of novelist’. Lynsey’s almost Dickensian story, gleaming with curses and extraordinary characters, nods towards gothic fantasy. The chapter she read from, entitled ‘Glass Worm’, contains the unique description of glass harpsichord, its melody ‘thin as a needle’.
Mentor Cathi Unsworth introduced her mentees with trademark wit, vigour and lyrical dexterity. Cathi mentored talented namesakes Megan and Meghan. UEA graduate Megan Bradbury
’s book is a fact/fiction mash-up; perhaps too casual a term for her agile, sophisticated prose. Amongst other things, it is a sparkling psychogeography of New York city; weaving the reader through this ‘gap toothed’ city. ‘How long will it sit like this, straddling the seasons,’ one line asks. Cathi describes Meghan Purvis
’ prose as ‘muscular’, a perfect expression for her book, a vampire novel which ‘swaggers the badlands’ between gothic contemporary noir. Meghan read from a scene which snagged us all; visceral, vibrant, menacing; a real cliff-hanger.
Like many of her Escalator contemporaries, L.E. Yates
’ book re-tells history. Her novel From the Mountains Descended Night
is framed by one of the greatest literary scandals of the eighteenth century, a story which her mentor David Rain described as ‘highly original, grippingly readable.’ Her scene describes an interaction between James McPherson and Samuel Johnson, in which Johnson first accuses McPherson of having created fiction. Jonathan Curran
’s book is another fiction underpinned by real events; the fall of Baghdad in the 13th Century. Told through the eyes of a boy, it describes what was once a city bright with science, philosophy, and learning, destroyed by cataclysmic political events. As his protagonist daydreams the horrors to come, he imagines fires burning ‘high and bright inside his eyelids’.
Tobias Hill’s first mentee, Kyra Karmiloff
also uses real world scandal to frame her novel. Set in the days of the Witchfinder, her book unpicks the delicate and destructive relationship between siblings. Kyra read from a scene describing ‘barber surgeons’, the game the siblings play, which involves lathering their bodies with lye suds and ‘shaving’ their bodies, removing the soap. Sue Healy
, Tobias’ second mentee, read a hilarious, beautifully constructed scene from her book, The Hole in the Moon
. It’s a vivacious, funny, often sad story of dwarfism, brotherhood, pornography, love and destruction. ‘Abroad shouldn’t be rainy,’ protagonist Dan P contemplates, on arriving into Hungary, ‘abroad should be roasting.’
Mentor Natasha Cooper worked with two historical novelists. Ian Madden
’s story is a fictional look at the real life relationship between artist JMW Turner and ‘the woman who was not his wife’, whom he lived with. The scene he read from, a wonderful illustration of the passion and eccentricity of an artist, did something rather clever; it allowed the listener to omit the male voice and transport firmly into the mind of the female protagonist. We finished the night’s readings with Linda Spurr
, whose story set in ancient Arabia, tells of woman’s struggle for autonomy. Using scent as its driving force, which she writes about with great agility and beauty, hers is a love story to frankincense and one woman’s ambition to capture it.
It was a special evening. Special because it marked the culmination of the programme. Special because it allowed the authors to meet and talk with agents. Special because they genuinely enjoy each others' company and have formed a true cohort. Special because listening to ten authors read may, on paper, sound excessive but was in reality a delight. One which was over all too soon.
Find out more about each of our Escalator winners, and read extracts of their work
Read Sue Healy’s blog on the Escalator experience
Find out more about Escalator Literature
What a Difference a Year Makes- Celebrating the 2012 Escalatees
After a year of professional development our ten winning genre fiction writers have almost reached the end of the Escalator Literature programme. They’ve spent a year writing furiously, assisted by a programme which included one-to-one mentorship with a professional writer, a series of professional development workshops, support on applying for an Arts Council England Grants for the Arts award and the ever essential peer support. Tonight they’ll be celebrating all of their achievements at the Escalator Showcase at Foyles, along with an audience of friends, family and literary agents.
Our ten talented writers were winners of our genre focussed Escalator competition – let me introduce you:
Megan Bradbury is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing MA, and won the Charles Pick Fellowship in 2012. She has been working on her first novel, Glass Satellites which documents a history of New York through the figures of writer Edmund White, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, urban planner Robert Moses and poet Walt Whitman.
Read an extract from Glass Satellites.
Jonathan Curran has had short stories published in Inferno magazine and in Let the Galaxy Burn. In August of this year he was long-listed in the Words with Jam First Page Competition. Over the year of Escalator he has worked on his first novel, House of Wisdom which is set in 13th Century Baghdad.
Read an extract from The House of Wisdom.
Sue Healy’s short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award, amongst others. She has been working on her novel The Hole in the Moon which is a humorous Magic Realist tale which weaves redemption plot and love story.
Read an extract from The Hole in the Moon.
Kyra Karmiloff is the author of three non-fiction books and currently makes a living writing film treatments whilst pursuing her novelist ambitions. Her novel The Witchfinder’s Lover is a coming-of-age story of two siblings, whose lives are transformed by the arrival of witch hunter Matthew Hopkins.
Read an extract from The Witchfinder’s Lover.
Ian Madden’s short fiction has appeared in the Edinburgh Review, Wasafiri and the Bridport Prize anthology. He is currently working on a historical novel called The Second Mr Booth, which tells the tale of Sophia Booth who lived with celebrated artist JMW Turner.
Read an extract from The Second Mr Booth.
Mary Nathan works in educational publishing as a freelance editor and writer, and has written more than 20 books for pupils and teachers. Her novel, 23 Maudlyn Street, is a gothic tale which explores the mysteries within a doctor’s house.
Read an extract from 23 Maudlyn Street.
Meghan Purvis has completed a Ph.D in Creative Critical Writing at UEA. Amongst others, her poetry has appeared in Rialto, Magma and The Frogmore Papers. She has been working on a historical supernatural thriller, The Wages of Dying.
Read an extract from The Wages of Dying.
Linda Spurr teaches creative writing in the Rickmansworth area and is a former sports journalist. Over the year she has been working on her novel Frankincense. Frankincense tells the story of Nashwa, who resists marriage and fights the customs of her culture.
Read an extract from Frankincense.
is an award-winning short story writer, with honours including the Bridport Prize and a Canongate Prize for new writing. She has been working on a novel set in the 1980s called Madder Hall
, which plays with the trope of the haunted house.Read an extract from Madder Hall
completed a Creative Writing MA at UEA, and has stories published in a range of anthologies from Parenthesis
. She has just finished her novel, From the Mountains Descended Night,
which explores one of the biggest literary scandals of the 18th century – that of The Poems of Ossian and the forger James Macpherson.Read an extract from From the Mountains Descended Night
Please do take the time to read these impressive pieces of writing, and join us in offering our heartiest congratulations to our accomplished Escalatees!Read Sue Healy’s blog
on the Escalator experience. Read Susan Sellers’ blog
on the long lasting effects of Escalator.
Take a look at the full biographies of our Escalatees
Find out more about Escalator
Writing Friends are Important: Susan Sellers on How the Escalator Competition Continues to Provide Support
Susan Sellers was an Escalator winner in 2007-2008 where she completed her first novel, Vanessa and Virginia. She began her second novel, Given the Choice, with her Escalator mentor Sally Cline and the support of an Arts Council Grant for the Arts. It is published this month by Cillian Press. Here Susan blogs on the challenge of writing the second novel, and the importance of having writing support:
I vividly recall when I launched Vanessa and Virginia
during my Escalator year in 2008, a friend saying to me 'of course, what's really difficult is writing a second novel.' At the time I laughed and thought 'how can anything be more difficult than the first?' But he was right.
I had been researching the close, sometimes turbulent relationship between Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell for the best part of ten years, and with Vanessa and Virginia
I simply plunged in, without thinking too closely about the process.
Given the Choice
was different. The pitfalls seemed to announce themselves in flashing neon even before I stumbled into them. There was also - if this is possible - an acceleration in every kind of displacement activity. It remains a mystery to me why all those otherwise tedious tasks - organizing email, dusting, even on one memorable occasion hemming my sitting-room curtains - can suddenly seem so utterly compelling when writing is at stake.
I can honestly say that without the ongoing support I have received from WCN, my Escalator mentors
and the other writers who were with me on the scheme, I might never have finished Given the Choice
, let alone bring it to the point where it could be published.
I owe part of the inspiration to Sally Cline, who, in an early mentoring session after I had finished Vanessa and Virginia
, challenged me to write something contemporary in order to break away from Bloomsbury. One of many surprises about Given the Choice
is that the character who quickly emerged was a sassy businesswoman, working in the glamorous and controversial art and music worlds.
I also remember a day when, flushed with the excitement of completing a full draft, Sal wondered whether my ending was the right one. I thought about Charles Dickens and how, when he first finished Great Expectations
, he congratulated himself on breaking with convention only to be told by Bulwer-Lytton that his ending was too sad and he should pen a new one. I liked my ending but Sal encouraged me to play around with it. What happened next proved crucial not only in determining the outcome for my characters, but in shaping the book Given the Choice
Find out more about Given the Choice.
Find out more about Escalator Literature Writing Competition
About Susan Sellers:
After a nomadic childhood, Susan Sellers ran away to Paris. Renting a chambre de bonne, she worked as a barmaid, tour-guide and nanny, bluffed her way as a software translator and co-wrote a film script with a Hollywood screenwriter. She became closely involved with leading French feminist writers and translated Hélène Cixous. From Paris she travelled to Swaziland, teaching English to tribal grandmothers, and to Peru, where she worked for a women’s aid agency.
Susan is a Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of St Andrews. In 2002 she won the Canongate Prize for new writing and, following a year with Escalator, published her first novel Vanessa and Virginia in 2008. Her second novel, Given the Choice
, which she began with Escalator, is published this month by Cillian Press
Susan is hard at work on a third novel, and meets regularly with her Escalator peer group to keep her writing on track and herself sane.
Visit Susan's website
Writing and Redemption: Sue Healy on Escalator Writing Competition
Sue Healy was chosen as one of our ten Escalator Winners in 2012. Through Escalator Sue has received a year of professional development, including one-to-one mentorship with writer Tobias Hill, a series of workshops designed to help her writing career, peer support, and advice and support on applying for an Arts Council Grant.
This time last year I was looking at ten-or-so pages of notes for a story idea I had about a guilt-ridden, embittered dwarf and a cult in Hungary. I was fretting about how I could whip these scraps of writing into some sort of shape as a proposal for the Writers’ Centre 2013 Escalator Award for a genre novel. It was pretty raw material, but somehow, I did. I was selected and twelve months on, that angry dwarf has found redemption via the completed manuscript of my debut novel The Hole in the Moon
. Moreover, I have the draft of a screenplay of the same story which has been selected for write2screen
’s Script HotHouse, also supported by the Writers’ Centre. This progress is entirely down to the support and professional development I’ve received over the past year.
I’d had success as a creative writer before embarking on the Escalator Scheme. By that time, I had already won a number of national awards for my short stories, which have all been published in various anthologies, and I’d had my first radio play broadcast, and a play staged. However, my end goal had always been to write a novel but since graduating from my 2009 MA in Creative Writing from UEA, mustering the focus, determination and dedication to do so whilst working full-time, was proving difficult. Then along came the Escalator.
The first gift the Escalator provided was affirmation. If my project was good enough to be selected, then this tale of an angry challenged man and his (comic) journey towards self-acceptance, deserved my time and respect.
As part of the scheme, you are provided with a number of one-on-one mentoring sessions with an established writer. This writer selects the project with which they wish to work and mine was chosen by novelist Tobias Hill. Tobias was a perfect mentor, providing me with just the right balance of challenge and encouragement – and he ‘got’ my humour. Moreover, the deadlines we set of 10,000 words per month were achievable but enough of a stretch to help me keep on pace. I had the story down by the early summer and the present draft by autumn.
The financial support provided by a Grants for the Arts bursary was heaven-sent. The Escalator Award does not provide the funds, rather you are coached through the Grants for the Arts application – a Herculean task. However, rather like childbirth, the laborious application process dims in the bright light of reward. In my case, the grant meant I could cut down on the day job, book time at a writers retreat and travel to Hungary to research.
Throughout all this time, my Escalator peers and I kept in contact via email and occasional informal Norwich based meet-ups when we advised, cajoled and bolstered each other through the challenges the year provided and cheered for each other as the rewards began to notch up (successful grant applications, finished novels, agent interest etc…). We were also more formally assembled for the series of helpful professional development workshops that took place over the year. And we’re not done yet. I’m looking forward to a showcase presentation of our work at Foyle’s Bookshop in London, which will see us winding up the year in style.
Looking back over my journey from last September to today, I have a sense that I have made five years’ worth of progression as a writer. Perhaps my embittered dwarf is not the only one who’s found redemption via the Escalator Scheme.
About Sue Healy
From Ireland via Hungary but currently living in the U.K., I find both my homeland and Hungary mesmerising theatres, forming the backdrop of my novel, The Hole in the Moon
I graduated from UEA’s MA in Creative Writing. My short stories and drama have won the Molly Keane Memorial Award, the HISSAC Prize, the Sussex Playwrights’ Prize, the Meridian Prize, the Waterford-Annaghmakerrig Award and the Ted O’Regan Arts Award. I have also been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Competition, and the BBC International Playwriting Award, amongst fourteen other prizes and my prose has been published in seven literary publications. My BAI funded radio drama ‘Cow’ was broadcast earlier this year and my radio drama series ‘The Daffodil’ will be broadcast in 2014. My screenplay adaptation of ‘The Hole in the Moon’ has been selected for Write2Screen’s Scripit HotHouse. I currently teach creative writing at a Norfolk prison.
Read a sample from The Hole in the Moon online
Follow Sue on Twitter @SueHealy
Visit Sue's website
As Good As It Gets? A Guest Blog from Kate Worsley
Kate Worsley, 2011/12 Escalator Literature Competition winner, blogs about her road to publication. Her debut novel, She Rises, is published on the 14th March. (Congratulations, Kate!)
'Now, listen to me,' said my neighbour, a mature and wise novelist, when I'd stopped hugging him with glee at having finally, finally, properly and conclusively finished my first novel. 'This is as good as it gets, trust me. This feeling. Whatever success you may or may not have, nothing feels quite as good as this moment.'
I was happy with that.
I'd written the bulk of my historical romp She Rises while on City University's Creative Writing MA (Novels) 2008-2010, just as the recession hit. Visiting literary agents could not have been more downbeat. 'If someone says they've slashed their list by 30% they mean 60%.' 'I offered an advance of £300 recently.' Etc, etc.
The one positive lesson I took away was knowing that She Rises had to be the very best it could be before I sent it out, even to the two agents who had expressed interest after the course showcase. Getting it to that point took another seven or so months, during which both the patience of everyone around me,– and my funds – were finally running out. In February 2011, I hugged my neighbour hard, and sent it to agent no. 1.
She got back to me three months later with an apology for taking so long. And a no. On my birthday. But she was kind enough to explain her reasons, and so I set about revising She Rises again. A friend convinced me to send it next to an agent he knew: 'It's just her sort of thing.' I sent it off in July and tried to get on with the next book.
I heard from her in late September. 'The subject matter of the novel doesn’t particularly interest me, therefore I wouldn’t be the best agent for you.' Not much revising to be done on the basis of that feedback.
The next day I sent She Rises to the other agent who had expressed interest well over a year ago. A week later she emailed: 'I thought this was amazing. It is so accomplished and pretty much unputdownable. I LOVED it and I would love to represent you.'
She sent it out that same week – Frankfurt was looming – to 18 editors. 'Just about everyone,' she said cheerfully. I felt like I'd bet all my chips at once.
Over the course of the next six weeks every single editor said no. In November, in an effort to move on – and access the Arts Council grant I'd failed so miserably to apply for on my own – I applied for Escalator to work on book two. Just before Christmas, I met one editor who wanted me to write an new beginning, cut 40k words, and he might consider it. I began revisions and started selling books and clothes on ebay.
Then, in January 2012 I was accepted onto Escalator. And in February Bloomsbury acquired She Rises for the UK and US.
My Escalator mentor, Tobias Hill, could not have done a better job of initially reboosting my confidence, and later of guiding me through what has been a sometimes overwhelming experience and into book two. The support of my fellow Escalatees has been invaluable, really.
Of course getting published is very 'validating'. It's great being told your work is great, and has found a loving home (and not having to sell the entire contents of your house on ebay).
But my neighbour was right.
More About Kate
I applied to 2011's Escalator programme by submitting an extract from my first novel She Rises, which I had written while on the City University Creative Writing MA 2008-10. I had already picked up an agent, Veronique Baxter at David Higham Associates, who had sent She Rises to 18 publishers, all of whom had rejected it. But then, in the space of a few weeks, not only did Bloomsbury come back with an offer for She Rises but I was also offered a place on Escalator. This could not have come at a better time. My mentor Tobias Hill was a font of wisdom on how to deal with being published for the first time, and the tricky 'second-book syndrome'. Thanks to Escalator, I'm now well launched on my second book, while Bloomsbury is publishing She Rises in the UK on 14 March and the US on 18 June 2013. David Higham has also sold audio-book rights.
Follow Kate on Twitter @KHWorsley
Find out more about She Rises.
Take a look at the Escalator winners from 2012/13 and 2011/12.
Story and Sugar- A Guest Blog from Escalator Winner James Ferron Anderson
James Ferron Anderson won a place on our 2006-2007 Escalator Literature Scheme and a TLC Free Read in 2011. His novel, The River and the Sea, was published by Rethink Press last year, after winning the Rethink Press New Novel Award.
Of course: we live by story. I want bread… and there’s a story there of me having the desire for bread, having no bread, planning to get bread. Not the most complex story. It goes on. What kind of bread? Will the shop have bread? Will this story have a happy ending? Well, it’s got a few layers. I tell myself stories of my hopes, fears, loves, hatreds, miseries, pleasures, and then buy into them.
This is the platitude that we…I, rather… understand and misunderstand our worlds through story. That realization came early, and that to explore these stories and the motivation behind them would be to understand the world better, and Jesus knows I needed that, sharpish.
But there was another level to which it could be taken: stories constructed with no illusion that what was being made had reality, that nebulous thing. The intentionally-made story, about people who never existed, doing things I usually had no experience of in places I probably had never been. An amalgam of the experienced and the read about. And unlike the story of the bread, and the few thousand other stories I’d tell myself every day, these I might choose to exhibit.
One of the first short stories I sent off anywhere, The Bog Menagerie, won the Bryan McMahon Short Story Award in Listowel, County Kerry and 2000 euro. When the letter came I phoned up a friend and read it to him. Is this a hoax? Think about those words in the letter… really carefully… I’ll read it again… Is this a fraud of some kind? I was shaking. I was shaking because if it was real somebody else had valued my plaything, my toy, my tool for trying to figure out what the hell was going on around me.
I never knew affirmation mattered until I got it.
I had a novel underway. It had been underway for four or five years. A novel is a heavy-duty JCB-tooled project in the world of story-telling construction. I submitted it for an Escalator Award. I got it. I remember being asked by Leila Telford to write a few words about how it felt. I said the affirmation mattered, the money mattered, the mentor mattered, the class on 'Reading in Public' mattered, the sometime company of the other winners mattered, the kudos for applying to an agent mattered. What part of it didn’t matter?
Yet I didn’t need Escalator to keep me working with words, incidents, relationships, consequences: the making-up of stuff. I wrote because the act of writing, even when frustrating, was always better than not writing. But what this award did was a magnified version of the Listowel and other awards: it took me out of the back room and kept the idea of making connections with readers via the page and its contents foregrounded. Of course writers benefit from sugar lumps that in various ways keep the pony trotting. My Escalator Award was more than a sugar lump (or a loaf of bread) in keeping me on the road that linked my images to the minds of others and not galloping off across the bogs and mires of solipsism. We can only thrive, if that is the word, for so long on neglect. We can only thrive so long in isolation. When I did take a slump in motivation a couple of years later a TLC Free Read Award shoved me back up onto my particular road.
I went on to write The River and The Sea
. It won the Rethink Press New Novels Award, and was published in November 2012. It’s a wonderful book, and I’m very pleased. I’m currently working on the provisionally titled Terminal City
, a rather noir love story set in Vancouver in 1940 and 1959. It’s going slowly but it’s going. Long may the pony trot.
More About James'
I was born in Northern Ireland where I worked as a weaver, glassblower and soldier. I moved to Norwich, partly to study but mostly to get my children away from the violence that was Northern Ireland in those years. I began to write in different forms, including poetry, short stories, plays and, more recently, novels. One of my first short stories, The Bog Menagerie
, won the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award and 2000 euro in my native Ireland. All The Whole Wide World
, another short story, was broadcast on Short Story Radio. The River and The Sea
won the Rethink Press New Novels Award in 2012, and was published soon after.
Visit James' website.
Vampires, Ghosts, and Pickpockets- Congratulations to the 2012/13 Escalator Winners!
In 2012 we asked genre writers to submit their best writing to our Escalator Literature Competition. We were on the look-out for high quality genre writing, including interesting mash-ups, and were overwhelmed by the response and calibre of the entries.
After much deliberation, our esteemed panel of judges managed to whittle down the submissions and chose ten deserving winners and three commended writers. So, with no further ado, here are our winners.
The Escalator Winners are:
Find out more about the winning writers, and read an extract from their work.
The Commended Writers are:
Read their biographies and an extract of their writing.
So What Do They Win?
The Escalator winners will each receive a year’s worth of professional development, giving them the opportunity to grow as a writer. The prize includes a mentorship with an established professional writer- this year the Escalator mentors are Tobias Hill, Natasha Cooper, Cathi Unsworth, David Rain and Michelle Spring. The winners will also benefit from a series of professional development workshops, peer support, advice on applying for an Arts Council England grant and will finish their year of mentorship with a showcase event in London.
Our past Escalator winners include Guy Saville
, Nicola Upson
, and Kate Worsley,
so we can’t wait to see what this year’s winners achieve!
Find out more about Escalator.
Find out more about the winning writers, and read an extract from their work.
Why Enter Our Escalator Literature Writing Competition?
More to the point, why wouldn’t you enter Escalator? Escalator isn’t your ordinary writing competition- it offers so much more than prize money or a one-off publication. Escalator helps you develop as a writer, and it offers you the tools to carve out a writing career. Open to genre writers living in the East of England, Escalator is looking for high-quality entries.
If you are one of our ten Escalator winners (that gives you pretty good odds by the way) then you get a years mentorship with an established professional writer. This year’s judges and mentors are Natasha Cooper, Tobias Hill, David Rain Michelle Spring and Cathi Unsworth. (Read their biographies)
You will also receive a series of professional development workshops, which will help you improve your writing, and navigate the tricky route towards publication. Of course, your fellow Escalatees will also provide peer support, and feedback, meaning that you always have your fellow winners to depend on.
Wait, there’s more!
Writers’ Centre Norwich will give you advice on how to apply for Arts Council grants, and coach you through the process as well as helping you with the always intimidating form-filling. Your work will also benefit from exposure to agents and publishers.
And after you’ve completed your year’s mentorship, you get to celebrate. Last years winners commemorated their achievement at Foyles, in the company of agents, publishers and of course, WCN staff. There are some lovely pictures from the launch, and an account of the evening on our latest news page.
Still not sure whether or not to enter?
Three of our past Escalator winners have very kindly each written us a blog which combined, are sure to convince you. Hayley Webster writes about how Escalator helped her discover her writing style, and made her realise that she didn’t have to conform to others expectations of her writing. Belona Greenwood blogged about how winning Escalator meant she could make her living from words, and Emma Sweeney’s piece is a moving exploration of her writing motivation.
This year we’re looking for entries from genre writers living in the East of England (that’s Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk).
Whether you’ve completed your novel or just begun it, we’re looking to see your entries! Send in your best piece of work by Wednesday 28th November 5pm.
And remember, we’re looking for genre writing, so crime, thriller, horror, fantasy, science-fiction, romance, historical fiction, genre mash-ups and a whole host of other genres are all welcome.
Visit our Escalator homepage to find out more.
Past Escalator Winner Hayley Webster Blogs About Finding Her Writing Style
Hayley Webster, Escalator winner in 2005, has kindly written us a blog about her writing experiences:
I remember how I felt when I found out I'd won an Escalator award. Jubilant, excited, and a bit scared. Maybe a bit smug too, although I wouldn't have admitted that. I had about ten pages of Jar Baby written and no plan of where it was going. I like to write without planning, to surprise myself, but being backed by a prize felt very serious. Which, it turned out, was a good thing.
I'd already been writing for a long time when I got the award. I had been a magazine journalist and completed my MA in Creative Writing at UEA the year before. The best thing about Escalator was the time it gave me to dedicate to writing nearly the whole book, and also the chance I had to meet some really inspiring and interesting other writers. It also gave me an extra boost to be 'taken seriously'. Filling in the grant forms was hellish – but being an Escalator winner meant we had help with that. Which, for me who can barely read a train timetable, was invaluable.
Having 6 months to do nothing but write was wonderful, challenging and, in the end a struggle for me – which was another benefit of Escalator – it helped me find the sort of writer I am, and helped me get into a rhythm that suited me.
I think, the best advice a published writer can give an unpublished one is that there are no exact rules or ways of getting published. You have to be honest with yourself about the sort of person and sort of writer you are. We met various agents and publishers through my MA and Escalator but I met my publisher, Robert Hastings of Dexter Haven, at a reading I was doing, unrelated to Escalator. We signed a three book deal. I am lucky to have found a publisher who champions and 'gets' the work. This is invaluable too.
You hear the advice 'write 1000 words a day, without fail, if you are serious about writing'. I've never done that. During Escalator I discovered I like to write nothing for two months. Then 10,000 words in three days. Then some serious editing. Then maybe nothing for four months. Then another 10,000 words. I'm happy with that. At least I will be when I've finished the next one...
Hayley Webster was born in 1977 and grew up in Burghclere, Hampshire and Thatcham, Berkshire. She is a graduate of the prestigious MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded a distinction. She was given an Escalator Award for Literature in 2005 and the writing of Jar Baby was backed by Arts Council East, who gave her a grant in 2006 to help in its completion. She has worked in women’s magazines, and now lives in Norfolk with her family. Jar Baby was released on the 25th October of this year.
Follow Hayley on Twitter.
Find out more about Escalator Literature Competition, currently open for entries. (Closing date 28th November)
Agents, Authors and Canapes: Escalator 2012 Showcase
On Thursday the 18th of October Writers’ Centre Norwich held our launch party for the Escalator 2011/12 winners. All of our Escalator winners attended, and read a short extract from their work. The 11/12 Escalator winners are all writers of high quality literary novels.
This year’s Escalator Launch was our most popular yet- we even had to get extra chairs out for impromptu arrivals! Michelle Spring
, chair of the Escalator selection panel, introduced Keith Packer
(or KJ Packer) and Armando Celayo
. Over the year Keith has been working on a novel called Ringmaster
, set in a Victorian travelling fair. Armando read an extract from his piece For the Recovery of Lost Things
which explores loss and love through the immigrant experience.
introduced Erin Soros
, who read from Hook Tender
, a novel set in an logging camp during the Second World War. Katherine then presented Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown
read from her novel XYZ
, transporting the audience to 17th Century Holland.
and Teresa Rogers
were introduced glowingly by Joanna Hines.
Elaine, a former journalist, read from Between the Lies
, a novel which explores the vicious nature of tabloid journalism through one woman’s plight. Teresa Rogers’ reading was lively, and full of expression, bringing her novel in progress, A Present from Shypden
, into the room with us.
The break brought chit-chat, mingling, canapés and prosecco. The Escalator Showcase gave the Escalatees the opportunity to show off their writing to their friends and family as well to present their work to the agents and publishers in attendance. The room was so full that it was difficult to navigate from one side to the other- never a bad thing at an event.
After the break, Tobias Hill
introduced BTI Larsson
and Kate Worsley.
BTI read from the woods
, a chilling story of a murdered child, which slips easily into the Scandinavian crime genre while redefining it. Kate Worsley read from her novel She Rises
, which has already been acquired by Bloomsbury and is due to be published in March of next year.
Bernadine Evaristo introduced our last two readers of the evening. Shereen Tadros’ novel, This Broken Reed, is set in 1950’s Alexandria, a time now known as the first Egyptian Revolution. This has particular resonance for Shereen, due to her Egyptian heritage. Rebecca Atkinson is currently working on her debut novel Collecting Faces, which is partially based on her former Guardian Weekend column.
Applause followed the readings. Chris Gribble, CEO of Writers’ Centre Norwich, took to the stage next to congratulate the winners of Escalator 2011/12, thank the mentors for all of their hard work and advice, and thank Arts Council, East for funding, supporting and promoting the Escalator Literature Programme.
The rest of the evening was dedicated to photo-taking, writing-talk, dissecting plot-holes and brokering book deals- so we’re looking forward to hearing about everything that our Escalator winners achieve.
A big thank you to everyone who attended, and huge congratulations to our Escalatees!
Thanks also to all of those who tweeted about the Foyles event. You can find us on @WritersCentre
if you'd like to get in touch via twitter.
Up the Escalator: Two Years On
Belona Greenwood has very kindly written us a blog about her experience of being an Escalator winner and how it changed her writing career:
I don’t know if it is a writer thing but I find it very uncomfortable when I tot up the passage of time. I have always managed to smudge the edges of dates, forget the anniversaries of things, lose my way in any calculation of when and where so it comes as a shock to realise that two years have passed since my year of mentoring on the Escalator scheme.
My still-ongoing book is a creative non-fiction book, Shadow Madonnas, an Exploration of the Map of Spite; a history of unmarried mothers. My Escalator year was invaluable but nipped past at quite a rate. The danger is that research flowers into procrastination. Personally too, in those two years I struggled with writing my own narrative as a single mother as the spine on which to hang the histories of others. I have now turned the book on its head and I am writing it as a lively account of the lives of others. I watch very carefully the new months that pass and impose new deadlines on myself. It is a relief that although some books do get written very quickly with knife-sharp focus, some take years to complete. It is a relief that I am not alone in having to answer the question, ‘is it finished yet?’ and say almost sheepishly, ‘No, not yet, ‘I’m still writing it.’ After a while nobody asks anymore and in a perverse kind of way there is a freedom in that sideline state and the only pressure on its long walk to the final full stop is my own.
For those of us of an impatient nature, I think it takes a particular ability not to panic but to hold back and keep faith with a long project. It is easy to feel scared as those years creep past and a book is still not ready to slip into the current of words streaming into publication. Sometimes, I do panic, other times I add up everything else I am doing and don’t give myself such a hard time.
Since my Escalator year I have been lucky to earn my living with words in one form or another. I have written a non-fiction How To Write A Play book, thousands of words on features, plays and a children’s novel for 9-12 year olds, The Circus of Miracles, finally edited and broken into chapters. Writing features for the excellent, independent Norwich Magazine and for a less excellent lifestyle magazine plus a monthly column with an Italian Magazine, has been like a flexing of writing muscle, a daily workout. Writing plays is a passion and my world is happily full of words. The trick I am still trying to work out is how to make sure it is also full of the time I need for the diet of writing that has a deadline measured in years rather than weeks or days.
The Writers’ Centre is a great support for emerging writers because it doesn’t measure your work only on short timescales. What a relief! It keeps faith in all the chrysalids it has seen start the transformative process into professional writers.
Our new Escalator Literature Writing Competition will be opening soon. Keep an eye on the Escalator homepage and sign up for our e-newsletter to be the first in the know.