Friday, 28 September 2012

The Potential of Crowd Sourced Funding for Writers - Adam Horovitz

A poet friend of mine, Adam Horovitz, has recently used crowd-sourced funding to raise money to help him with his next collection of poetry. I was fascinated by this possible solution to some of the perils of the funding sector, so asked him for his thoughts.

What do you know about crowd funding? It's a pertinent question in these hard times for arts funding, politically and economically. I discovered it thanks to following the musician Amanda Palmer on Twitter, watching with increasing astonishment and delight as she raised an incredible $1.2 million to fund her latest album, having originally asked for $100,000, claiming that this method of funding was the 'future of music'.

As the year progressed it got harder and harder to be a freelance writer - anyone following that career path will surely know what I mean, although no-one in the creative industry or the job market in general can be finding things that easy at the moment - I began to think that crowd funding might be a useful way to help get myself to the Hawthornden Fellowship I had been offered last year, when things were a little less financially constrained.

I got the fellowship on the back of my first book, Turning, which was published by Headland Publications last year. It offers unconstrained time and silence in a castle in Scotland to write. Trouble was, I was beginning to think that I would have to pass on the opportunity because work was so fragile and hard to come by. Who'd want to sit in silence in a castle not writing because of mortgage worries, after all?

So I went to Sponsume, one of a number of crowd funding websites that have sprung up in the last few years, and set up a campaign to try and buy myself time to work on my second book of poetry.

The beauty of crowd funding is that it takes the funding of artistic ventures right to the heart of the audience who are interested in the art. One is encouraged to offer 'rewards' for people who contribute - in my case, I am offering anything from limited edition postcard poems to a very limited number of private readings to people who contribute.

I have agonised about the naked-making feeling that such an open form of money-raising engenders, and the risk of making oneself look foolish, greedy or just plain arrogant, but have been gratified by the response from many people, some of them friends, some family and some (and this is the most wonderful part for any artist) people one doesn't know who either like the art in question or like the idea of supporting an artist. It is also a wonderful feeling to be able to offer them all something in return.

I don't think crowd-funding is the best way of raising really large amounts of money, unless one has the social networking nous, fanbase and reach of someone like Amanda Palmer, but I do believe it is an excellent way of creating small but potent amounts of money for individual projects and (and this is important) creating publicity for them that is not mired in corporate profit-mongering.

At the Free Verse Book Fair, I had an interesting discussion on the ethics of this sort of fundraising with Adele Ward of Ward Wood Publishing. There was some concern that raising funds for, say, a new anthology of poetry via a company like Sponsume would smack of vanity publishing.

There is a telling difference between crowd funding and vanity publishing, however. With crowd funding, poets included in an anthology can promote it to friends and family via Facebook, email, Twitter and so forth without ever having to fork out a penny, alongside the publisher who should be equally hard at work promoting it, and the people supporting it will get copies of the book as 'rewards' when the funds are raised. If they want to put more money in, these 'rewards' can be increased in desirability by adding limited editions, signed copies and more. What could be better in small press publishing than a publicity-generating pre-ordering system?

Even projects like mine, which are more personal, are viable if it is clear that there are goals in sight. In my case, when I was offered the Hawthornden Fellowship, my publisher perked up and said: "Oh, good! I look forward to seeing the next manuscript!". Without that in mind, I would have felt much more uncomfortable about setting up the campaign.

I also equivocated early on about the ethics of such a project on Facebook and was gratified when the poet Jon Stone fired back with the comment (and I'm paraphrasing a little, as it's hard to find the exact comment immediately on Facebook's clumsy Timeline): "I'd rather see 100 poets funded for a month's retreat than one poet funded for a lifetime's career".

It's this attitude that makes crowd funding exciting for me - the possibility that many people who might not find it easy to get a creative project off the ground, given the bureaucratic hoops one is expected to jump through with big funding bodies, could find that they suddenly have the time (with a little careful thought and a fair amount of work sat at the computer gritting their teeth and promoting it) to do something marvellous with the support of family, friends and people interested in their art.

As my campaign draws to a close, I realise that the process has been somewhat akin to the feeling I get when I test a new poem out on front of an audience for the first time. There are nerves, palpitations, the worry that it might not be liked. I have noticed and edited out flaws as I have gone along, and made the campaign stronger. It seems to have gone down reasonably well this time. I might try it again some time, but not for quite a while.

Before that, I want other campaigns to come to life. I want to see more writers and creators of all sorts getting their ideas out there and promoting them. Crowd funding may not be the future of arts funding (joyous though Amanda Palmer's hyperbole was to watch), but I think it could and should play a large part in that future.

I will certainly be looking out for good campaigns to support as and where I can when I get back from Hawthornden. More power to your crowd-funding elbows!

To take a look at Adam Horovitz's Sponsume campaign, or even donate if one of the 'rewards' tickles your fancy, click on this link:

Adam Horovitz is a poet and journalist. Born in London in 1971, he was raised in Gloucestershire. He was poet in residence for Glastonbury Festival's official website in 2009, was voted onto the Hospital Club 100 as an 'emerging talent' in 2010 and is a 2012 Hawthornden Fellow. His first collection, Turning, was published in 2011.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

An interview with Joel Willans - Pangea Blog Tour

In support of the recent release of the fabulous anthology, Pangea (, I am interviewing one of the writers included in the book, Joel Willans:

So, Joel, you’re a writer. In case my readers don’t know who you are, can you give us a potted biography – what you’ve written, what you like writing, etc?

I’m a Brit living in Finland who writes lots of different things depending upon which hat I’m wearing. I’m a partner at a communications agency called Ink Tank, so one day I might be doing copywriting, the next blogging, the next scriptwriting. As for fiction, I’ve been into short stories for about six years, though there’s been a lot less time dedicated to that pleasure since the arrival of two little Willanses, Eliot and Lotte. Despite their wonderfully energetic presence, I’ve managed to write stories for about two-dozen anthologies and had a couple broadcast on BBC radio.

You’ve recently been putting together a collection of stories for Route, called Spellbound. Can you tell us about that and how it came into being?

It came into being from another collection, which got shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2010. I was very pleasantly surprised that it made that list and, after it lost out on gold, I decided to try and polish it up, take some things out, write some new stories and send the new improved version out into the wild. Route had a call out for manuscripts at the end of 2010, so I sent it to them. I eventually met up with Ian Daley of Route in September last year and we sat down and went through the manuscript over a beer or two.

It was a fascinating experience to have someone really dissect the stories, and after a few hours it became clear that they weren’t linked by the themes I’d thought, but by the way women weave their magic, both good and bad, over men. After some more editing and some more new stories added and some others taken away, there are eighteen stories all together. The main characters include everything from pimps, janitors and music journalists to old sailors, composers and bricklayers. The one thing they all share is that women are messing with their minds.

It’s taken quite some time to get everything ready, mainly because my daughter was born the month Route agreed to publish the collection. I discovered very early on that sleep deprivation really isn’t conducive to editing. Thankfully Route were really patient with me and Spellbound is now due out at the end of October.

You’re here as part of a blog-tour for the Pangea anthology. How did you get involved with that, and what is it all about?

To be honest, it was mere good fortune. A few years back, I was a member of Writewords. It’s a fantastic online writing community full of really supportive people. During that time I shared a lot of my stories with people to critique and a couple caught the eye of Rebecca Lloyd, a great writer who really helped me out at the time. Her and another Writewords member Indira Chandrasekhar wanted to put together an anthology to showcase some of the fiction that comes out of the community. Pangea is the result. It includes thirty-four stories from writers from all over the world and is, even if I do say it myself, a fine read.

What’s your writing process? How do you go from idea to finished piece?

It really depends what I’m working on. For short stories one of my favourite ways of writing is from prompts. This is great to do with a group of like minded writers, a list of random words or phrases and a time limit, normally an hour. Sometimes I can knock out a complete story like this, more often I conjure up a thousand words of rubbish. Yet in the cold light of day even this can be useful. The first draft of one of the stories I have in Pangea was written like this and maybe half of those in Spellbound. The great thing about using this writing technique, for me at least, is that I don’t have time to self edit as I write and the stories are totally different to those I’d write if I sat down at the keyboard with a plan in mind. I know some writers who call this “writing drunk” because you give the creative right side of your brain the freedom to go crazy. I think it sums it up perfectly.

What’s your next project?

The novel that’s been sitting on my hard drive since last May is waiting to be edited. I haven’t read it since then and this week I plan to print it out and see how it sounds. Now I’ve finally finished everything to do with Spellbound I’m more enthusiastic about novel writing than I’ve been for ages. I love short stories, but I really want to finish a decent novel and get it out there. I hope this one has a shout. It’s a very modern adventure – a road trip story, which takes the main characters from London to Peru to Finland. A friend who read it said it was like Bright Lights Big City meeting The Beach. Not sure I totally agree, but I took it as a compliment nonetheless. It was great fun to write the first draft. Hopefully, when it’s finished, publishers will find it great fun to read, too. 

Thank you for that, Joel, best of luck with Spellbound, Pangea and all your other endeavours!
For more information about Joel, go to

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Life Writing

As some of you may know from earlier posts on this blog, as well as writing fiction I have an interest in life-writing, ie: writing about real things which have happened to you.

This came about in two ways, the first through writing fiction and the second through teaching life-writing to students.

In terms of writing fiction, I have spent most of life doing that thing we are told to do - 'write what you know'. Now, only a very simple reading of that concept means that you can only write about real things that may have happened to you. Instead, it is a deeper thought, which says that whatever you are writing, include those concepts and emotions which you have come across and, sometimes, where appropriate, include fictionalised elements of reality.

I think it would be impossible to write something completely fictional. Writers are forever borrowing from real life, even if it is just from observations - the way someone walks, talks, flicks their hair, wears mismatched socks on every alternate Wednesday or whatever. And sometimes we borrow events or snippets of conversations. It is what we do and how we create, and in each usage there will be a greater or lesser correspondence to real life.

I started thinking about this a few years ago when I wrote a story which was very close to autobiography. It had a fictional narrator, and the main event (the loss of the narrator's father when the narrator was very young) was also fictional, but many of the details I used in the story were real and true to my life. Over and above that, the theme of loss which ran through the story very much reflected my own feelings about my father who was, at that time, suffering from dementia. After I had written it, I took great interest in trying to work out if this was memoir or fiction. It ticked a lot of the boxes for both. It was a made up piece of work, but it borrowed a lot of both my memories and my feelings.

With distance, I class that piece as fiction, but it certainly gave me an insight into the crossover between the two forms, and left me interested in how much reality writers use in their work.

A couple of years later, while working at Edge Hill University, I was asked to take on the Life Writing module. This sparked my second wave of interest. I was teaching the students how to write a whole range of pieces, from personal essays to travel articles, biography, memoir, etc A topic which soon came up was the concept of 'truth' versus 'accuracy', something which is still a debatable topic.

The other main issue was to do with writing style. How do you make the mundane interesting or stop the tragic from becoming melodramatic.

This last is something which I think is crucial to life-writing, in that most people who set out to document their lives don't just want to talk about making a sandwich, but often about difficult experiences in their lives. The technique I recommend for this is to write completely without emotion and just present the events to the reader. It is the ultimate in 'showing' not 'telling' in that you present the tragic events to the reader just as they were presented to you and allow them to feel the same things you felt without the authorial voice imposing upon them. It is a very powerful technique and one that I employed in a piece I wrote about collecting my brothers ashes from the crematorium a couple of days after his funeral (I have posted the piece below, in case you're interested.)

What has been most interesting, however, since immersing myself in life-writing, is just how useful the specific techniques have become in my fiction writing. By aligning oneself with the events in a novel and searching for ways to tell them which convey the situation without directing the reader, I think that the writing becomes better and the reader, by having to do a little more work and engage a little more empathy, becomes more involved in the story.

I'm glad that I was given the life-writing module to teach as I think it improved my fiction writing and gave me insight into the tools that I need to use in given situations.

And... here comes the plug. I'm running an online course in life-writing. If you fancy giving it a go and seeing how it interacts with your fiction writing (or poetry, or script, or whatever) or just want to do it to set down those stories you have always promised to write, then please do sign up. It starts on 17th September 2012 and further details are here:

Advert over. Here's the piece I wrote. Thanks for reading and, until next time, take care.

The Box

It’s been three days since the funeral. It’s strange to be back here.
                It was raining on the day. Pathetic fallacy, that’s called. The sky wept along with us. We moved from the car to the shelter of the crematorium’s porch, and people milled and talked, sometimes about the deceased, but more often about other things.
                We only had a few moments, though, before we were called to carry the coffin.
                It’s not something you think about very much until you actually have to do it, but you need training to carry a coffin. There were four of us, one at each corner. We were told how to lift it in a particular way, and settle it on our shoulders, then walk in step to keep it level, stop it from slipping.
                I was conscious, as we walked down the central aisle of the chapel – all the other mourners having already taken their seats – that we looked suitably slow and respectful. I wanted to turn and tell them that it wasn’t respect, it was the weight. We couldn’t walk any faster. The weight of years, the weight of life, pressed down on each of us as we carried him to the front.
                As we placed the coffin on the platform at the front, there was a sense of relief as the weight was taken from us. I wondered if he felt the same relief when he was finally able to shed his burdens.
                The rest passed in a blur of music, tears, and the kind words of others.
Now, three days later I have returned to carry out the next duty.
                There are no black cars or black-clad mourners today. The chapel is deserted, and the sun is shining. Is that another reflection of mood? Is this a good day to balance the bad?
                It’s strange to be alone. I seem to have been surrounded by people for so many days.
                I don’t linger in the porch, nor enter the chapel, but instead make my way around to the back door. I’m conscious of the large chimney which rises from this part of the building, a dark finger pointing up into the clear blue of the sky.
                I knock on the partially-open, wooden door, but there is no answer so I step into the gloom.
                It’s dark after the brightness of outside. Once my eyes adjust I see more wood and the normal trappings of an office. I have stepped back-stage and can see the workings of this particular theatre. It feels like trespassing. This place feels more sacred than the other room with its pews and symbols.
                “Hello?” says a voice behind me.
                I turn, startled and see the a face that I only vaguely recognise, even though it’s been little more than 72 hours since I last saw it.
                “Sorry I wasn’t here. How can I help you?”
                “I’ve come to pick up my brother.”
                “Of course.” He bows his head in a show of respect which seems utterly unconscious, simply part of the man.
                He takes his name from me, nods again, then disappears through another wooden door. He returns with a small box, no more than ten inches long. He doesn’t hand it to me immediately, but places it on the table and directs me to complete and sign some forms.
                With the formalities complete, he lifts the small container and places it into my hands.
                I’m strangely split, aware of what is happening, but also aware of a haze which seems to have settled on me.
                I wander back into the sunshine, blinking at the brightness.
I walk slowly, not out of respect, but because I cannot walk any faster. The weight of this box is so much less but also so much greater than that of the coffin. I can feel it trying to pull me down to the ground as I walk back to the car park, alone, just me and my brother.

(Originally published at