For the last 12 years, Spread the Word has been delighted to be one of The Literary Consultancy’s partners for their Free Reads scheme – an opportunity for talented, low-income writers to get free, professional feedback on their writing. London Writers Awards awardee Kayleigh Cassidy shares her experience of getting a Free Read last year and what this meant for her.
“I’ve always found it hard to call myself a writer. Wage, readership, and confidence complete the circle of it. I have this warped view that if I’m not being paid then it’s just a hobby. Without any readers, my ideas just gather dust. Anyway, who am I to say I’m a writer? My hang ups about my dyslexia and working-classness are tinder to my fiery imposter syndrome. Except that writing is what I do to process emotions and situations, and to record the humour of everyday life. My imagination needs to create.
I couldn’t stop writing so I had to find a way to do it.
When the pandemic hit, I lost my job and boat mate (she jumped ship to live with her family). Living alone on the water was the perfect opportunity for me to write the book I’ve been craving the time to write. It wasn’t easy but seeking feedback was vital to my development as a writer and calling my book a real, tangible thing.
My first setback was how expensive feedback from professionals is. When I looked up the costs, I was shocked to find it was more than a month of London rent. It makes sense after all – it takes a lot of time for someone to read something and offer authentic feedback, but what about writers with low incomes? They need an opportunity to even up the playing field and be contenders for publication too.
ENTER The Literary Consultancy’s Free Reads Scheme, which for writers in London is run through Spread the Word.
A scheme where a professional editor reads your manuscript and provides feedback. It was the oasis in the desert, the fairy godmother in the cellar, the yellow sticker in Waitrose. Here was an opportunity I could apply for, and it wouldn’t cost me a penny.
The publishing industry is full of rejection and setbacks; however, Spread the Word is an amazing hub. A friendly, inclusive, and nurturing place where I’d often visit to find guidance, advice and competitions. I encourage you to apply for this very reason. If you are scared because feedback is scary, there’s more reason to go for it.
I was super excited to read the report. I printed it out and highlighted bits of feedback as I worked through it. I took my time. One year on, I’m still reverting to it. I didn’t know what to expect but what I hoped to gain was perspective from an outside eye into what my book was achieving and guidance in highlighting what it lacked.
I was surprised at how the report activated my ego. My ego wanted the report to throw glitter and praise all over my manuscript. And of course, there was lots of honest, constructive praise, but deep down in my gut, away from my ego, I knew I wanted the feedback to pull back the skin of my piece and stick its nails into its core. Having someone dissect your book helps you distance yourself from it. That’s what the scheme gave me: the invaluable experience of being able to see my book as separate from me.
While at first, I took the feedback personally and some comments angered me, anger turned out to be a good place to dig and underneath that I found a massive element of the story I was missing. My assigned reader questioned whether my story was big enough because I was afraid to include the main part of my story. Since receiving the feedback I have been braver and learnt to look at feedback as a way for me and my project to grow.
If you disagree with a piece of feedback, that’s okay too. It built my confidence as I learnt to develop my voice on and off the page. I developed from defending my work, knowing why I included something, and upholding my choices.
If you are afraid? Apply for this scheme. Feel like an imposter? Apply. Ready for the next chapter in your writing career? Apply. If you have opened this blog and have finished reading it, chances are you should probably apply. What’s there to lose?”
Kayleigh Cassidy is a writer, comedian, improviser, poet and collage artist who lives in London. Her work has been published in TOKEN, 3:AM, Rollick, MIR Online, Visual Verse, Underground Overground and Erotoplasty. She was long-listed for the MIR Folktale award in 2019 with her short story, Pomegranate and the Search for Summer. She uses art to explore her neurodiversity: a platform for her queer expression. She has a podcast called How to Survive your Life and regularly hosts bilingual comedy night, French it Up. Kayleigh is part of the sell out, 5* comedy show, Crime Scene Improvisation. Kayleigh is currently training to be a primary school teacher and loves the moon full, half or gibbous.
Published 1 August 2022