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?