Most of the time I’m not only content to be invisible, I actively seek out invisibility. It’s one of my markers of being a good editor – there should be no evidence of me in an author’s work, my role is in the wings: prompter and advisor.
The point is, that’s my choice, and it’s when that choice is removed and I’m rendered invisible by others that is infuriating! Actually, I’m not speaking only for myself here, but specifically on behalf of one of the lovely writing groups I have the pleasure of tutoring. And whilst this is post is neither resigned nor a rant, it’s something I’d like to address…somehow.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about – and action towards – diversity in the writing world. Rightly so. Under-represented communities and marginalised voices should have equal access to, and a place in, literature, publishing and the arts in general. Competitions and awards that seek out BAME, working class, LGBTQ+ and other groups and individuals are not only valuable but essential.
It means a certain amount of labelling, of course, which is fine if a person is happy to be identified in a certain way, and if they are free to self-identify. But – what if they aren’t? And what if their lack of identification renders them invisible, and therefore at a disadvantage?
Huh? I can hear you asking, so let me explain: the writing group I referred to above is one that’s been in existence for about ten years, certainly before I was the tutor. It was a free class, funded by the city council, until the beginning of this year when another round of cuts saw the budget withdrawn. We struggled on with a small charitable grant, and the generosity of free accommodation from the local community centre (which is ongoing) but the money has now run out.
I can continue as tutor, unpaid, and I will, I have a special commitment to this group; i'm one of them but it's not the solution: if I get a paid job I need to take it to live and to work for free is perpetuating the lack of value writers/authors have. That's a difficult one, and I struggle with it a lot.
We’ve applied to every source we can find for funds but nothing is forthcoming – so many groups are in the same boat. Our last hope was a grant from a large national body, to pay for a time-limited project, called, deliberately, The Invisible Women. The group, comprising women in their fifties, sixties and seventies, want to produce an anthology of stories about being women in their fifties, sixties and seventies – and the invisibility therein.
These are women who come together to write. But it’s more fundamental than that. For two hours a week, their time is their own: they are not carers, not mothers, not people with (often hidden) health issues, with anxieties, with any agenda but to write and read and chat. That’s a huge thing.
All this went into our funding application. And guess what? We were complimented on the application – the project and the intention behind it – and then turned down for…. well, for no reason, except that the need and the intended outcomes were just er… not visible enough.
There’s a certain irony there. I just wish I knew what we could do about it.
We’ll continue fighting to lose our invisibility, of course. (Meantime, it makes an excellent writing prompt - how to make yourself seen: commit murder, mayhem, mystery…) We’ll do what we always do, and find a way – but just a little recognition and a helping hand would mean some more diverse voices adding to the world of writing. All suggestions welcome!
A fitting mention here of two role models: authors who have worked very hard, and overcome all sorts of obstacles, to become very visible this month: Vicky Newham’s first novel, Turn a Blind Eye, has been nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey debut dagger, and Wendy Clarke’s What She Saw has made the Not The Booker longlist. Huge congratulations!