Time to Take Some Risks: on being awarded Arts Council Funding 

Jacqueline and Tree at Newstead Abbey
Jacqueline at Newstead Abbey, Notts

On Thursday, I had an email telling me I was successful with my application for Arts Council England’s new funding stream, Developing Your Creative Practice. I’m over the moon! In fact, I still haven’t come down from the news, yet. Actually, I say I had an email telling me this, but what I received was an email notifying me to go to the ACE/Grantium portal to action a letter from ACE. I was applying for a job when the notice came in at the top right hand corner of my computer. Normally I have this turned off, I’m not sure why it was on. I registered the notice, felt immediately sick and sad sure the news would be disappointing, and said to Martin, very quietly: ACE’s decisions are in. I’ve just had an email. Martin, more optimistic about these things than I am, asked me whether I’d got it or not. I shrugged and said I don’t know. I had to finish the application and get that off before I checked. I know what I’m like. First things first. Another email notification came in, repeating the first. I finished the application and sent it off. At this point, I’m hoping I sent it off without gibbering because to be honest I can’t really remember. I say first things first, but these things are distractions. Naturally.

Martin, needing to find something from the office stockroom, disappeared downstairs. I had to ask myself: Do I wait for him or do I go ahead and do it alone? My heart was literally pounding. I swear I could see if through my t-shirt.

I opened the portal. Logged in. Scanned the list for the letter I had to action. It was there: Offer Letter Acknowledgment. Still, I wasn’t let it get the better of me. It was then that I saw the front page header labeled Project Information. Under the project details, project number and amount requested was the field: Amount Awarded. I opened the letter. Scanned it. I then stood up, went to the office stairs, wondered where Martin was, remembered he was in the stock room, went and found him and did that thing we always do when we get good news which is sort of pretend we haven’t. Then Bam! We were jumping up and down in a little store cupboard surrounded by poetry books! How amazing is that!

I know I’m really lucky. It could have gone another way. This was a brand new funding stream for ACE, and competition would naturally be high. 894 eligible applications were received and only 103 grants were awarded. This amounts to £891,913 of £14.4m ACE has to spend over the next  four years. For literature, 20 grants were awarded (just less than 20%). In the Midlands, 13 grants were awarded across the arts, and of the two literature grants given they both came from the East Midlands. I’m quite proud of that. I learned about DYCP from the region’s new literature relationship manager, Pete Stone – who is brilliant, by the way, his advice was generous, clear and realistic. I owe him a massive thanks! Oh, and if you want to apply, it’s not Lottery funded (if you’re worried about these things).

Jacqueline at Windmill Lane, Worksop, Notts
Windmill Lane, Worksop, Notts

Developing Your Creative Practice focuses on helping artists and writers to develop material without having to evidence the audience development or public engagement that so often trips us up when we’re trying to apply for funding to produce the work. This is a fund that will help writers and artists take risks in the literature and art itself. To be ambitious. To contribute to the continuum of challenging and exciting work seen across the country. This freedom to take risks is important to me (as it is, I know, for others). It’s at the heart of why and how I write. I applied for time to write to work on a variation of the sonnet form based on the woodworking dovetail joint. My aim is to experiment with this form and build a sequence, or series of paired sonnets, against the backdrop of my father’s recent death. Central to this development is empirical research and I’ll be working with woodworkers as well as field specialists in forests, both local and international,  and local archives where I’ll be researching and my great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Gabbitas. She was the region’s first woman Master Chairmaker. My writing process will involve mentoring with the amazing Mimi Khalvati, plus writing courses. And two days a week writing time. Two days! Without worry about how to pay the bills. 

This project is also about re-centring me as a writer – this is the reason I work with so many other writers and literary organisations, because I love writing. I love poetry. Receiving this funding is a welcome endorsement of that, especially for those moments when I doubt it all (and who doesn’t?). 

We send out work, fill in applications for residencies, put together proposals for projects and apply for funding for our work never knowing whether we’re going to be successful or not. We work hard at our writing. My heart goes out to those unsuccessful this time, and I know if I hadn’t been so lucky I’d be feeling a bit rough right now. But I also know I’d re-apply. I’d talk to ACE, get the feedback, find out how I could improve and send again. I’d ask for help from whoever can give it, whether that’s local groups, organisations, writer development agencies, friends! The work we create matters. Art, literature enriches us: we learn from it, we grieve with it, love with it, we grow. We reach out into the world with the words we produce and embrace the words of others, of other languages, other identities, other ways of being. Here in the UK, we have freedom when not everyone does, and, not wanting to sound like a Nike or Adidas advert, we have the freedom to challenge everything, to take risks. Money helps. Without money, we have the freedom to not eat, to fall into debt, to struggle, and believe me, I’ve been there and I don’t like it. But I do it. Because I need to write. Having this funding makes it just that little bit easier, and I’m thankful for it.