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February 2016 Newsletter: Just Say No To Submission Fees

24 Feb 2016 6:12 PM | Mona Curtis

February Spotlight: Felicity McCall

by Suzanne Richardson

Felicity McCall was a career journalist who covered the Ireland conflict for BBC, now a fulltime writer, theatre producer, arts facilitator and occasional actor based in Derry and Donegal in Ireland. She is a founding member of Derry Writers and, most recently, Derry Literary Ladies.   She is also the Ireland officer for the miscarriage of justice lobby group, Portia, and a cathaoirleach of the Irish Executive of the National Union of Journalists.

Felicity has received 2 Meyer Whitworth nominations, the Tyrone Guthhrie Award, 2 IPSG nominations, 3 Arts council awards, as well as Best Heritage Project from the Big Lottery for We Were Brothers, a cross community WW1 project in 2011, and in 2013 the all-Ireland Epic award for Every Bottle has a Story to Tell. Her portfolio includes over twenty published titles including nonfiction and young adult books, twelve plays for the professional stage, and four screenplay credits.

Also see

Q: When did you start playwrighting?
A: I have been writing all my life; I remember contributing to a version of Cinderella in Primary School and teaming up with a friend to write and perform sketches in my teens- we're working on a 1916 project  together this year, for the first time in decades, which is lovely

Q: When you write, do you focus on developing characters first, or the plot?
A: In fiction, the characters always come first and once they come alive for me, the plot writes itself; with historically accurate writing, the research material defines both.

Q: What is your writing process like? Do you have any rituals?
A: I love the research process and will quite happily immerse myself in this for long periods; it never fails to be fascinating. The writing begins in my head and one day makes its way onto the screen in an extended, stream of consciousness, very rough draft then I'm fairly disciplined about the rewriting. Deadlines work for me, even self-imposed ones; I'm a journalist at heart. No real rituals except I know I must be difficult to be around as the writing takes over and while I'm writing there's a reluctance to return from the world I've created to everyday life.

Q: Where do you pull most of your inspiration from when creating characters?
A: With fact based drama the characters will be researched from as wide a range of sources as possible- letters are a great resource- and additional characters are often a composite of a number of different experiences, so they're emotionally honest. Otherwise, from constant observation of the drama that is everyday life; my notebooks are full of scraps of information, snatches of dialogue, anything idiosyncratic that appeals to my sense of the quirky. And I always sleep with a notebook beside the bed. Never underestimate the power of the subconscious!

Q: Do you have a favorite genre you like to write? (Comedy, drama, fantasy, etc.)
A: I love having a couple of contrasting projects on the go so that when I reach a stalemate with one I can step away from it and return with a more objective perspective; one fiction/ one nonfiction is always a good balance as on the days when creativity has fled, there's the research to work on.  Favourite genre? Anything people centered and driven, and social issues; I'd aspire to have some of my work categorized as that of an artist activist as the arts are such a powerful tool for change and for giving a voice to the voiceless. Comedy must be the most challenging as humour is so individual- who dares to claim to be funny?

Q: What would you say was your most rewarding moment as a playwright or writer in general?
A: As a writer, the magical moment when an actor who 'gets' the character is on stage and it's exactly how the character has been sounding in my head. I'll never forget being in the audience at the opening of a play I produced with Derry's Street Drinking Community, Every Bottle Has a Story to Tell; effectively I was a conduit for a very marginalized, determined, committed group of writers and actors. Every performance played to a full house and standing ovation and it was humbling to be part of such a ground breaking and empowering piece of drama that went on to win major awards.
But the real joy was in their faces at the curtain call and the audience interaction afterwards- it was so emotional.

Q: What advice would you give women wanting to become Playwrights?
A: Do it. Now. Tell your own story. Accept that everyone gets rejections. Don't wait for a commission. Form your own theatre group and perform anywhere- community halls, pubs, cafes, the street, a church; it's all good experience. Make sure to build a reputation for professionalism. Network like crazy. Find the best writers group for you to give and receive constructive criticism and support. I've always found those at the top of their profession have nothing but support to offer aspiring and emerging writers; any back biting comes from those insecure in their own writing practice. And always believe your best work has yet to be written- so keep learning.

Welcome New Members

Kristin Jones – USA
Kristin Jones received her BFA in Acting from UC Santa Barbara and an MA in Playwriting from UCLA.

Sam Kumpe - United States
I've just written my first play and I'm addicted.

Evelyn Jean Pine – USA
Evelyn Jean Pine writes plays about the moment when you feel your life is brand new -- whether it is or not.
Representative Play Titles: The Secrets of the World, First, Astonishment, Walking the Starry Path

Sharon Studer – UK
Particular interest is serious drama; have had semi-staged reading of a 10 minute play and a professional production of a full length play.

ICWP Initiatives

Upcoming Annual Meeting
ICWP is a very special group.  It is an international organization that exists only on-line and is staffed almost exclusively by volunteers.  I hope you participate in the Annual Meeting which which takes place online in March. All members will receive an email about how to participate.  
50/50 Applause Award
ICWP is gearing up for the next 50/50 Award which is now in its fifth year and is becoming one of our signature initiatives.

Articles of Interest
by Patricia Morin

More and more magazines and literary journals, as well as theatres, are asking for fees. I've been following this, not only with my mystery writing organizations, but now with playwrights.


“Why Writers are Paying to get Published”
The Atlantic Magazine
October, 2015
Joy Lanzerdorfer

Note from Patricia: Since all writers, no matter what their genre are being met with the same problems, I have added playwrights in parenthesis. The article does not do this.

It’s fall, the time of year when literary journals open their doors for new submissions. Around the country, writers are polishing poems, short stories, and essays (and plays) in hopes of getting published in those small-but-competitive journals devoted to good writing (and theatres devoted to good plays). Though I’ve published short stories in the past, I’m not submitting any this year, and if things continue the way they have been, I may stop writing them altogether. The reason, in a nutshell, is reading fees—also called submission or service fees—which many literary journals (and now theatres) charge those who want to be considered for publication. Writers pay a fee that usually ranges from $2 to $5—but sometimes goes as high as $25—and in return, the journal will either (most likely) reject or accept their submission and publish it. Even in the lucky case that a piece is published (produced), most journals don’t pay writers (including playwrights) for their work, making it a net loss either way.

Authors call for boycott on non-paying festivals
Published January 15, 2016
Benedicte Page

Prominent writers including Linda Grant, Denise Mina, Joanne Harris and Francesca Simon have responded to Philip Pullman's protest over the Oxford Literary Festival's failure to pay author fees by joining a call for publishers and fellow authors to boycott events with the same policy.

Pullman, who is president of the Society of Authors, has stepped down from his role as patron of the festival, saying it is a case of "simple justice" that authors should be paid for their appearances.

Now novelist and critic Amanda Craig has written an open letter to The Bookseller calling for all authors and publishers to boycott literary festivals that expect authors to work without a fee. "For too long, authors have been persuaded to give our services to the public for free - even though the public is paying in good faith to see us," she wrote. "We are the only people in festivals who are not paid, and yet without us the festivals could not exist. Writing is a vocation but it is also a profession, and it is time we all stiffened our spines, dug in our heels and said No."

Craig's letter has attracted immediate support from many other authors, with Linda Grant, Louisa Young, Denise Mina, Francis Wheen, Joanne Harris and Francesca Simon among those who have put their names to it. (Full letter below)

The fact that many literary festivals do not remunerate authors for appearances has been a long-running grievance among writers, with the Society of Authors currently campaigning on the issue and "working with them [festivals] to agree reasonable fees and best practice guidelines", as chief executive Nicola Solomon told The Bookseller earlier this month.
Novelist Robert Harris yesterday tweeted a response to Pullman's comments on his resignation, saying "So true! A few (insane) punters paid £50 for a front-row seat at my last event. I was given a mug, appropriately."

If you're a writer and want to add your signature to the petition, leave a comment on this piece.

Letter to The Bookseller:

Sir/ Madam,

Further to Philip Pullman's resignation from the Oxford Literary Festival, we would like to call for all authors and publishers to boycott literary festivals that expect authors to work for free.  For too long, authors have been persuaded to give our services to the public for free - even though the public is paying in good faith to see us. We are the only people in festivals who are not paid, and yet without us the festivals could not exist. Writing is a vocation but it is also a profession, and it is time we all stiffened our spines, dug in our heels, and said No.

Should you wish to protest personally, to a theatre or contest asking for submission fees, a similar letter template used by ICWP members, written by Carolyn Gage regarding playwrights is available to download at the foot of the Members Area of the website.

Yours for innovative, engaging, and equitable theater,

Mona Curtis
Newsletter Editor

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