In a world where advances and royalty cheques are dwindling, it is worth remembering there are other sources of funds that authors may be able to access in order to write.
In August 1981, the Society of Authors decided to set up an authors’ trust. The aim of the trust was to help writers complete specific pieces of work in situations where all of their publisher’s advance had been spent, the research had proved more extensive than initially calculated, or something else was preventing them from finishing. The aim of the Authors’ Foundation has always been to buy writers that most precious of all commodities: time.
It was decided that the initial appeal for the Authors’ Foundation should be launched in 1984, because the SoA would be celebrating its centenary then. By the middle of 1983, Michael Holroyd and Lady Antonia Fraser—the original trustees—wrote personally to “about 50 rich authors . . . asking for large cheques in order to give the new fund an initial boost”. The stars of the 1984 literary firmament responded with enthusiasm, contributing sums varying from two and three pounds to a magnificent £6,000 from Catherine Cookson. By the end of the year, around £45,000 had been raised, with a further £40,000 pledged by covenant.
In the 30 years since, the fundraising has continued and the Authors’ Foundation has benefitted from some generous legacies. In 1985, for example, Miss Kathleen Blundell left the bulk of her estate (more than £200,000) to the SoA “for the benefit and encouragement” of writers under 40.
Each year the trustees (Holroyd, Lady Fraser, plus myself and Mark Le Fanu) meet twice to choose assessors for the grants. At each meeting around £50,000 is distributed, between some 25 successful applicants.
Sadly—but perhaps unsurprisingly—the need for the Authors’ Foundation has not diminished in the past 30 years. But it still provides a lifeline to many writers, just as in its early years it gave help to such distinguished literary figures as Richard Holmes, Selina Hastings and Helen Dunmore. Long may benefactors continue to give, and authors continue to benefit.
Simon Brett is a writer and a trustee of the Authors’ Foundation