With bookshops closed for significant chunks of the past year and literary festivals moving online, the publishing landscape has become more challenging than ever for new writers in Scotland.
In the words of Jenny Brown, literary agent and chair of the Bloody Scotland crime-writing festival, it has been “a much tougher year for emerging writers without the ability to meet others and network in the usual ways, at bookshop events and festivals.” She expands: “The normal showcases for new writers haven’t been available: online festivals have tended to invite established writers, rather than début writers, in order to attract audiences.” This is corroborated by writer and festival programmer Lee Randall’s report Exploring the Post-Pandemic Landscape of Scottish Literary Festivals: Where Do We Go From Here?, in which she states that for festivals, “an immediate reaction to unprecedented hardship is to book the biggest names possible in pursuit of hits”.
Despite this, Scotland’s literary sector has found ways to continue promoting emerging voices. The Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship, which is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, supports mid-career and established writers to develop creative work during a year-long residency. Children’s writer Maisie Chan (pictured right) was appointed as the 2020 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow. She feels the past year has been “difficult” for emerging authors, explaining: “Everything moved online, which meant that you had to learn a new set of skills, such as making videos for talks and schools. It’s hard to create ‘authentic’ connections online.” Being awarded the Fellowship “took a huge weight off my mind in terms of financial security... I could just get on with writing”. During this time, she worked on her début Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths (to be published by Piccadilly Press in June), as well as writing two chapter books in her new Tiger Warrior series with Hachette Children’s, inspired by East Asian folklore, and two early readers titles for Big Cat Collins.
Chan says: “It feels like my career is taking off like a rocket ever since I was awarded the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. Moving to Scotland was one of the best things for my writing career. It’s small enough that people know each other, and the general vibe is very friendly and supportive. Scottish Book Trust, Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland have all supported me in various ways.” However, she adds: “I would like to see more done for emerging children’s writers of colour in Scotland and I think having myself as the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow has helped that cause.” She also highlights the work of the Scottish BAME Writers’ Network, which conducts advocacy work and professional development for BAME writers living in and connected to Scotland.
Another scheme in place to support emerging voices is the XpoNorth Writers’ Tweet Pitch, now in its sixth year, which gives writers from across Scotland the chance to pitch their work to a panel of Scotland’s literary agents and publishers on Twitter and receive feedback rapidly. Produced by XpoNorth and the Association of Scottish Literary Agents (ASLA), the project has produced several published authors, including: writer of Scottish historical and eco-fiction for children, Barbara Henderson; picture book author and illustrator Corrina Campbell; author of This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History, Esther Rutter; and Leonie Charlton, whose memoir Marram was published by Sandstone Press last year.
Meanwhile, a pilot manuscript feedback scheme was recently launched called Our Voices, through aims to support around 40 unpublished writers from underrepresented communities to develop their first book-length fiction and creative non-fiction. “It’s early days for the Our Voices programme, but we have been impressed by the quality and range of the applications to the first round,” says Brown, who is also co-chair of ASLA. In her experience, “any opportunities for new writers have seen an increase in interest and applications in the past year”, and such schemes “have become even more important in encouraging new voices and breaking down the barriers for new writers to pitch their work to Scotland’s publishers and editors”.
On the festival front, in addition to Randall’s report, which lays out a roadmap for what Scotland’s literary festivals may look like going forward, Wigtown Festival Company reconvened the Scottish Book Festivals Network last December. The new network, which is initially funded by Creative Scotland, is intended to be a forum for the more than 60 festivals across Scotland to provide knowledge sharing, networking, advocacy, collaborative working, and guidance on best practice.
According to Brown, Scotland’s book trade is “well aware of the problems facing writers” and rising to the challenge of boosting them. She says: “I’ve been impressed by independent booksellers supporting new writers for launches and attracting good audiences for online events. Scottish Book Trust continues to support writers in all sorts of ways. As ever, the writing community is strong here, with established writers understanding the special difficulties facing new writers this year and being supportive, whether by endorsements, on social media, or by attending their book launches.”
This feature is part of Creative Scotland's collaborative content with The Bookseller published in the Scotland Country Focus 2021, which you can read in full here. You can read content from the Scotland Country Focus here.