Emma Briant is a gifted writer whose work is rapidly gaining the respect it deserves in the worlds of academic and creative writing. Read on for her tale of a magical month where her hard work pays off – and her words of advice for new and aspiring writers. I’m delighted to call her my friend, and to have her guest on my blog today.
I have always been a writer of very little confidence. A cliché I know. Maybe you’re the same. But November was a turning point for me, so I want to tell you about my month.
Now, I’m not a shy person, I’ve done lots of presentations for my research work in the past, I’ve even done a talk in a hangar at the British Defence Academy with rows of tanks and artillery pointed in my direction. I’ve presented in front of NATO and very scary-looking Generals and intelligence personnel from all around the world!
But for my creative writing, presenting my work was scary in a whole new way, because for that I was exposing my deeply personal inner-world.
On the 9th of November I did my very first reading, my story ‘Everything you need’ at ‘Little Bit of Theatre’ in the 13th Note bar, Glasgow (See below: 1). For about a week before I was so utterly petrified I kept praying that none of the people I’d invited to it would turn up! Nothing I’ve written looked anywhere near good enough all of a sudden. Gill Hoffs had done a reading the previous month, but she’s a really good writer, I thought. Who was I to think I was a writer? And why did Gill put me up to this?!!!
The night grew nearer. The tension grew. I realised I’d possibly made a bad choice of story – I’d forgotten that ‘Everything you need’ (about a child and his Mum in a women’s refuge) has a couple of lines in the middle that need to be sung… NO!!!!! I broke out in a sweat imagining a room full of people and me at the front doing wobbly vocals to ‘Fireman Sam’!! (Yes, really, Fireman Sam) For better or worse I made quick alteration to the story.
I dashed down to the basement of the ’13th Note’ and sat at the rows of brightly painted school desks with my friend Alex. I was shaking and sipping a much-needed pint, at least reassured in the knowledge that I was second on the list… I could get one pint of Dutch courage down before the humiliation began. 3 sips into that pint, the organiser, Marta, came over – there was a change in the line-up at the last minute and now I was opening the night! I practically fell over wires in my stupid heels as I got up on the stage, looked out at everyone looking at me, and as I stood in front of the mic I realised I had no idea how you talk into a mic…!
I began to read, stumbled a little but eventually got into a kind of a flow. People seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t do Fireman Sam… I felt ok. Then I got more nervous toward the end, not knowing what their reaction would be. Thankfully it was positive, one guy asked about my website saying he wanted to read more, but I was practically running off stage at that point! It did take a day or so to recover but it was all worth it once I calmed down. I had another person message me on Facebook after to ask about my stories, and now that first one is over, I’d feel better about the prospect of doing another.
I don’t know how, but it all seemed to flow on from that November start. Before that it seemed like nothing I wrote ever found a home, for ages I was getting so many rejections. So many I couldn’t deal with it and I stopped sending them out. This year I forced myself to start again, prompted by Gill and my other writer friends.
It was only a day or two after the reading that I found out I was getting my stories published! I got an email from Lyz Russo of the small, very supportive South African publisher P’kaboo asking if I would like to submit another story for an online collection she’s putting together. I already have one going in the collection but when she told me my story ‘By the wayside’ (See below: 2) was one of their best downloaders I was bouncing all over the office at work! I quickly submitted a short piece ‘Outside’ which I’d been looking for a home for and was extremely pleased when she accepted.
Then a few days later Literary Orphans (LO) got in touch saying they wanted to include ‘Outside’ and my other story ‘Bite Down’ in their new issue (See below: 3). I was so excited, they wanted both pieces, but I realised with sinking disappointment that publishers don’t usually want to publish stories if they’ve featured somewhere else. I probably couldn’t get it published twice. I sought advice from friends on what to do.
Some said, you win some, you lose some, LO won’t take it if it’s in P’kaboo, but at least you have it published. True… One person suggested rudely pulling the piece from P’kaboo (like good publishers are two a penny?!) – that seemed awful advice, bad publishing karma. I really wanted my work to appear in both publishers. P’kaboo are smaller, but they have been good to me, Lyz is great and I was very pleased she liked my work. I was excited they were including the story in an ebook.
Eventually I decided to be a little cheeky and explain the situation as politely as possible to both publishers, saying what I really would love is to see my work in both publications and humbly appealed for their making an allowance in this case. Literary Orphans and P’kaboo were very nice about it and approached it with a lot of understanding. ‘Outside’ has now been published by P’kaboo (See below: 4), and in the November issue of LO (See below: 3), with a note of recognition to prior publication at P’kaboo. I was pleased as punch to see both, and super-grateful to have such understanding from each publisher. I’d recommend to anyone in a similar position to do the right thing and don’t take bad advice like I was offered.
Following this, also in November I managed to get a contract for publishing my first book, an academic propaganda book, and I got a book chapter examining British media coverage of US events published in a collection by US Defence analyst John Stanton (See below: 5). I then got a new job on the same day working for the Scottish Government! I’m sure you can imagine how my confidence improved!
But the main point I am trying to make is that sometimes it takes time. I have struggled getting things published, got very down about my writing, feeling I wasn’t good enough. I kept working and working and feeling that none of my investment was ever going to pay off. I was wasting my time. I worked my ass off this summer, juggling everything and working 70 hours a week often, but I didn’t give up.
It’s not luck or some kind of genius that gets you there, sometimes hard work is slow. You have to wait. But you get there.
The important thing if you are a writer of very little confidence, like me, is not to let the fear overcome you… keep on working and waiting, blindly pushing through it… because WOW are you going to feel great when ten things come at once!
Emma L Briant is a freelance writer and researcher based in Glasgow, Scotland who loves to write both fiction and political comment. She is currently writing a book critique of Anglo-American propaganda coordination during the ‘War on Terror’, a novelette set in Alaska, short stories, and a non-fiction book about media coverage of refugee issues in Britain. Emma L Briant’s published work can be seen at www.emma-briant.co.uk
Links Referred to in the Article:
1) Everything You Need, Shaking Magazine: http://shakinglikeamountain.com/2011/05/05/everything-you-need/
2) By the Wayside, P’kaboo: http://www.pkaboo.net/bythewayside.pdf
3) Outside & Bite Down, Literary Orphans: http://www.literaryorphans.org/?wpb_portfolio=bite-down-and-outside-by-emma-l-briant
4) Outside, P’kaboo: http://www.pkaboo.net/outside.pdf
5) My chapter: Searching for a Spy in the British media: Auntie’s pervert, the American President and Hurricane Sandy in John Stanton’s book: The Raptor’s Eye, Jieddo, General P and The Prophet Smith, Available from: http://www.amazon.com/Raptors-JIEDDO-General-Prophet-Smith/dp/1480276413/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353688348&sr=1-6&keywords=the+raptor%27s+eye