The Literary Consultancy, (TLC) founded in 1996 by its Director Rebecca Swift and Hannah Griffiths, offers a service in assessing writers’ manuscripts to give advice on how to approach publishers and agents. Colin Hambrook interviews Penny Pepper about her experience with TLC in time for their ‘Quality Writing for All’ campaign launching on 16th June at The Free Word Centre in London.
TLC’s aim is to provide free manuscript assessment and a quota of mentoring and events placements to the most talented and diverse low-income writers in the country with an additional, but not exclusive, focus on BAME and disabled writers.
The quality writing launch is privileging ‘disability’ first, headlining award winning writer, poet, performer and rights activist, Penny Pepper with a performance of her spoken-word one-woman show Lost in Spaces. The idea of ‘Quality Writing for All’ is to encourage emerging writers to look at TLC and to see what it can offer.
Pepper has had an ongoing relationship with TLC for a number of years. She first heard about the agency through Myslexia and attended a workshop Rebecca Swift ran with Shape in 2012. She stayed in contact and availed herself of their reader services. Having subsequently received a bursary for mentorship, she has kept closely in touch with TLC over the last 18 months:
“When developing a writing project it can become very convoluted” says Pepper. “I first went to Rebecca with my novel Fancy Nancy, which she seemed to like better being performed. She loved my one-woman show Lost in Spaces when I took it to Soho Theatre and was keen for me to do something with the memoir elements of the work. She saw how the show could support my career development as a memoirist, to the publishing industry.”
“If you look back at other disabled people who’ve published memoirs there is a strong ‘triumph over tragedy’ slant running through the genre and I have been very wary of being led into that trap. Through TLC’s connections I got to meet a literary agent, and then I did a pitch for ‘First in the World Somewhere’, and finally got a positive response to my concerns about it being about the uniqueness of my journey, rather than an impairment-focussed, tragic but brave piece of inspiration porn.”
There is much crossover between the show ‘Lost in Spaces’ and the memoir, as both performance and writing incorporate experiences recorded through diaries and scrap-books, with samples of press cuttings gathered over the years. Think Tracey Thorne memoir ‘Bedsit Disco Queen‘ and you’ll get the idea of it focussing on making music and records and trying to get noticed as a performing artist, but from a unique angle as disabled activist.
“Working with writing mentor John O’Donoghue has given me the tools to think about how you embed your experience of impairment without it being a mystery to others and without it swamping the rest of your story. I would write a line like: “I closed the curtains using my handy grabber stick” and John would argue whether it was necessary. I don’t want to remove references to impairment completely because those things are a reality – and, as such, offset our struggle to have our experience as disabled people recognised in everyday terms.”
From punky loner to precious personal letters from pop star Morrissey, fanzine poet to Guardian contributor and Newsnight guest, there’s plenty in Pepper’s story to captivate the imagination. More than just a memoir ‘First in the World Somewhere’ promises to be a chronicle of our times.
“Besides the show at the Free Word Centre on 16th June, I am making a pack available to all guests – three chapters of the memoir, a synopsis, and a biography. The memoir is written in the present to give it more immediacy. It begins with my move to London as a young punk rebel and tells the story of how I met my first husband Andy and my first forays in a recording studio. Me and my first room-mate Kaye called ourselves the ‘Ugly Pygmies’. We did a demo as ‘The Dekadents’ and then we were ‘Bad’. You have to remember this was before the ILF and the support of PA’s. We’d do things like spend all our benefits on a taxi so we could get to the studio. But Kaye got viral pneumonia and realised that living without support was not an option at that time. So she moved back to Southampton where one of the first CILs was established enabling her to eventually leave home.”
“By the time I did my first single Live your Life in 87 I was Kata Kolbert. I then formed Spiral Sky in the late 80s with Steph from 2nd wave punk band ‘Hagar the Womb’. ‘First in the World Somewhere’ also gives an account of early developments with my short story collection ‘Desires’, which was first going to be published by Creation Press (an off-shoot of Primal Scream label Creation Records) under the title ‘Cripples Fucking’.”
“So it tells the story of my journey as a writer as well as a musician. Aside from just having received a Grants for the Arts to tour ‘Lost in Spaces’ this year, the memoir is my key project at the moment – and I hope I can stir interest in it on the back of TLC Quality Writing for All event. I’m hoping the launch will help me on the journey of getting the book published.”
You can look out for Pepper’s words in Myslexia where she will be guest blogger from 1 July, and has just had a feature in the Guardian on the cuts to services for disabled people. You can also catch ‘Lost in Spaces’ through the summer/ autumn in Wolverhampton, Leicester, Salisbury, Hastings and then back in London in time for Disability History month.
TLC’s bursary scheme allows free access to their core commercial service, i.e., manuscript assessment as outlined here. The scheme operates on application via regional partners in the first instance, each of whom will have slightly different application criteria. TLC also have a limited pot for direct applications. They also offer assessment of 100-page extracts, or of full manuscripts across fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, scripts and screenplays, depending on budget allocation. They try to reach as many writers as possible, hence the mixture of extracts and full MS assessments.
The bursaries are awarded on grounds of low income to talented writers who would most benefit from professional editorial support. Low income criteria currently are writers claiming: Jobseekers’ Allowance; Disability Benefit; Income Support; Working Tax Credit; Student; Over 60, pensioned; other financial difficulties with official supporting paperwork.
The Quality Writing For All Campaign celebrates an uplift in funding of an additional £10k to go toward further bursaried manuscript assessment through new partners (Shape Arts, Wasafiri Magazine, the Creative Future Literary Award and more tbc), on the same basis but with a focus on BAME and disabled writers, focussing our outreach. There are also for the first time five mentoring bursaries available per year through the funding period 2015-18. These are particularly precious and worth £1,950 + VAT each. Details on how precisely the Chapter and Verse mentoring scheme works can be found here.