A working class writers’ collective has formed in response to author Kit de Waal’s “powerful call to arms” to see more such voices represented in literature, with Carmen Marcus and Kerry Hudson among its members.
Meanwhile crowdfunding for an Unbound anthology, Common People, edited by de Waal, and featuring new and published working class authors, has also been launched.
Last month, de Waal explored the lack of diversity in publishing in a BBC Radio 4 documentary, "Where Are All the Working Class Writers?", inspiring novelist Carmen Marcus to reach out to other writers on Twitter and form a “movement”, supported by writing development agency New Writing North. The programme featured Penguin Random House chief executive Tom Weldon urging the industry to respond to the “really urgent commercial imperative” of reflecting working class experiences in books.
Marcus, who lives in North Yorkshire, revealed that she burst into tears on hearing de Waal discuss barriers faced by working class writers on Radio 4. Marcus told The Bookseller: “I heard Kit talk about how she felt she could not be a writer and then she took a risk. I thought ‘this is my story’. I started to cry because I thought, 'It is not just me’. We get told, ‘The writers’ world is not for you.”
Marcus’ debut, How Saints Die (Harvill Secker), was inspired by her experience of being a young carer for her mother, and she told The Bookseller that she had changed her voice to be taken seriously as a writer. “I killed my accent to be taken seriously which is really sad but a lot of people do it,” she said.
As a working class writer, Marcus revealed feeling ‘Imposter Syndrome’ on an intensive level. “You feel like Cinderella but still in rags,” she said. She channelled her “Northern brass neck” into recruiting around 10 other writers on Twitter including Thirst author Kerry Hudson, founder of the WoMentoring scheme which nurtures unpublished female writers. Marcus’ agent Rachel Conway from Georgina Capel Associates, applauded de Wal’s “powerful call to arms” and told The Bookseller the literary agency was "proud" to be involved with the new collective of writers.
Marcus told The Bookseller: I was so fed up I messaged Kit on Twitter and said, ‘I think you’ve opened a Pandora’s Box by saying all those things that need to be said... I realised we needed to get working class voices heard, from the kid in the classroom to the person who can’t get into the London publishing industry. There was this strong feeling from people that something needed to happen. It is about realising that we have these stories to tell."
Hudson told The Bookseller that there are various issues facing writers from working class backgrounds. She said: “If we put aside the harsh reality that schools in poorer areas tend be to be less well-resourced, libraries are under threat and student fees make reaching university an even more difficult prospect, there are still issues of accessibility. It's not 'who you know' but it would be naive to imagine that many book deals or agent-author partnerships aren't as a result of personal introductions.”
Marcus started “researching different movements including Punk” in her preperation for forming the collective. “These things came from nowhere and didn’t have a name until much later,” she said. "I would like to see a festival or conference come out of it to showcase the writers."
The first meeting of the collective will take place in York at the end of January and is being supported by New Writing North, which also helped Marcus in her path to publication, including introducing her to Conway.
Hudson said the new collective is “helpful to even have people joining together who know from first-hand experiences what the challenges are and looking at how to make change”.
Meanwhile Unbound's Common People will bring together work from 16 well-known authors from working class backgrounds including Apple Tree Yard novelist Louise Doughty, Malorie Blackman and Damian Barr. The project will also feature 16 unpublished writers from throughout the UK to be selected and mentored by seven regional writing development. De Waal will edit the anthology with publication slated for autumn 2018. Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, one of the agencies supporting the project, described Common People as “a book with a purpose, raising an issue and offering opportunities”.
The Unbound anthology will feature a collection of essays, poems and pieces of personal memoir from 32 authors from working class backgrounds al together. The 16 published writers will also include Tony Walsh, Alex Wheatle, Stuart Maconie, Chris McCrudden and The Glorious Heresies author Lisa McInerney. Paul McVeigh, of The Good Son (Salt) will also appear alongside Cathy Rentzenbrink, formerly of The Bookseller, Daljit Nagra, Lisa Blower, Jill Dawson, Dr Dave O’Brien, Anita Sethi and Adelle Stripe.
Julia Bell, Birkbeck senior lecturer in creative writing and convenor of the creative writing MA participated in the Radio 4 documentary last month and told The Bookseller that the trade needs to engage more forcefully with the issue of inclusion. She said: “I’m glad things are changing but it’s going to take years of persistent pressure to do so. More scholarships, more bursaries, and an acknowledgement that there are exciting unheard voices out there we just need to listen.”
De Waal also contributed to Dead Ink's crowdfunded anthology on the working class entitled Know Your Place earlier this year.
To pledge towards the Unbound anthology, visit this website.