SPECIAL FEATURE Support from Spread the Word



Deputy Editor A. M. Dassu talks to Ayesha Braganza about how London’s writers development agency, Spread the Word helped support her in her writing journey.


Spread the Word in London is a writer’s development agency, a charity and an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. During lockdown, they developed a series entitled Writers at Home to explore how writers’ creative work and writing practice has been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. Spread the Word commissioned five writers from the London Writers Awards scheme to write blog pieces about their personal stories with an emphasis on their writing practice. Ayesha Braganza shared her story with a particular focus on how it impacted her work with children through social justice and literacy projects.

We spoke to Ayesha Braganza about how Spread the Word’s support before and during the lockdown has helped her.




Hello and welcome!

Q. What is Spread the Word?

Spread the Word is London’s writer development agency that helps London’s writers make their mark on the page, the screen and beyond. It empowers writers through enhancing their writing practice.

Q. Tell us about yourself and how you got involved with Spread the Word?


An escapee from the City, I meandered through a number of life paths: parent; chair of the Akram Khan Dance Company; volunteer for Home-Start and Doorstep Library. More recently, I started my own not-for-profit reading for pleasure initiative in primary school libraries.

I was late to writing but always took great pleasure in reading, words and storytelling. After my son was born, I began scribbling in earnest. My first musing as my son watched the dryer spin cycle for the umpteenth time was a poem: ‘Ode to the washing machine’. I don’t think it was even from a child’s POV: I had a lot to learn… As my hunger to improve grew, I started entering SCBWI competitions and I took various City Lit writing for children courses under the tutelage of the wonderful Elizabeth Hawkins, Penny Joelson, Sophia Bennett and Lou Kuenzler. Attending Book Bound with Author, Sara Grant, Sara O’Connor, Jasmine Richards and Karen Ball was a game changer for me as I subbed my second completed book, a YA novel, Make Me Beautiful.
It was not to be, and my YA novel was roundly rejected propelling me into a near-terminal writing slump. Rejection didn’t quite manage to kill my writing because I did that thing I always read about in the pages of SCBWI – I kept going, kept applying. This led me, only a few short months later, to be selected as one of six children’s writers to receive a London Writers Award. I also won the Faber FAB prize along with fellow London Writer’s Awardee, Nadia Attia. The London Writer’s Award marked another step-up in my writing, exposing me to nine months of sustained professional input that developed both my craft and my industry knowledge. (I look at it as akin to an MA). The awards aim is to increase the number of writers from under-represented communities (writers of colour and working class writers, LGBTQ+ and disabled writers) being agented and published.


Q. What has your experience of being published been so far? What barriers did you face, if any?


My first story is going to be published in 2021 as part of an anthology. The barriers I faced were multifold. My lack of self-belief is an Achilles’ heel I have in common with many writers. In order to succeed, you need a certain bloody-mindedness tempered by a critical ability to improve your writing through feedback. It’s a delicate mix, and I see many writers with the kind of talent I only dream of having, fall by the wayside.
As to other types of barriers, it is likely that there are gender and geographical imbalances within the publishing industry. I am a woman and a northerner by birth, and I am also an author of colour. I cannot say that I have directly experienced any of these bars, but as Spread the Word’s recent research has shown, systemic bars are often covert and ‘unseen’. It’s been a difficult question for me to write or even think about. However, the last few months and the volatile debates around race have prompted many of us, from all backgrounds, to reflect and learn. I too am on this journey. Spread the Word and its community of incredible writers and those who run the programme have helped me flex my thinking around this subject. I realise now what a nuanced and multi-faceted debate this is, and I cannot do it justice in a short answer.

Q. Before Covid19, what support did they give to writers and to you in particular?

Spread the Word’s programme was for 30 London writers (commercial, literary, narrative non-fiction and 6 children’s writers (middle grade and young adult only)). It’s an intensive 9 months with regular submissions to your crit group and monthly Saturday master classes. The master classes concentrate on both craft and industry knowledge. We enjoyed writing exercises that honed our voice, psycho-analysed our characters, and interrogated our plots. We heard from commissioning editors in person and learned from authors first hand experiences. My story took flight, and my professional confidence grew.

Q. How has their support for writers changed since Covid19?


The team at Spread the Word have worked above and beyond to support us as people first, but also to help us keep our writing practice alive during this challenging period. We have gone remote, and learnt the intricacies of Zoom breakout rooms and online crit group dynamics. If it is true that Covid has exposed the value systems of structures that underpin many aspects of our lives – personal, professional, and in our public institutions – then Spread the Word has passed with flying colours: it’s inclusivity, optimism and insistence that we view ourselves as serious writers definitely gave me the time, space and support to sustain my writing practice. They also were the first organisation to pay for my work (the blog attached to this piece) – something that made a huge difference to how I view myself: I am a writer.

Q. What does the support of Spread the Word mean to you?

It’s changed me profoundly as a person and as a writer. I met a enormously energising group of children’s writers and it’s a privilege to be invited into their story worlds. My peer’s successes also spurred me on: Michael Mann’s debut novel, Ghostcloud, has just been acquired by Hachette.
Personally, I’ve also loved the cross-fertilisation from exposure to others writers. As children’s writers we have huge commitment to character driven, tension-filled narratives – and it’s lovely to have the opportunity to temper our storytelling with experiments in form and voice that are the daily bread-and-butter of literary, commercial and non-fiction writers.
It’s also a fantastic step for me to have gained representation from Philippa Milnes-Smith of The Soho Agency.

Q. What else are Spread the Word doing in the current crisis?


For a small organisation, Spread the Word punches well above its weight. It has had a tangible and direct effect in the current crisis. It’s lightning quick reaction (along with The Bookseller) in commissioning a survey of the Indie book publishers highlighted the Indies’ financial crisis and was, no doubt, critical in prompting the ACE to provide Indies with emergency funding without which some may have closed. They have helped keep alive publishers who may well publish some of our WIPs.

Q. What do you think can be done to help children’s authors and illustrators effectively promote their books and get them into gatekeeper’s hands?

The days of a talented writer waiting patiently in their garret to be discovered – if such days ever really existed – are long gone. As writers we have to pitch our books, understand their beating hearts and commercial heads, and learn to communicate this well to everyone – from the child who asks you what your book is about, to the eponymous commissioning editor you are trapped in a lift with. You can’t just mumble and back away like they have the plague – this used to be my default response. Spread the Word has definitely given me the confidence to connect with industry gatekeepers, and the community to catch me when I fall, and cheer me when I fly. I am not yet sure which of these two trajectories my middle grade WIP, A Girl Called Forest, will take…


OPPORTUNITIES FOR WRITERS:

-THE LONDON WRITERS AWARDS 2020 – 2021 WILL BE OPEN FOR APPLICATIONS FROM MONDAY 17TH AUG 2020 TO 30TH SEPTEMBER 2020.

FOUR CATEGORIES: COMMERCIAL, LITERARY, YA/CHIDREN’S, NARRATIVE NON-FICTION. THERE ARE 30 SPACES AVAILABLE FOR LONDON BASED AUTHORS OF COLOUR, WORKING CLASS/ WORKING CLASS BACKGROUND/ LGBTQ+, AND DISABLED WRITERS. THE PROGRAMME ACTIVITY WILL COMMENCE IN JANUARY 2021 TO OCTOBER 2021.

-BOOKTRUST REPRESENTS SUPPORTS WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS OF COLOUR.

-THE FABER FAB PRIZE IS OPEN FROM 30TH JANUARY 2021 FOR WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS

-OUTSIDE LONDON, SPREAD THE WORD ARE PART OF A NETWORK OF REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATIONS. IN PARTICULAR, WRITING WEST MIDLANDS AND NEW WRITING NORTH PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS.



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Bio:

A lawyer in a previous incarnation, Ayesha escaped the City and found writing. Her work has been placed in competitions supported by Faber, Bloomsbury, Jericho Writers and Spread The Word. Never one to avoid life’s banana skins, the farcical experience of missing her own competition winning ‘golden moment’ prompted her to start blogging as www.theinvisibleauthorblog.com. She’s passionate about sharing books, and runs a reading for pleasure ‘Book Explorers’ initiative in primary school libraries. She supports social justice through her work with Doorstep Library and Home-Start.


Twitter: @AyeshaBraganza

Website: theinvisibleauthorblog.com


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A. M. Dassu is a children’s author and Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her at deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org

You can find her on Twitter @a_reflective and Instagram @a.m.dassu

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