Staying Experimental
by Paul Bradley-Cong

Paul Bradley-Cong, Director of Out On The Page, explores how to retain a sense of experimentation even during difficult times, and how staying true to the radical queer energy of their membership opened up new international opportunities.

Commissioned for the International Literature Showcase.

Queer writers, wherever they are in the world, have often needed to operate in mental, cultural or physical borderlands to live their life and write their truths. Frontiers come with their own dangers and opportunities. Queer writers, are by definition, radical, and they are often enterprising and experimental in their writing and how they reach their readers.

Out on the Page is essentially a loose collective of LGBTQ+ writers that supports such writers to produce and develop their writing and bring it to larger audiences. It started as a yearning for something that didn’t seem to be there. The idea became a call to action and initially brought together seven LGBTQ+ writers in a safe space in Bristol to write, network and exchange information. Costs were shared through the ‘ticket price’. The sense of solidarity between writers who had never met before was electrifying, and the ‘call’ was repeated in Manchester, London and Birmingham. A network of over 100 writers emerged. We talked, we listened, we read, we supported, we empowered, we developed ideas, we started building collaborations. 

We brought in established LGBTQ+ writers as guides, and we began experimenting with unique workshops, courses and networking events. There was a balance to be struck between enterprise and mutual support, but it was also time for writers to think about the value of what they do. And so, from the beginning, we were clear that any writer developing or delivering sessions would receive payment for their artistic endeavour, and we financially modelled accordingly. This sense of organic sustainability helped with later funding approaches to support our development. 

We also encouraged our network of writers to pitch ideas. This led to collaborations such as ‘Out on the Borders’ with award-winning Gibraltarian writer Jonathan Pizarro, a workshop series that explored the intersection between Queerness and cultural heritage and how it could free and influence your writing. 

Despite the opportunities to help us develop and support more emerging LGBTQ+ writers, the thought of applying for funding felt like a looming paradox. How would we retain this radical queer energy, a spirit of enterprise and experimentation within the possible constraints of funding conditions? We decided to bid with transparent commitments to experiment and do things differently, sometimes unexpectedly, to be enterprising within and beyond the funding.

This balance served us well, and when Covid struck, we remained fleet of foot, able to quickly reconfigure, move online and respond to the changed needs of queer writers. Our network grew fast and increasingly along international lines.

Last year, we held our first International Forum; 85 writers from over 20 countries attended. Our knowledge of how queer writers individually and collectively operated in other settings grew exponentially. Unexpected synergies emerged, e.g. South-East Asian writers and artists coming together in a spirit of Indonesian ‘gotong royong’ literally ‘joint sharing of burden’ to achieve something.  

We plan to adventure more across and between borders, in geography as well as art form. That’s why we chose to partner with The Modernist Society to develop our first print book ‘Queer Writing for a Brave New World’ in 2021.   

Queer is not another country, but you can do things differently here.

Paul Bradley-Cong is the founder and director of Out on the Page, a UK-wide and increasingly international LGBTQ+ writer development project. Paul also brings over 20 years’ expertise in working with marginalised groups and social engagement through culture and entrepreneurship. He is also a Trustee with Literature Works, the regional writer development agency for South-West England. He is a published emerging author and an Associate Member of The Society of Authors.

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