For Laura Elizabeth Woollett, receiving the Marten Bequest scholarship means more time to focus on her writing and working towards her dream of one day having a work adapted for screen. Her tip for aspiring young writers - “Don't try to write the next great millennial novel or gen Z novel or pandemic novel, a work has more chance of it being timeless and original if it's born out of your own specific interests”.
When did you decide to pursue a career as a writer?
I was about 16 when I announced that I wanted to be a writer. Mum was secretly horrified - knowing there would be a lot of rejection involved and very little money - but outwardly supportive. I've only started thinking of writing as my 'career' relatively recently, though; for years, I just bounced between projects, never knowing if they would see the light of day. Securing a two-book deal with Scribe in 2015 made a big difference, as it gave me some certainty about my future and allowed me to think about my work in a more long-term way.
Things are a bit topsy-turvy right now with COVID-19. What does it mean to get the news about the scholarship as this particular time?
It's crazy news to get at the best of times, let alone at a time when all news seems to be bad and the future is foggy. My acceptance email actually went to my junk folder, so I was sure it would be a form rejection, then when I saw the word 'congratulations' I thought it was a scam. I had to read it over a few times. I was pretty useless for the next couple of days, just veering between extreme imposter syndrome and guilt about doing well at a time like this, and also wanting to go out to celebrate but not being able to. I was relieved that there was an embargo period, as that gave me a time to process the news before spreading it all over social media.
Don't try to write the next great millennial novel or gen Z novel or pandemic novel, or whatever else you think the world wants - just write what obsesses you.
What does this scholarship mean to you?
Travel aside - because, who knows when that will be possible again? This scholarship means two years to focus on my writing, first and foremost. I've worked in a call centre for almost 7 years, and have often had to prioritise shifts over writing, since that's what pays the bills and (as is the nature of casual work) you've got to take what you can get, while you can get it. This scholarship has removed a whole element of precarity from my life, at least for the next couple of years. I don't even know what my life looks like, without that precarity.
Another great thing is that this scholarship has legitimised my new project, Whisper City, at its earliest stages. I finished my novel The Newcomer (forthcoming 2021) about six months ago, and haven't felt like creating much since then. I find it very difficult to move on when I finish a long-term project and generally take a long time to commit to a new idea. So, having the judges decide, 'this idea is worth funding', is a big deal. It makes it easier to see my research as serious research rather than a waste of time - which is what it can sometimes feel like, when you're starting afresh.
What would be your ultimate dream career achievement?
I would love to have my work adapted for screen someday, and to be involved in the process. I often write to music and picture scenes very vividly, so I have a strong sense of how I'd like things to look and sound, and also a strong curiosity about the collaborative process - the adjustments and compromises that need to be made to accommodate other artists' visions. It's a bit scary to think about giving up that authorial power, but thrilling to imagine my work taking on a new form, and reaching more people that way.
Do you have a word of advice for other young people pursuing a career in writing?
Don't try to write the next great millennial novel or gen Z novel or pandemic novel, or whatever else you think the world wants - just write what obsesses you. Even if it seems totally niche or out-of-step with the times, a work has more chance of it being timeless and original if it's born out of your own specific interests rather than an attempt to predict or react to the current moment.
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