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Grants and Bursaries – A Writer’s Experience

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft

Derek Flynn

In these recessionary times, the first things to be hit are always what are deemed as “the luxuries”. Oftentimes, this can translate as “the Arts”. And while there have been cuts in arts funding by the government, it’s extremely encouraging to see that  not only are there still bursaries available, but many arts officers are actively trying to hold onto or increase their bursaries.

I live outside of Waterford city and so I am part of the catchment area of Waterford County Council rather than Waterford City Council. As such, I have been dealing with the Arts Officer for Waterford County Council. And she is a pleasure and an inspiration. Her support of artists of all genres is amazing.

I first applied to her office to take part in a writing Mentorship scheme. This is a new initiative that Waterford & Kilkenny arts offices are spearheading. An aspiring writer who has a work-in-progress is paired with a published writer who then acts as their “mentor”. This can mean everything from reading and critiquing the writer’s work to helping get information about agents, publishers, and so on. To qualify, the writer must send in a sample of his/her work.

I was delighted to be accepted onto the scheme and paired with the writer Grace Wells. We had six 90 minute sessions running over the space of six months. What is great about these sessions is – as well as being a valuable way of getting feedback on your work – it’s a wonderful way for one writer to engage with another writer, speaking about the simple act of writing! As writers, we spend so much time isolated in our rooms and our own heads – and there’s only so much you can say about your writing to friends and family before driving them insane – that it’s great just to sit down with another kindred spirit who understands where you’re coming from. I found the mentoring sessions to be not only a help for my work-in-progress, but also a help for the “writing soul”.

Having been accepted onto the mentoring programme, I applied for another bursary to spend two weeks in the Tyrone Guthrie Artist’s Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan. I was lucky enough to receive this bursary too! I had applied for the bursary during the summer with the aim to integrate the two weeks in the artist’s centre with the mentoring programme. I had three mentoring sessions left – Sept, Oct, and Nov – and my idea was that I would take the first week in the centre in August to rework my novel. Then, I could discuss the work I had done at the sessions with Grace in Sept and Oct, and decide what more needed to be done. These rewrites I could then do during my the second week at the centre in November Amazingly, my plan worked and I finished work on my novel by the end of my second week in Annaghmakerrig.

Life at the centre is pretty much every artist’s dream. At seven every evening, as laid down in Tyrone Guthrie’s will, all the artists in the house must gather for an evening meal in the dining-room. On my first night there, the enormous table was filled with a host of different characters. Everyone was at different levels in their careers; some people just starting out, others well-established. At dinner I got talking to two novelists, one who has eight books published, and another – a seventy-two year-old man – who says he’s written something between fifteen and twenty.

The conversation at dinner was sparkling, witty and entertaining. It’s everything I would have imagined from a place like Tyrone Guthrie.  I don’t know if I believed that the reality could be quite that good. It was. But in-between all the sparkling conversation and sumptuous food, there was work done. And lots of work. More work than I would have done had I been sat at home, because when you are away somewhere like the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, you feel that “need” to work. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. You know all around you, all these other artists are being creative also, and that inspires you.

While all this was going on, I received another bursary: a cash bursary. This was the Ted & Mary O’ Regan Arts Bursary which is run in conjunction with Waterford Youth Arts and is in memory of the late Ted and Mary O’ Regan, a Waterford couple who were tireless supporters of the arts in Waterford. The total bursary is 8,000 euro and each year this is divided between different artists from across the arts spectrum. This year, in addition to me receiving it for writing, they also awarded bursaries to a ballet dancer, a visual artist and an actress, to help further their careers.

I feel truly blessed to have been so lucky to have received these amazing bursaries this year. They have without doubt helped to further my writing in ways that would have been impossible without them. And the reason I received all these bursaries at this time? Simple. I applied. I had never applied for anything like this before, but I’m very glad I did.

The interesting thing about bursaries is that they’re always available, just not always obviously so. That is, bursaries don’t come looking for you; you have to seek them out. How do you do this? One very important way is by keeping up with the latest arts news. Subscribe to email newsletters and check the writing sites like www.writing.ie. Check out your local authorities’ arts office webpage – there will nearly always be some kind of bursaries given out by them. Check out any local arts groups – they too may offer bursaries (as do Waterford Youth Arts, who are mentioned above).

Most importantly, is to apply. Apply, apply, apply. Don’t think, “Ah, there’s no point. I’ll never get that.” That’s probably what I would have thought previous to this year. But I was wrong.

About the author

(c) Derek Flynn, January 2012.

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