Authors, publishers and trade professionals are joining together to launch a working class writers’ festival.
Author Natasha Carthew tweeted out a “call to arms” last month to gauge interest in an event for writers from working class backgrounds. The “immense” response saw offers of support come from author Kit de Waal, BookTrust head of children's books promotion and prizes Emily Drabble, as well as Prima books editor Nina Pottell and Lounge Books founder Samantha Missingham, among many others.
A festival is now being planned for two years’ time.
On 12th July, Carthew tweeted to her 1,700 followers: “Comrades! This is a call to arms - we’ve got to get ourselves a #WorkingClassWriters Lit Fest! I’ve been doing the circuit and we’re a bit underrepresented int we?”
The Cornish author told The Bookseller: “Hundreds of people have got in touch with me over the last few weeks with suggestions to what the festival might look like if it were to go ahead and offers of help, both big and small. The response has been immense.”
“What first prompted me to put the call out on Twitter was when I was doing the festival circuit and not meeting many writers participating in those festivals with similar backgrounds and experiences to me as a working class writer. This struck me as an opportunity missed.”
Carthew, who has written three books of poetry, and two YA books published by Bloomsbury, wants to ensure that publishing recognises writing from across the social spectrum.
She said: “I think it’s really important to enhance, encourage and increase representation from working class backgrounds, which can be quite underrepresented at other literary festivals. I feel we are an equally talented group of people that do not get enough exposure, young people from similar backgrounds especially need to have something to aspire to, something that is reflective of their society and writers they can relate to and look up to.”
Slated for 2020, Carthew and her colleagues are now discussing the practicalities of what the festival will look like and how to make it accessible.
“The main core values that have been raised so far are that our working class festival be accessible to everyone in terms of cost," she said. "I also believe that it is really important that all writers and performers are on a more equal playing field when it comes to fees. I think it is really important to promote equal opportunities for both professional and aspiring writers are aim would be to ensure a greater diversity of writers as well as those that attend the festival. It’s also my ambition to fill the festival with free or minimal fee writing workshops so people from all backgrounds can access knowledge and encouragement without worrying about cost.”
Author Carmen Marcus is one of the many to offer support, nine months after launching a working class writers’ collective in response to de Waal’s BBC Radio 4’s documentary, "Where Are All the Working Class Writers?" Marcus contacted de Waal on hearing the programme and began reaching out to other writers, with meetings supported by northern writers’ agency New Writing North.
At the same time, it was revealed that de Waal had organised an anthology of working class writers, Common People, as a crowdfunding campaign on Unbound. Featuring authors such as Apple Tree Yard novelist Louise Doughty, Malorie Blackman and Damian Barr as well as new voices, the anthology reached its target two months later, in February this year.
Only the Ocean, Carthew’s third Young Adult book, publishes with Bloomsbury November 2018.
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