Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The human side of applying for an ACE Grant

I'd say it is a good idea to get to know the person in your area responsible for your ‘sector’ within the Art’s Council. I was able to meet with the Literature Officer for my area, and talk about the novel.

I actually emailed first, and was invited to drop in a copy of my short story collection, Words from a Glass Bubble and a CV to the regional offices. I added a copy of the Flash Fiction text book. I was meaning to ask about something smaller, something completely different – finding out whether there might be a grant available for travel to a conference. This nice guy breezed down to collect the envelope, and whisked me out for an unscheduled breakfast meeting in Costa.

It turned out that this was too small a sum. The Arts Council do not look at proposals for less than £1000.00. 'And anyway,' he said, 'these conferences are rather meaningless. An excuse for a jolly.' Hmm!

The conversation over a rather delicious cappuccino and almond biscuits turned to the novel. And to some of the ups and downs along the way – of which there have been a few. It was a very open, good conversation, telling him a lot about the various bits and bobs that have happened to some of the sections, mainly good stuff. This conversation was hugely supportive. It came round to the question of what I most needed help with, to finish it. Wow. This thing I’d been battling with for three years began to look solid. So what did I need most? Structure, definitely. Coherence?

I have to say, I am incredibly grateful for that meeting. It was his idea to focus on a mentoring process in which I would have a sounding board while I reshaped a finished draft. Did I know anyone I’d like to work with? Yes. That bit was easy.

The message was - OK, now go through the application process. He warned me clearly that there was a lot of competition for grants, and I may not be successful. But encouraged me to try.

The Arts Council website is stuffed with information. They are in the process of changing to online applications – but for me, you could check your eligibility online, forms and details could be downloaded, the guidelines (a 40 page book!) and you could ask for the application pack. Which was basically all that stuff in hard copy.

There are constant mentions of help available from the ACE staff. Phone numbers to ring, web addresses and so on. And it works - I did ring once to check whether I could apply to go to a writer's retreat outside the UK. Answer, 'yes'. And also, whether the proportion of 'in kind' and other funds was appropriate for the size of grant I was asking for.

The guideline book sets everything out systematically. If you follow the instructions, you will be fine – but they are complicated, lots of twists and turns as they cover each possible facet from all sides, often more than once. I found the budget section very hard!. You do need to have your wits about you and a second pair of eyes, at least.

My second pair of eyes was writing buddy Andrew Marshall, who is going to help evaluate the activity. And my daughter-in-law, who used to be something in the City- helped as well, especially with the budget.

And you only have 1000 words to spend on your proposal, which has to be quite detailed.

The forms were sent off, duly completed. After a while I got a call, from the Literature Officer I had had that breakfast meeting with – asking for a lot more information. The proposals had been sent to him, to assess.

I redid the proposal, ignoring the word limit, as advised. Adding in a lot more about me, about my proposed mentor, and why this choice. I suspect that the low limit is to help them sift the applications– and they ask for more if they want to know… but that’s just me supposing.

And a month later got the nice news. Again, any questions, fire away.

I mentioned this blog on the proposal – ‘an honest look at the ups and the downs’, . This grant is a definite ‘UP’! And it seemed a great idea to tell people about the grant process - good practice, or summat.


Rachel Fenton said...

I have no "proven merit" it seems - at a cursory glance - to qualify for anything - even if I got past the residency hitch. Ah well - this book has to be written and I'm going to do just that! It's to be hoped I get some merit for it when it's finished - it's cost me a settee and a new deck so far!

These two recent posts have been a real encouragement for me to be more confident and ask for help - thanks!

SueG said...

It's so good to hear about all this. I've heard and experienced nothing but negatives about the Arts Council - true, all about the London sector of the Theatre department which may be a different kettle of fish - but still, it makes me feel as if it may be someplace worth approaching in the future. for example, we (CurvingRoad) were not allowed to meet with anyone and had nearly no help on the phone. But your experience is greatly encouraging. I'm thrilled for you.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Rachel, you go for it, girl.

If I'd applied for this three years back, when I started writing this , I would in all probability not got the grant. For what its worth - keep going, build a CV, learn, read, read write write write. Network. Don't stop.

Hi Sue. I dont know, obviously - but there used to be lists of awards by region, linked to the website. Seems they have gone for the moment in the updating. I noticed that the vast majority of awards semeed to go to performance events - individual writers/artists seemed to be in the minority. I guess the pressure must be huge on the staff, from all sides. Keep trying!

Sophie Playle said...

Interesting posts, Vanessa. Thanks for sharing.

You say 'If I'd applied for this three years back, when I started writing this , I would in all probability not got the grant.'

So, what do you think are the MAIN reasons you did get the grant? Do you think you already have to be published?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Sophie. Tis a pleasure me dear.

This is just 'my' take on it - I'm not an ACE expert, simply one recipient of a small sum. So bear that in mind.

Well, my take on it is that this is public money. And therfore, in the public interest, there has to be some visible indication that the recipient of those funds is serious about what they do. That could come from references, from tutors for example. But they need to know that the funds will end up helping to produce something that otherwise would not be created. Or smoothing the way to it, anyway.

Therefore, you must show that you are serious.

I'd have thought indications of that are the following:

1.Publications - especially those in print...(from advice I had. Go light on the web publications.)

2. Attending courses or any other active seeking to learn/qualifications to do with writing.

3. Editing experience. Print and web. (I have Cadenza and Tom's Voice on my CV)

4. Experience of teaching/sharing/passing on this writing thing we love to others.

does that help??

sonia said...

That was a very interesting and useful post- thank you!
It was lovely to meet you on Friday. I hope you got to Hatfield ok and the workshop went well.
Congratulation on receiving grant.
Best wishes

Nicola Morgan said...

That was really interesting, Vanessa, and will be hugely helpful to lots of people working out how to apply. I have never done one of these applications and have always thought it sounded very daunting. It still sounds daunting but you've made it sound manageable. And yes, good to hear a human side to the funding-proposal process.

Tania Hershman said...

V, this is so useful, thank you! As someone who just got turned down for an ACE grant, it is really illuminating to hear about your process. I apparently fell at the hurdle of "not enough public engagement" because my proposal, a writing residency in Bristol University's Science Faculty, writing flash fiction inspired by my experiences, running flash workshops with the members of the faculty and attempting to get the flash stories published, didn't engage with the "public" as ACE see it. I thought scientists might be enough "public", a kind of new and untapped "public" in terms of flash fiction. But I now see more clearly that a novel such as yours does engage with the public they are aiming it. Of course, they can't give funding to everyone and perhaps they saw my proposal as something that the science establishment should be funding. Or perhaps... I should have included a definite publication aspect, a collection as a result of this project.

Anyway, fascinating, thank you for sharing! Sorry if I waffled.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Sonia... my guardian poet! Thank you so much for your kindness in shepherding me onto the right train - I may well be in Timbuktu by now if you hadn't!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Nicola - well, I'm glad it's useful. I think its good to know that these things are possible, if not easy. I would not have had the courage to apply had it not been for seeing something on someone's website/blog myself. Good luck if you do apply.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi T

You didn’t waffle at all. I am so sorry your grant application wasn’t successful – it sounded such a brilliant one. And they also acknowledged that yours was a good application - not that that helps, really.

I think there must be a huge element of ‘luck of the draw’ in this process as well. Having listened to what a lot of people had to say especially on facebook – it looks as though very few first –time applications from writers get through. With mine, I can take absolutely no credit for the timing, and for the fact that I had an almost-done project when I applied – that was entirely due to the advice given by the Lit Officer. To whom I am massively grateful!
My ‘activity’ – the mentoring, was not something I could have even contemplated without the grant. Couldn’t afford it, quite simply. So it wouldn’t have happened, unless I’d found funding from somewhere else.
This whole process has been an eye-opened for me. There are funds available from many places - I hadn’t realised. Society of Authors, Welsh Acadmi (Alex K has just got a full bursary – plus expenses… over £11k if the website figs are what he is saying he has!) Hawthornden Trust. And there must be others. Maybe we should compile a list.

And loads of good luck for your next proposal. Get in there, girl!

Sophie Playle said...

Thanks, Vanessa, that's made it clearer for me :)