Polly Clark

The writer Polly Clark standing outside, smiling, surrounded by greenery and flowers
Polly Clark. Image credit: Polly Clark

In 2020 I was awarded funding from Creative Scotland to sustain and develop my writing over a period of one year. The funding was intended to mitigate the devastation to opportunities caused by Covid-19, and with the benefit of hindsight I am awed by the ambition of its aims and the speed of its rollout. To keep Scottish writers not just afloat but developing their practice during such a crisis? I was grateful at the time, but, a year on, with the effects of the pandemic cutting so much deeper than we could have imagined, I genuinely do not know what would have happened to my work without it. It is not only financial opportunities which were lost, but creative ones too — opportunities for research, and in the end, simple but necessary things like peace of mind, optimism, creative energy. All things which cannot be quantified, but are essential to a writer as much as anybody else. The award was sufficiently substantial, acutely targeted and delivered with a flexibility that has seen me through to an outcome which will be different from the one first envisioned, but, I believe, deeper and stronger.

The funding supported the creation of my third novel Ocean, and included writing time and a research trip: a trans-Atlantic sailing crossing. Research is important in my novels: for Tiger I travelled to Siberia to track tigers in the wild. I applied for the funding in April, with a plan that I could undertake the trip in January 2021. How naïve that seems now, but of course we all thought things would be back to normal by then. Nevertheless, completing a comprehensive risk assessment as part of the application about the effect of the virus on travel was quite sobering. Little did I know then that my research and my writing were going to adapt — and indeed develop — much further than I imagined.

Photo taken from above showing Polly’s laptop, headphones, notebook, book of tide tables, a half drnk cup of tea and a packet of crisps
Research in progress. Image credit: Polly Clark

A planned book tour in Germany was cancelled, and with it potential income and sales. The paperback of Tiger, designed to shine enticingly in a bookshop, was published just as they all closed. This story is no different from that of many writers in this crisis. My award supported me financially during this time, but more importantly, reminded me that I had a career, even while evidence of it in the real world was collapsing.

Meanwhile I was working closely with my editor and agent, talking about the book, writing, and discarding, remembering the outline and then purposely forgetting it. Where I could not voyage, I was reading books about grand voyages and the words of far better writers than I about the majesty of the open sea. Lockdown gave many of us the chance to read more (the first one anyway), and it has been transforming to me to read Conrad, Rachel Carson, Jonathan Raban, and more classics of lone Atlantic crossings than I can mention. The ocean in literature is more mysterious and miraculous than I knew, and it has been vital to my own work to explore this.

Then of course, the second lockdown. No sailing trip was going to be possible within the agreed time frame for my novel. My publisher agreed to move the delivery date to allow more time, and, to keep my connection with sailing alive, I enrolled on an online RYA Day Skipper course, which I thought would be relatively simple, but has turned out to be a full-on voyage into navigation, meterology and seamanship. It has transformed my outlook and will, when I take the 3-hour exam and hopefully pass it, give me a real qualification. When travel opens up, I will be able to participate at much more knowledgeable level, and will have a greater range of opportunities. I asked Creative Scotland to repurpose the funding allocated for the research trip as it was simply not going to happen as we had envisaged. Doing so released vital funds for me to keep writing. The flexibility of this award in the face of a constantly changing pandemic situation has been essential to its success for me.

Photo showing the view of a boat yard on a rainy day, with warm grey slippers propped up on a rail and a mug that says ‘skipper’ on the outside
Skipper Polly enjoys the view. Image credit: Polly Clark

Ocean will now be published spring 2023, with delivery at the end of this year. The conviction, understanding and flexibility of my publisher has been essential to the novel coming to fruition. It is hard to overstate the challenges presented by the pandemic to all the people — not just the writer — trying to make a book happen. My own journey has opened my eyes to the devotion and dedication of people at all stages in the process. Despite the noise around publishing as a business, I have experienced anew the love of literature at its heart.

Meanwhile, I am taking inshore sailing trips and pursuing my Skipper qualification, and marvelling at the new direction of my research. But, most importantly: the writing. How much deeper I have been taken! I am so excited about the story that is unfolding. It is a privilege to be able to write while one is actually living through extraordinary times; so often the writer must make a grisly choice between day-to-day survival and keeping imagination alive. The funding has fulfilled its aim beyond what we hoped, developing my work in quite extraordinary ways. I am more grateful than I can say.

Find out more about Polly’s writing on her website and on Instagram.

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