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Launching a Digital Literary Competition Throughout Lockdown
Like all of us, March 2020 was a gradual decline into horror on the information of Covid-19. Whereas the British authorities dithered about what to do, I cancelled some occasions I’d been booked to carry in promotion of my novel The Blame Recreation. Fairly frankly, I used to be afraid to journey (from Glasgow to numerous components of England), given the information studies concerning the virus, however I used to be dissatisfied to must scupper these long-held plans – what a pity, I believed, that I couldn’t organise a digital occasion rather than a bodily one.
On 13th March I tweeted one thing to this impact – it appeared possible that locking down the nation was going to be vital (although the British authorities would dither for one more 10 days about it) and I posted that it could be a good suggestion to have a literature competition that was solely on-line. The tweet had an enormous response, so massive, actually, that I felt I’d must put my cash, or no less than my experience, the place my mouth was. Having convened the Distance Studying MLitt in Inventive Writing on the College of Glasgow since 2015, I’ve expertise in working digital occasions, and in utilizing the know-how. Briefly, I knew each the professionals and the cons of digital occasions fairly intimately, and so I felt comparatively assured about doing a little on-line writer occasions for individuals who have been caught at residence to entry. Paper Nations, a well known Inventive Writing incubator, obtained in contact with me and requested to associate on the competition, which I made a decision to name the Keep-At-Residence! Literary Competition. I created a google doc and cascaded it to writers who’d expressed curiosity, to which they added their proposed occasion with a date and time. I used to be astounded at how shortly and enthusiastically individuals responded to my name. Along with over 100 writers shortly filling up the google doc (forcing me to increase the size of the competition to 16 days), an organisation referred to as the Skilled Writing Academy obtained in contact, providing a variety of fabulous writing workshops without spending a dime.
Inside 11 days, the Google doc had exploded with workshops, talks, open-mic nights, panel discussions, and showcase occasions. Phrase unfold shortly to publicists, who have been keen to search out new routes by which to publicise new books and substitute cancelled occasions. I needed to scramble to search out slots for authors; I knew all too nicely how disappointing it was to must cancel a tour. I additionally needed to make sure that minority voices have been heard; I really like attending e-book festivals, however all too typically I’ve felt pissed off by their lack of range. I’m additionally deeply conscious of how festivals can exclude individuals with caring duties, with disabilities, and with work commitments. I’m very conscious of people that really feel misplaced at literary festivals, and who merely can’t afford to attend.
The Keep-At-Residence! competition was programmed on zero price range. I made it clear to everybody who expressed curiosity that, whereas I imagine fervently writers ought to all the time be paid for his or her work, this was a professional bono competition; everybody concerned, except 7 Writers in Residence who have been paid a small honorarium by Paper Nations, contributed without spending a dime. By programming this competition, I used to be in a position to platform a various vary of authors. I needed to make sure that minority writers have been heard, and that writers in any respect phases of their careers might be concerned. Certainly one of my MLitt college students on the College of Glasgow supplied to host an open-mic session; the accessible slots crammed up inside hours. Equally, writing workshops attracted crowds of 500+ – an excellent feat, and an inconceivable one in bodily type. I used to be witnessing the start of one thing really unprecedented – the potential of digital reside literature in all its awkward, sensible glory.
There have been many studying curves. One was the phenomenon of Zoom-bombing. Naively, I believed that sharing the Zoom hyperlink to an occasion on social media was danger-free. Because it occurs, there are people on the market who get their kicks from troll-bombing such occasions with the intent to both shout racist slurs throughout the microphone, or use the screen-share facility to splash porn throughout the display of unsuspecting attendees. That is horrifying to expertise, and I discovered quick how one can stamp it out. However even once I had a deal with on muting attendees and stopping screen-sharing, trolls would use the chat field and, on one sickening event, their very own video display to share inappropriate content material.
It’s saying one thing, nonetheless, that suggestions from our attendees – of which there have been 14,689 from everywhere in the world – hardly ever talked about the occasions that had been subjected to trolling. As an alternative, suggestions targeted on the sense of neighborhood that had been created by the competition, and it’s this which I’m most happy with. One thing was created on 27th March 2020, on the very starting of lockdown and once we have been all staring into the surreality of a world pandemic, that has triggered a number of different digital occasions. Whereas Edinburgh Guide Competition initially introduced that it was cancelling the 2020 competition, it has completed a U-turn on this choice, with a extremely profitable digital competition instead. A number of of the authors who led occasions on the Keep-At-Residence! Competition went on to run their very own festivals – for instance, Dr Pragya Agarwal (writer of Sway) led a competition on South Asian Writing, Virginia Moffatt ran a New Authors competition, and I used to be happy to seek the advice of on various others.
The Keep-At-Residence! Literary Competition was an exquisite experiment. I had the uncommon privilege of bringing collectively a variety of authors and audiences from everywhere in the world to speak about literature in a second once we have been all going through the terrifying prospect of quarantine and a lethal virus stalking our streets. Lockdown additionally permitted me a uncommon privilege of experimenting with out an excessive amount of concern of failure – as one of many very first digital festivals, I used to be venturing out on to new territory. We have been all confined indoors, and due to this fact my audiences engaged with authors – and one another – from their inside areas. And but, I discovered a richness in encountering excessive profile authors of their workplace, kitchen, or spare bed room. Keep-At-Residence! Competition facilitated a levelled viewers expertise. In the course of the venture I used to be eager to encourage authors to embrace the intimacy, immediacy and even the informality fostered by an internet platform like Zoom, and I imagine this labored nicely to attract down sure obstacles. Going ahead, I don’t suppose we ought to be too fast to eradicate this from digital occasions. It’s one of many many strengths of digital reside literature.
I’ve little doubt that the panorama of reside literature has without end been modified by Covid, and probably for the higher. I might bristle barely once I’d hear individuals say ‘sadly we’ve to carry this occasion on-line’ – bristle, as a result of for many individuals, on-line was the one method by which they might be included. In the course of the suggestions plenaries that I held after the competition, lots of the SAH competition’s attendees commented that they discovered the accessibility of the competition ‘gold normal’. Some posted photos of themselves with infants on their laps whereas they engaged in occasions. If we proceed to place thought and experimentation behind our efforts to make literature extra inclusive, digital reside literature can boldly take us locations that we by no means knew potential.
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