Jon Ransom grew up in Norfolk. His short fiction has been published in SAND Journal, Foglifter Press (Lambda Literary finalist for LGBTQ Anthology), Five:2:One, and others. An extract of The Whale Tattoo was selected for the TLC/A.M. Heath Free Reads anthology and in 2018, Jon was selected as a mentee for the 2018/19 NCW Escalator Talent Development Scheme.
We spoke to Jon back in September 2019 about his experiences on Escalator so far. One year later and now represented by The Good Literary Agency, we caught up with him again about his debut novel The Whale Tattoo and the effect of mentoring on his writing career.
It’s been a year since you finished on the Escalator programme – how has the experience shaped your approach to writing and your writing process now you’ve had a little distance from it?
I continue to feel fortunate for the opportunities Escalator has allowed me. Passionate about the arts, the National Centre for Writing gave me access to a world I’d not experienced before. Coming from a working-class background, it was both brilliant and inspiring to find myself in a place dedicated to writing.
My approach to writing immediately became more disciplined, realising early on that having a deadline kept me motivated. I purposely never set a word count or put too much belief in writers block, instead preferring to sit until I’d written something that wasn’t rubbish. I would find myself chuffed with a pleasing sentence that made the work worthwhile. I have continued to write in this way.
Aside from being mentored, there were many incredible and unexpected experiences. Perhaps one of the most surreal was finding myself sat beside Ali Smith discussing the first pages of my book. This was a long way from my everyday life, where I make a living in a farm shop. Yet, Escalator challenged me and opened-up the possibility of a different future. The thought that a bunch of words pulled from my head could be bound and sold in a bookshop someday, continues to inspire me.
The greatest thing I walked away from Escalator with was the belief that what I have to say has value.
Your debut novel The Whale Tattoo has been picked up by The Good Literary Agency. Tell us about this process.
My journey with The Good Literary Agency started the year before when I submitted The Whale Tattoo for consideration, excited to discover an agency that specifically represents writers under-represented in mainstream publishing. After receiving encouraging feedback, a unique approach TGLA have adopted in their desire to discover and develop the careers of writers, they suggested I re-submit The Whale Tattoo when ready. The timing with Escalator was perfect. I had the unique opportunity to work on my manuscript with my mentor Anjali Joseph. She encouraged me to approach writing unhurriedly, to consider things differently, presenting me with interesting ideas to challenge my process to writing. She taught me to trust myself, and her confidence in my book encouraged me to write in a way that felt entirely authentic. To use my voice to tell a story I’d been unable to find on the bookshelves. I found being mentored focused me absolutely, and had a huge influence on what became my completed manuscript. When Escalator came to an end, I left with a book I was proud to have written.
When I felt my book was the best it could be, I re-submitted to TGLA and was thrilled they offered representation. To suddenly be represented felt a little bit unreal, especially during lockdown, sat on the sofa signing a digital document.
Funding in the arts has been hit hard over the years and this year has been devastating. What would you like to say to those who are considering donating to the Escalator campaign?
Queer and working-class I hear ‘no’ a lot. Escalator and NCW is all about saying ‘yes’, to diversity, inclusivity, to championing every kind of writer at all stages of their career. The greatest thing I walked away from Escalator with was the belief that what I have to say has value. It would be a tremendous loss to limit access to the arts for under-represented voices who ache to be heard.