Kate Worsley’s first novel She Rises won the HWA Debut Crown and the New Angle Prize for Literature and was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Prize for Lesbian Fiction. In 2012 she took part in the Escalator Talent Development Scheme and subsequently received a Grant for the Arts to help fund the completion of her second novel. She was RLF Writing Fellow at the University of Essex from 2014 to 2017 and has been a visiting lecturer in creative writing at City, University of London since 2015.
Kate returned to Escalator this year as a mentor, overseeing the development of two emerging writers from the East of England over a nine-month period.
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How do you feel your selection for the Escalator programme has shaped your approach to writing and your writing process?
It still means a huge amount to me that a writer of Tobias Hill’s calibre could see value in my work, and was prepared to devote his time and energy to it. That knowledge has sustained me ever since. His poet’s eye for detail and nuance, his intelligent, quiet, gentle, generous and considered approach to feedback was exactly what I needed at that point. He was able to suggest possibilities for development and ways of conceptualising my project that were new and resonant, and he nudged me towards greater clarity without ever making me feel inadequate.
How did Escalator help you towards the publication of your debut novel She Rises in 2013?
I’d completed She Rises on the two-year Creative Writing MA (Novels) at City University of London (a wonderful course run by Jonathan Myerson, but now sadly defunct) but hadn’t yet found a publisher. I started Escalator around the time it was accepted by Bloomsbury, and the scheme was hugely helpful in preparing me to make the immense psychic transition to being a published writer. (Although, due to my personal circumstances at the time, I was largely unable to act on Tobias’s top tip, which was: go to every publishing party you can).
Escalator helped me hugely, in that I began to think of myself as someone who could have something as audacious and swanky as a ‘writing career’. A writing life. A writing community. A writing future. Imposter syndrome is a real issue for someone like me, who grew up in a working-class Lancashire household with very few books. I went on to study English Literature as the first person in my family to attend university. Even after years working as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, daring to write fiction – to bare my soul – was terrifying. Escalator provided me with the sort of validation, support and community that is very hard to find elsewhere. I feel extremely lucky to have found it.
The National Centre for Writing and the Escalator programme in particular have been a beacon of light in an increasingly bleak cultural landscape.
Escalator supports early career writers from the East of England and often focuses on those who’ve experienced barriers to publication. What are your thoughts around supporting writers in this region and supporting voices less often represented?
The longer I live in this region, and I’ve been here twenty years now, the more clearly I see just how systemic those much talked about barriers of class, age, gender, geography, race and sexual identity truly are for writers. They sound abstract, but the reality can slowly crush. Although social attitudes are liberalising, economic and political trends mean that it really has become increasingly difficult to write consistently and well without a steady alternative source of income, sound health and a supportive partner or family. Let alone gain access to the literary world if you are outside current literary norms. It’s harder than ever to get a in, and to stay in the game. And now, as an Escalator mentor myself this year, I have seen that first hand. It’s painful and depressing. However, the psychological support offered by Escalator shows struggling writers that a career is possible for them, and the scheme’s practical help and artistic development is the first rung on that ladder.
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?
I would say: don’t pull up the ladder now. The National Centre for Writing and the Escalator programme in particular have been a beacon of light in an increasingly bleak cultural landscape. Escalator has transformed many lives, including my own. We have so many talented writers out there in our region, don’t let their voices go unheard.