Monday, 17 March 2014

A GRANT FOR THE ARTS: LIFE CHANGING NEWS

Happy Monday, Dear Readers - today I'm going to share the amazing news which made me so giddy on Friday. Here goes!

At the beginning of February I saw a blogpost by a fellow author in which she was celebrating having recieved an Arts Council for England Grant for the Arts. My mind was boggled. I'd heard of Grants for the Arts, and had even called the Arts Council up once, years ago, asking advice on whether I might be eligible. I was told 'No' - that writers like me, who were published, were ineligible. But now it looked like either I'd been mislead or things had changed, and I might be eligible to apply for a grant after all.

This was a huge deal. I'm in a weird position with my contracts this year, coming to the end of my three-book contract for the Name of the Blade Trilogy (which was negotiated by my current agent) with one single book contract left outstanding that was negotiated by my former agent.

Now, my publisher divides each advance that they offer for a book into three portions. They pay one third of the money on signature of the contract, one third on delivery and official 'acceptance' of the manuscript, and the final third on publication. I'd already had the signature advance on this contract in 2010, which meant I wasn't due another payment until I'd written the book and it was accepted - and it usually takes me between a year and eighteen months to write a book, and a few more months after that before the book is officially accepted. That's a long time to wait, and the level of my carefully hoarded savings was looking dangerously low. My only option was to try to find a job. And in the middle of a recession, and with a huge gap in my CV.

I'd be lucky - and I mean that sincerely, lucky - to get a place at McDonald's, or stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Guys, I've done the part-time writing while working at a day job to pay the bills thing. It's not, generally, so bad (although it depends on the day job, of course). But the prospect of being forced to do this, especially after the physically and emotionally exhausting last few years that I've had, caring for my father and slowly watching his health go downhill, was... profoundly depressing. My health is currently awful. My asthma is acting up in a way that it hasn't for years, and I'm only just starting to be able to move about normally again after a recurrence of a prolapsed disc in my spine AND a cracked rib. And if I even managed to get a job interview - which wasn't a certainty - I was going to have to go in there and explain all about what happened to dad in order to account for what I'd been doing since 2010. The mere thought of that, of all the stress, made me want to cry.

Trying to get a job, and then working at whatever job I could get, while at the same time attempting to write this book and make it as good as or better than the books that came before was going to mean hassle and anxiety at the exact time when I needed to be quiet and peaceful more than anything. When I *needed* to concentrate on the one thing that makes me feel better: writing.

So: Grants for the Arts. Possible life-saver. Possible life-changer. Could it be possible?

I looked into it and realised, yes, regardless of what I'd been told before, I was eligible to apply. But even if getting a grant was possible, that didn't mean it was *probable*. I needed to write a grant application which would give the ACE a huge amount of information about me, my book, the people who would engage with that book and how, and convince the assessors that I and my novel were worth investing in. The information on the website makes it clear that Grants for the Arts is a competitive programme and that each application is compared against others within the same field to see which are the strongest - that some people with good applications don't get funded simply because there isn't enough money to go around.

To say that I approached the extensive online application form for a Grant for the Arts with trepidation would be an understatement. Anyone who's ever been in despair and has suddenly been offered a tiny, shining glimmer of hope will tell you that it almost *hurts* to reach out and try to grasp that light. It takes a lot of courage. I emailed that other author for some advice (thank you, Nicole!) and did as much research as I could, and then, unable to stand it any longer, launched into it. I spent nearly twenty hours working on the form, most of it in a single day. I stopped to take the dog for walks, make cups of coffee, and use the bathroom, but that was it. I HAD TO GET THIS RIGHT. And yet I knew that even if I did, I still might not get the grant.

I submitted my application with a feeling of cautious optimism, which was bolstered when I got a confirmation email few days later to say that my information had passed the initial checks and that I was definitely eligible. But the normal turnaround on a decision for these grants is six weeks, and while that sounded like no time at all before I submitted the form, it suddenly stretched out to an eternity when I had to live through it. Even though I knew I wasn't going to hear anything much before the six weeks were up, I couldn't stop myself waiting for the postman each day with painful fear that he would bring a thin white envelope telling me that my application had been refused.

By week four, I had spiralled into pessimism and was feeling more anxious and low than I ever before. I was convinced - completely convinced - I'd mucked up the application and had absolutely no chance of success. I actually started to wish that I'd never applied at all, because waiting for the inevitable rejection was torture.

After all that, it seems almost anti-climactic to say that last Friday, a few days before the six weeks were up, a letter did arrive. It wasn't a slim white envelope, but a fat, brown, A4 one, and it contained an offer to give me a grant for the full amount that I'd requested. The maximum 'small' grant available from Grants for the Arts. Enough to support me financially for eighteen months and allow me to write my next book without having to (try to) find a job, or constantly do scribbled sums on the back of bank statement envelopes in a desperate attempt to pay all the bills.

It hasn't really sunk in yet. I keep thinking that if I jump up and down too enthusiastically or whoop too loudly I might break the spell somehow - wake up, or maybe catch someone's attention who'll tell me that it's all a mistake. But in the little moments when I can make myself believe it's true, the sheer relief of it is dizzying, overwhelming. I really wish my dad was here to celebrate this with me, or that I'd known about it before he passed away so that I could have reassured him by telling him that I would apply for it. He worried that I was going to have a tough time after he was gone - and he was right. I just hope that he's somewhere watching me now and smiling his big, golden grin and telling everyone who'll listen to him up there about how his little girl pulled it off. Now I just have to make sure I write something that will make him even prouder.



Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Inspired by David Marriott, the best dad in the whole world. And motivated by Dear Readers, the best readers any writer could ask for. I really have no excuse not to make my next book my best ever, do I?

31 comments:

Artax said...

Congratulations! Well deserved! So happy you can focus on writing for 18 months!

But also back up. What would be wrong with stating the truth on a resume? From 2010 onwards you were a full time writer, and you have several published books to show for it. That isn't a gap! That is an impressive accomplishment! Just because you have had the job of your dreams for 5+ years doesn't mean it doesn't count as a job. Put that on your resume, and the potential employer sees that you can write, you can create, you have the dedication to work, even on your own schedule, and get important work done. What employer wouldn't be impressed by those skills? Yes, there was stuff going on in your personal life, too, but you were working full time during all of it, so no need to explain anything. If this comes up again (hopefully it won't until you've written many more books), don't sell your work short as a full time writer! You go into a job interview poised and confident and explain that you have supported yourself as a full time writer since 2010, and here is a list of your books and awards. No gap! Seriously. No gap.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Congratulations!

And what Artax said x10. Supporting yourself as a full time writer, with all the transferrable skills and experience that brings (meeting deadlines, managing projects, self-discipline, creativity, communication skills), is certainly something which should go on your CV, and which would make you stand out a mile from other applicants.

Zoë Marriott said...

Artax: Thank you. As for stating that you've been a full-time writer on a CV or resume - take it from me that this is a bad idea. Potential employers, even ones at McDonald's, do not like to hear that you've got a whole other job which you will be working at in your spare time and which you will inevitably return to. It makes them feel you're not 'committed', that you're just going to be killing time at this job working for them. Which is the truth! Everytime that I've been foolish enough to bring up my writing at a job interview I've had the same rude questions about how much money I've made, why I wanted a part-time job, and how come I'm not hanging out with JKRowling. And I've never gotten the job. It's like interview suicide.

Zoë Marriott said...

Catherine: Thanks :) But see my reply to Artax. I've been there, and it doesn't work, believe me.

Emma Pass said...

Zoe, I am so freaking happy for you!! Congratulations! xx

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Emma! Whoop!

Nicole said...

So hugely happy for you! This has been a life-changing grant for me too - a chance for a debut writer to really make bold strokes in a difficult industry, in difficult financial times. Two months in and I'm still not adjusted fully to the idea of it, and can't believe how lucky I am! I say, next time you're around London town, that we head out for celebratory drinkies!!! MWAH!!!

Zoë Marriott said...

You're on, Nicole :) Thanks so much again for your help. I wouldn't even have applied without your example to follow.

Kate Larking said...

That is amazing news! Congratulations!

Zoë Marriott said...

Kate: thank you!

R.J. Anderson said...

Oh, that is GLORIOUS news. I am so very happy and relieved for you!

Zoë Marriott said...

*Hugs R.J.* Six weeks ago I didn't even realise I was eligible for this, and now the next eighteen months of my life are about to be transformed by it. I'm still dazed - but so grateful and excited. Wheeee!

Amy Elize Brown said...

Congratulations, this is great news! Money is such a massive worry, it much feel great to have it lifted for awhile. I'm have no doubt that your next book will be amazing :D

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Amy :)

Krispy said...

Oh Zoë, I'm so, so happy for you! What a relief this news must be, but also, it is fantastic in and of itself that you received a grant! Congratulations! I know you're more than deserving of this. :) *hugs*

Erin Bow said...

Oh! I can feel so much how you felt before this came in -- and that makes me SO HAPPY for you! How wonderful, wonderful, wonderful are the arts councils that save us ...

Zoë Marriott said...

Krispy: It does give me a really comforting sense of validation - that they looked at my history and my work and said 'Yes, she's worth investing in'. The stamp of approval!

Erin: *Hugs* Thank you! Right now I feel as if I ought to have the Arts Council logo tattooed somewhere important...

Sarah Bryars said...

Congratulations! So pleased for you xxx

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Sarah. *Snuggles*

Amanda Craig said...

I'm so pleased for you Zoe, and as a fellow asthmatic, I know what you go through. You should so not have to suffer like this. Glad the Arts Council has come up trumps.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thanks, Amanda. xx

Lucy Coats said...

This is SUCH good news, Zoe. I'm thrilled for you - and so glad that you have this breathing space. My LD is having a bad time at the moment, and I've just given her your Swan Kingdom, which she's latched onto like a drowning woman. We need your wonderful books and I know this new one will be all the better for the fact that some of the money worry has been lifted from you. Hooray for the AC. xx

Zoë Marriott said...

I feel as if I'm handing out virtual hugs like toffees today, Lucy - but I just can't help it. So many people have been so kind. *Huge Hugs* Thank you very much, and I hope your LD feels much better very soon.

Isabel said...

Zoe this is amazing!! I'm so glad things have worked out for you. No one deserves it more :) xox

Zoë Marriott said...

Oh, thank you Isabel! You're a sweetie. *Pinches cheeks*

Jesse Owen said...

Yay! I am so pleased for you - congratulations! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Jesse :)

Rachel Balcombe said...

Congratulations, Zoe! You deserve something as great as this, especially with all you've been through to get where you are today. I had an inkling when I saw the stamp on your website, but hearing it from you was awesome. :) May you go on to write many wonderful books that touch people's hearts as much as your existing ones have touched mine. I've just this week recommended your books to the Creative Writing Society at uni, and I'm so happy for you about this new funding. :)

Zoë Marriott said...

*Hugs Rachel* Thank you so much, sweetie.

Bonnie @ A Backwards Story said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Zoë Marriott said...

Bonnie: Thank you! Eeeee!

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