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What writers want

Jamie Guiney   Wed 10 Dec 2014   updated: Thu 16 Apr 2015

I remember the day I decided to write a novel. I was lying by a pool in Tunisia reading Catch-22 and within an hour of finishing the book, the notion had already taken root inside my mind. It was a loose idea though, for I had never considered being a writer before that.

I got home, bought a nice hardback A4 notebook and just started to write. For the next few months this was my little private hobby and I enjoyed it immensely. Whenever I had some spare time, out came the notebook and I would wander off into this world I had created.

I stuck at if for a few years, squeezing in some writing time here and there, with no pressure and no deadlines. Eventually I finished the novel, polished and edited it to the best of my ability and was incredibly proud that I had achieved this feat so many writers strive for. I had also learned a little about writing along the way (with hindsight not nearly enough!)

What I did next felt like a natural step for me, perhaps even a little entrepreneurial, but I sent this work to the Northern Ireland Arts Council. I couldn’t believe it when they came back and offered me some support – some funding to attend a writing course, some money to buy a laptop to write with. For me, this was the biggest, most important step of my writing career – it was my first validation. I was a writer, someone believed in me, and all of a sudden this little hobby of mine was becoming something a bit more serious.

I speak to a lot of writers at different stages of their careers and the majority of them, when I mention the Arts Council, have never considered going down that route. It’s a shock to me, because each country in the U.K. has its own Arts Council with their own funding quota and their own team of arts officers who are there specifically to support writers and artists alike.

It’s been 5 years since I got that first Arts Council grant. Since then, I’ve developed an online presence with my own website and twitter account, written a raft of short stories (and had a fair number of them published too) – but there are some highlights that never would have happened had it not been for the ACNI support:

  • Attended the Faber and Faber Writing Academy, a wonderful class in Dublin on ‘The Art of the Short Story’ taught by Booker Longlister Gerard Donovan and short story extraordinaire Claire Keegan. The first short story I wrote after the academy, was published in a US Literary Magazine (my first publication! more validation!) and nominated for a US Literary Award – The Pushcart Prize (even more validation!)
  • I’ve worked with one of the best editors in the business – Francesca Main (now editorial director at Picador Books) – a wonderful and kind person, who taught me a great deal about how to write a novel - from structure, to plot to character depth
  • Attended a Guardian Masterclass with Stephen King’s long-time U.K. editor Philippa Pride – an incredibly knowledgeable editor who helped me tweak my work in the right places and who also said some nice things about my new novel (more validation!)
  • Spent some time in New York working on my novel (more validation!)
  • There’s been times when I’ve also just needed some direction, some advice, and Damian Smyth (Head of Literature at ACNI) has always been there for a cup of tea, a scone and a chat about my writing

Every writer just wants validation. Every writer just wants to know that they can call themselves a writer, without feeling guilt and without feeling doubt.

I am now at the stage of my career where the first novel, my learning-how-to-write novel is in a bottom drawer (never to be seen again!). I’ve progressed so much since then, have honed my craft, and am happy to call myself a writer now without feeling like a fraud. I’ve just completed my first short story collection and am nearing the completion of my second novel, the big one, the one where I put into practice everything I learned over the years to make it a special piece of work. I’m excited and filled with anticipation about finding a publisher for these bodies of work because I believe in them.

I’m positive that I couldn’t have done most of this without support from the Northern Ireland Arts Council and I feel indebted to them. If you are a writer, an artist, someone creative, then speak to your Arts Council, apply for a grant - they’re an invaluable commodity that can make the difference in your career.


Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His short stories have been published internationally and he has been nominated twice for the 'The Pushcart Prize' with his stories ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ and ‘The Cowboy.’

Jamie is a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and has twice been a judge for short story competition ‘The New Rose Prize.’ His work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards.

Jamie favours the short story genre, believing it to be the closest written prose to the traditional art of storytelling. In between shorts, Jamie is currently working on his second novel and developing his skills in screenwriting.

He tweets as @jamesgwriter.

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