Lisa Brennan is the Project Manager for Suffolk LIbraries’ DiscoveReads project. DiscoveReads is an online book group organised by the library service, which hosts regular author talks and members discuss different books each month. Their Facebook page can be found here. Lisa is also responsible for co-ordinating the Suffolk Writes Project, which encourages local authors to submit their work to be included in an anthology which is made available via the Suffolk Libraries ebook lender - Overdrive.
Makarelle: When we completed our MAs in 2019, one of the things that was made very clear to us was how hard it was to get your work accepted anywhere. Competition was huge and it only became harder during COVID-19 because more people had the opportunity to spend time writing. This was one of the reasons we started the magazine – we wanted to get our own work out there and also give an opportunity to other writers and artists at the beginning of their careers. From what I understand, Suffolk Writes shares those aims. Can you tell us a bit more about the project. How did it start and how has it developed over the years?
Lisa: The project began in 2016 when our eBook provider, OverDrive, made it possible for libraries to add their own content to the platform. This was the initial spark for what is now called Suffolk Writes. Since then, we have added 80 eBooks to our Local Content collection on OverDrive: Local authors - Suffolk Libraries - OverDrive as until recently we accepted submissions all year around.
We made the decision in Spring this year to shift towards an annual anthology. We already had experience of adding collection like this to the platform with the Suffolk Libraries Day eBook: Suffolk Day 2017 - Suffolk Libraries - OverDrive and Woodbridge Young Poets competition: Woodbridge Young Poets Competition 2016 - Suffolk Libraries - OverDrive
Makarelle: As we mentioned before, literary agents saw a huge rise in submissions during and just after the various lockdowns of the last two years. What is it about the creative arts that makes them so appealing to people when life gets difficult?
Lisa: As well as managing the Suffolk Writes project, I also cover reader development for Suffolk Libraries which for the last year has including interviewing authors via Zoom. We have often discussed this very thing. From the amazing reaction from readers of Elly Griffiths reading a chapter of her book every day on Facebook to the extraordinary impact creative arts and reading has on us all. It’s a way to escape, it’s a way to imagine a better world and life than we may be experiencing.
A great example of a conversation about this, is my interview in July with poet anthologist Ana Sampson, who is also deputy publicity director for Quercus books: Interview with poetry anthologist Ana Sampson - YouTube
Makarelle: I thought it was interesting that you wrote so positively about self-publishing when this project was first launched. One of the things many writers struggle with is the balance between wanting to get their work ‘out there’ and the need to have their work ‘legitimised’ by having someone else want to publish it. In the past there has also been a level of prejudice against self-published books. More recently, there seems to have been a shift away from this view though. What do you think caused that shift?
Lisa: I think many writers do still want, as you brilliantly put it, their work/creation to be ‘legitimised’ by a publishing house. I think to some degree that will always be the case. Yet, I do also agree that it appears more and more people are choosing to take the self-published route. I think it’s become easier for writers to self-publish with various tools available from platforms like Amazon. Writers can also access professionals, like editors and illustrators, for their books via places like Upwork & Reedsy. These things I think, have given those that haven’t got a publishing deal more options. Match this with publishing houses often not wanting to take a chance on an unknown author without a huge following and it makes sense that writers are choosing the self-published route.
Makarelle: Encouraging new writers is obviously something you feel very passionate about. What advice would you give people who are worried about letting other people read their work?
Lisa: Every writer to some extent feels that way. I’ve interviewed many bestselling authors, like Louise Penny, Kathy Reichs and Jane Fallon and all of them have said something similar. That moment when they share what they have created can be nerve-racking. In fact, Louise Penny said even after all the books she’s writing it still happens every time.
So, I think the best advice is, accept that it’s likely to always be scary yet do it anyway if writing is your dream. Also, think carefully about who you choose to share your work with.
Makarelle: It’s interesting that you mention that even established writers suffer from anxieties about people reading their work and in many ways, I imagine it provides some comfort for the people just starting out to know that pretty much every author feels the same way, no matter how well established they are?
Lisa: If you’re a writer that’s looking for advice or help on your journey, I think a great place to look is to those that have already been through those same things. In the last year, I have interviewed around 60 authors via Zoom, recordings can be found on Suffolk Libraries YouTube here: Author interviews - YouTube & Suffolk Libraries Day - YouTube
Makarelle: The deadline for submissions to the Suffolk Writes Project this year is 30th November. Is the project only open to writers based in the local area or is anyone welcome to submit? Please could you give details of how to do this and also when and where the anthology will be available for people to read.
Lisa: Any writer in Suffolk or surrounding areas is welcome to send submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org All submissions are reviewed by either myself or one of our amazing volunteers. Details on the project can be found here: Suffolk Writes | Suffolk Libraries
In January 2022 we will be launching the eBook which will be available for people to download from OverDrive here: Local authors - Suffolk Libraries - OverDrive
Makarelle: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Good luck with the project and we look forward to seeing the final anthology in January!