In spring 2021, in an uncharacteristic moment of bravery, I decided to practice getting rejection letters for my writing. hands trembling I hit send and entered my first writing competition. In all honesty, I didn’t read much about the prize, there was a bursary, the chance to work with a mentor to develop your writing, publication of your work in The New Statesman, which I had at least heard of.
None of that mattered because none of that was the point. The point was to enter something so out of my league that it would soften the blow when I didn’t make the cut. Baby steps to rejection, see?
Then the unthinkable happened. I got shortlisted. While I babbled inanely, I was told I made it through to the next round. Top tip: Hysterical cackling is never a good look professionally. Still, it was just the shortlist. I mean, that was cool, but with my eyes on the prize, I was all ready to accept my rejection letter gracefully.
The call came, and I was ready. With my goal accomplished, rejection received, I would move on with my life.
Only I couldn’t even do getting a rejection letter right. The very lovely Claire informed me that, loving my writing, I’d won a place on A writing Chance Award with New Writing North. More cackling ensued. Sworn to secrecy, I could tell no one that the utterly fabulous Michael Sheen was leading the program.
That summer became known as the Summer of Cackling. Neighbours messaged to check I hadn’t come down with some weird variant of covid, the screeching so bad one was worried crows had moved into the house.
My daughter sent memes of Michael Sheen daily. I developed a tick, struggling to smother a cackle every time I saw his face. (Later this proved particularly awkward when meeting him in a Zoom call, the cackle half mutated into a simper, and I looked like I was having a stroke.)
Don’t let any of this make you think I haven’t taken the Award seriously. The program has been amazing. Along with the eleven other fabulous writers I have zoomed in with journalists, playwrights and publishers who were more than generous with their time.
Working with my brilliant mentor Siobhan McNally from The Mirror, I wrote, re-wrote, edited, and wrote again until an article appeared ready for publication.
The eleven other writers are, without exception, brilliantly talented, from all over the country, with different backgrounds and experiences. And the reason this award has been so valuable, not just to us personally as writers, is because you don’t hear from people like us very often.
Think about it, how many writers do you know?
How many writers did you know when you were growing up?
When you think of writers do you think of them living in a council house? Or having a disability? Or being hairdressers, or tutors or maybe not in work at all?
Does any of that matter?
Well, it did for me.
At school did your careers officer ever say, ‘why you don’t become a writer, or an artist, or a doctor?’ Mine told me to go work in the Co-op. There’s nothing wrong with working in the Co-op, lockdown showed us the people we depend upon, but if we don’t know writing is something we are allowed to do, that being an artist is a job you could do, then we never get to make a choice. Someone decides that choice for us, says it’s not for the likes of us and we should stick to what we know.
That pisses me off. I’m not good at being told what to do.
But more importantly, it means we only get to hear certain types of stories from certain types of writers. We don’t get to see ourselves in stories or tell our stories our own way.
And now here we all are on the New Statesman website. Telling our stories. Stories about us; internet dating, the foods of our childhood, a misremembered song, re-owning that childhood nickname. And there I am. Picking up litter.
A writer on a council estate near you.