When Megan Bradbury was selected for the Escalator Talent Development Scheme in 2013, it started a journey that would take her from the East of England to New York City.
Below, she retraces her steps along the road she travelled with successful artists including Walt Whitman, Robert Moses and Robert Mapplethorpe, who form a part of her debut novel.
When I won an Escalator Literature Award in 2013, I possessed an incomplete draft of a novel and an empty bank account. Escalator helped me to address both problems.
My debut novel is about some of New York City’s greatest artists, creators and thinkers, and one of the things I learnt during my research is that art isn’t created in a vacuum – every artist needs practical support and belief from an outside source at some point in their career. For the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who is one of the artists I have written about in the book, this came in the shape of the tall, athletic, cultured and super-rich art curator and collector Sam Wagstaff, who bought Robert a camera and a studio, and who introduced him to elite members of New York City’s art scene. For me this came in the shape of the Writers’ Centre Norwich and the talented, driven and exquisitely dressed author, Cathi Unsworth, who was my mentor during the programme.
Cathi set me deadlines, gave me feedback, and encouraged me to experiment with my writing. With Cathi’s support I was able to push myself creatively, and this not only helped to improve the novel, it has also improved my writing and working practice more generally. Cathi has also become a good friend and an enthusiastic advocate.
During the scheme I also received advice about how to apply for Arts Council funding. My application was successful, and I used the generous grant to pay for a trip to New York City and Los Angeles, where I examined archives at the New York Public Library and the Getty Research Institute, conducted location-based research in and around New York, and interviewed experts on the book’s main subjects. The grant also enabled me to buy time to write over a period of four months, during which time I was able to finish the book. I would not have been able to afford the research trip or time to write without this funding. I urge everyone who needs financial support to help complete a writing project to apply for a grant.
I have always believed in my writing and in this book but all the self-belief in the world won’t pay the bills or show you what to do next. The best solutions to these problems are money and an excellent mentor. Escalator provided me with both. With Cathi Unsworth’s mentorship, and with funding from Arts Council England, I was able to finish my novel. Everyone Is Watching will be published by Picador in June.
Megan Bradbury was born in the United States and grew up in Britain. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. In 2012 she was awarded the Charles Pick Fellowship at UEA and in 2013 she won the Escalator Writing Competition and a Grant for the Arts to help fund the completion of her first novel, Everyone is Watching.
The novel tells the story of New York City through the geniuses that have inhabited it – among them, Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edmund White.
‘Everyone should be watching Megan Bradbury from now on.’ – Eimear McBride, author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
Author photograph copyright – Alexander James