Industry 101

Q&A with Viccy Adams

14 May 2021

Viccy Adams, Literature Officer with Creative Scotland, gives us a peek behind the scenes of the organisation.

What does a literature officer do? 

I like to think of myself as a funding midwife for both organisations and Individuals: we work with people in Scotland to help them understand the criteria of the funding available through Creative Scotland and how it might be able to support their work. So part of my week involves supporting people pre-application (usually by email or on the phone) or talking through feedback on an unsuccessful application. We have an amazing Enquiries Team, who are usually a first port of call for any queries and who work tremendously hard to signpost other funds or places for support or advice if someone’s project doesn’t fit with one of our available funds. As part of that, I also sometimes speak at events (mainly on Zoom at the moment!) or as part of a panel to help raise awareness of what funding is available, and to address misconceptions about what we can/can’t fund. Last year the Literature Team launched a blog on Medium so that those kinds of conversations we were having could be shared and accessed more broadly: all of us on the Team contribute, but it’s something I lead on so I spend part of my time discussing content with Alan and Harriet or reviewing and uploading the mini-feature/case studies we have started gathering of writers, poets, spoken word artists, book festivals, publishers, reader development and literary events programmes who’ve received funding from us. It’s an absolute treasure trove of the variety of work we’re able to fund through the Open Fund for Individuals and the Open Fund for Organisations and something that brings me a huge amount of joy. 

Normally myself – and the rest of the Literature Team – is based at Creative Scotland’s Edinburgh Office at Waverley Gate. Since last March we’ve all been working at home, in keeping with Scottish Government guidance. Like everyone else, I’ve been adjusting to work alongside childcare responsibilities, moving house, sourcing and setting up the necessary equipment for home working. Sadly there’s no lock on the door of the room I work in, so my small son has been a frequent & loud attendee at a variety of meetings, and my partner and I battle it out for internet bandwidth.

A key element of our role is assessing funding applications (our assessment then sits alongside the original application at the funding panel). We review any supporting documents included with the application, and check-in with colleagues in other Artform or Specialism teams for advice where necessary – this might be a conversation over coffee for broader context, or a formal request for a written specialist comment that’s included with the assessment. We produce a written report against the criteria for the fund, and either recommend (Fundable) or do not (Not Fundable) the application for funding. The assessment is written for the funding panel, but it’s also available to the applicant for feedback – whether they’re successful or unsuccessful. The main bulk of assessing comes from the Open Fund but we support other funds such as Create:Inclusion and we also provide comments/context for other assessors. 

We also take part in the Funding panels themselves – as I’m part-time, I usually sit on two Open Fund panels per quarter. It takes about two full working days to read all the materials for panel ahead of the day itself. Currently, panels are split so that applications from Individuals and Organisations are considered separately.  The panel usually consists of three Officers from across Artforms and Specialisms and a Chair, plus support from a Funding Officer and sometimes an observer- usually a new member of staff as part of their training. We review the application and assessment for both the Fundables and Not Fundables and check that feedback from the assessor is relevant. There’s a set budget for each panel and we then have to reach consensus on which of the Fundables can be supported, and agree on any conditions attached to the funding- either those already recommended as part of the assessment, or any additional ones considered necessary by the panel.

When an application I have assessed is successful at panel, I then sign off on them meeting any conditions attached to the funding. I’m a contact point for any queries they have, and in the fullness of time I get sent their End-of-Project-Monitoring-Form to sign off so their final payment can be released to them. I love it when someone sends me updates on their progress, shares some of their work, and – of course – getting to see the final work or hearing how it has impacted those involved is amazing. Often that comes some time after the funded period has ended, especially when our funding has been for R&D at an early stage.

As well as the Open Fund, we also currently have a network of Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) and each one has a Lead Officer as their main port of call. I’m currently Lead Officer for Glasgow Women’s Library and for Scottish Book Trust. We have an annual system of checking plans and budgets, and we’re on hand outside of that to help champion their achievements and support them in addressing any challenges that arise. Part of those ongoing duties might include attending Board Meetings or reviewing Board minutes, sitting on devolved funding panels or being part of a steering group for developing new programmes.

Alongside all of that, we work in partnership with other Teams within Creatives Scotland and with other organisations to develop strategic programmes. This is something where we take more of an individual lead of different aspects at different times. For example, last year I worked with Wigtown Book Festival to support the re-launching of the Scottish Book Festivals Network – I’d been looking to do something like this pre-pandemic, but with the impacts of Covid-19 it became even more urgent. My colleague Harriet is responsible for the annual international literature delegates programme, Momentum (a partnership with the British Council, Edinburgh Festivals Group and the Edinburgh International Book Festival), so now the SBFN is up and running she’s the main contact point for it at Creative Scotland as those two strands of work dovetail. I’m currently in the second half of a pilot programme in partnership with the Association of Scottish Literary Agents (ASLA) called Our Voices, connecting writers from under- represented communities with professional feedback on their work at an early stage. I also worked with a colleague in the Creative Industries team last year o​n support the development of a piece of work around legal advice for freelancers – a key issue for us in Literature, where such a significant percentage of our workforce is either freelance or precariously employed.

Most of that is Literature-specific work, but we also have the opportunity to support broader development across the organisation. Pre-pandemic we were in the middle of a review of our funding structures as an organisation, and Creative Scotland had a huge amount of additional work to do to help flow emergency funds out across the creative and cultural sector during the pandemic alongside our existing funding programmes. I think that’s really well summed up in this post by our CEO, Iain Munro, published a year on from the first Covid-19 Lockdown. As he references, we’re working internally on a new approach to funding for individuals and organisations, and I’ve had to opportunity to work with colleagues recently on some of those developments, in particular for Individuals. In response to feedback from and conversations with the sectors we support, we’re aiming to simplify the application process and make it more accessible. We’re looking at a staged approach to funding that puts the applicant in the centre of the process and has a proportionate amount of information and detail for the amount of funding requested. Applications from Individuals will be moving to a digital application process (which you can save and return to), and we’re hoping that the turn-around time for lower amounts of funding can be faster than the current 8 weeks. Keep an eye on the Creative Scotland website & newsletter for announcements with more details, timeframe and guidelines!


What funding options are available to (professional) writers?

The main funding route we have for writers (including novelists, poets, spoken word artists, short fiction writers, storytellers…) is the Open Fund for Individuals. It’s a self-directed fund: it’s up to the individual to determine what they want to do, how long they want to do it for and how much funding they need to do it well. The two big misconceptions I find myself spending time addressing about the Open Fund are:

1) The Literature ‘pot’: we don’t have set budgets in the Open Fund to support Literature separately from the other artforms: all applications are set against one big central pot (as per the panel process I described earlier).

2) Funding ‘time to write’: we do fund writing time! Yes, time spent by yourself sitting and developing new work, whether it’s eventually intended  for page or performance. Sometimes people come in for short, intensive bursts of time to address a specific aspect of their writing development. Sometimes they come in for longer periods of time to complete a full draft of a piece.  Your application can be as a simple as buying out your time to sit in a room by yourself, finishing something off or exploring a new idea. 

As previously mentioned, we are working on a new approach to funding for individuals so keep a close eye on the Creative Scotland website for announcements outlining forthcoming changes to the application process. And someone from Enquiries or the Literature Team is always available to chat through your plans if you’re concerned about how your plans meet the eligibility criteria for the Open Fund.

As well as the detailed guidance and FAQs available on the main Creative Scotland website, we have some more Literature-specific resources up on the Team Lit blog to support individuals thinking through an application to the Open Fund, that summarise the FAQs we come across on a weekly basis from the applicants we support, especially around budgets and understanding what you can apply for. 

Creative Scotland also run some targeted funds which are open to ​artists from any background, but can include writers, including the Nurturing Talent fund, Stay See Share and Create:Inclusion. Unlike the Open Fund – which has a rolling deadline and is open to applications year-round – these funds have set deadlines so keep an eye on the website for announcements and eligibility.

As part of emergency funds due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over the past year we’ve delivered a significant level of hardship funds to writers – initially through a round of Bridging Bursaries, and then with a range of partners – for writers, the Society of Authors - through the Hardship Fund for Creative Freelancers. 

We support Scottish Books International to provide small grants to authors who have been invited overseas to promote their work, but for obvious reasons, that’s currently on pause. They do have a good list of other funding opportunities for professional writers, translators and publishers on their website though!


What kind of development opportunities does Creative Scotland offer writers?

I’ve already mentioned some specific funding routes, and briefly our support for RFOs. Through both the RFO network, targeted funds and the Open Fund for Organisations we support different types of organisations in Scotland to offer developmental programmes or devolved funding support to writers – for example, the New Writers Awards run by Scottish Book Trust or the Commission Grants run by the Gaelic Books Council. Events, regular writing groups and access to space and resources are supported through venue-based organisations such as the Scottish Poetry Library, the Glasgow Women’s Library, Moniack Mhor and Cove Park. We fund development programmes from networks such as the Scottish BAME Writers Network and Literature Alliance Scotland.

 Our funding supports the broader ecology within which writers create and share their work, for example we offer professional development to Scottish publishers by funding Publishing Scotland, we support author events in communities across Scotland through Live Literature, and we support a range of Book Festival programmes that showcase Scottish authors and offer workshops to writers as well as a significant developmental opportunity for readers at Festivals such as Bloody Scotland, StAnza, Wigtown Book Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Nairn Book and Arts Festival, Cymera Festival, Ullapool Book Festival, Faclan, Cove & Kilcreggan Book Festival (to name but a few!). We support Spoken Word through applications from organisations and collectives including Neu Reekie, Sonnet Youth, conFAB and I Am Loud. 

Playwrights and other writers developing work for touring or presentation on stage (such as spoken word artists developing a full-length show) are usually supported by our colleagues in the Theatre Team rather than Literature, but I often signpost writers working in this area to look at the different awards & script feedback opportunities available through Playwrights Studio Scotland. There’s so much crossover in a writers’ portfolio career, or when a sudden opportunity comes along to collaborate with an artist from a different background or to have work re-imagined for new audiences, and I always enjoy seeing glimpses of how writers and literature appear in projects supported elsewhere in the organisation when I’m reading for panel or chatting informally with colleagues. Screen Scotland supports the development of film and TV writers through a variety of programmes and opportunities with partners, such as the Convergence programme with Short Circuit, and Writers Lab UK & Ireland’s script development programme for women over 40.

A significant, annual opportunity we offer is the Gavin Wallace Fellowship, giving a mid-career writer time and space to develop work across a whole year hosted by a different organisation ever year. Last year’s fellowship was held by Maisie Chan at Moat Brae, and the year before by Jenni Fagan at Summerhall. Again, keep an eye on the website for announcements about this year’s Fellowship, and for news on other targeted opportunities and pilots such as Shaping the Narrative and Our Voices.

 Broader workforce development initiatives such as Coaching for Creatives are very relevant (in my opinion!) to writers, and Creative Scotland brings together the majority of opportunities open to writers (& other creatives) in Scotland in one, searchable place through our Opportunities website.


Do you have any advice to offer to writers?

In terms of funding applications, be specific! There’s a world of a difference between ‘I want some time to work on my writing’ and ‘I want support across seven months to develop my next collection of poetry’. And get someone to read a draft of your application and challenge you on areas that are less clear before you submit it: ‘I want support so I can work the equivalent of 2 days a week across seven months to develop my third collection of poetry, which addresses themes of XYZ’. Remember that whoever is reading your application only knows whatever information is on the page, not the information hidden in your head or your inbox. If you’re working on a more complex application with partners or collaborators, make sure the final budget tells the same story as the final draft of the application: it’s really easy for things to get missed off as plans develop. If you’re planning to take your work to an audience, be clear about who you are targeting, why them, and how you will reach them. 

In terms of writing, I think one of the biggest challenges is confidence: give yourself some time to work out what sustains you and your writing and take small steps to surround yourself with those things: whether it’s a supportive feedback group, remembering to keep a glass of water on your desk to prevent dehydration when you’re writing or valuing time to stare out the window. Remember and remind yourself that everyone has slumps, feels rubbish and that they’ve not achieved anything at times. And when you are given a platform or a moment of success, remember that is an opportunity for you to lift others up as well.