Wednesday last week was momentous. After eighteen months of promotion, our contributors’ efforts and generous pledges from friends and family, three Arts Council applications (one successful, two not) and a brilliant Twitter storm filled with supporters and enthusiastic RTs, we reached our £16,000 target to start the publication process of A Wild and Precious Life with Unbound. On Monday we had £850 still to raise, and only a week to raise it (meeting the deadline I’d set for the end of November). Not a chance, I thought. By Tuesday we were down to £650, when a pledge came in for me and Zoe to go and teach a creative writing session (thank you, Google), which added another £400 to our funds.
That evening, I hosted our second A Wild and Precious Evening with readings from four of our writers, Michele Kirsch, Sadie Nott, John Pearson and Susannah Vernon Hunt and a panel discussion on the power of writing in recovery, and ways of protecting ourselves when writing difficult material (including some interesting insight into good vs bad memoir… with musings on Recovery Lit – I think you invented a new genre, Michele). It was a superb evening, thanks to Francesca Baker for her efforts and for finding the lovely venue: St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green.
By Wednesday morning, we only had to raise £85. ‘How did that happen?’ Tweeted one of our contributors, Writerly Angela. I wasn’t entirely sure; at this point it felt a little like magic. Then by 3pm we hit 100%. The news came through to me on a text. No words, just 100%. Wow. Overwhelmed. Breathless. I had to lie down. JL Hall, one of our key contributors managed to snooze through the entire thing but was woken by the cyber screams.
After bouts of excitement followed by clouds of sleepy relief, I was tempted to Tweet: ‘That’s it folk. There will be no more pledge-begging Tweets clogging up my feed’. It must have been so repetitive and so boring… But, actually, in the end – after moments of defeat when it really didn’t feel like it was going to happen – Twitter came good. It was the best way to tap into a community of writers, people in recovery, those who really valued what we were doing. Dear Twitter, There are many moments when I dislike you, but we really couldn’t have done it without you.
The best part of it, though, is that we didn’t end up one of those projects that had to admit failure. Not after all this time and effort, the money put towards pledges, the belief people had in us. One particularly dark moment, when we’d been hovering at the 51% mark for what felt like decades, I read someone’s barbed comment on Facebook in response to a kind posting of our project – ‘I pledged for that ages ago. I’ve not heard anything since. It’s obviously not going to happen.’ (For your information, I swiftly replied and told her, on the contrary, we are still going strong – we’d suffered a dip, that’s all. It’s exhausting business keeping this fundraising up 24/7.) To give her credit, she admitted sheepishly that our Updates had been going to her junk folder.
It was the Arts Council who gave us the lift we needed. After the first failed attempt, I cried – these applications are scary – and, some months later, once I myself had recovered, I tried again. Six weeks later, we were set back, again. Although this time I was not going to be defeated. Without uttering a word to anyone, I created a new application, copied and pasted (and refined) the words into new boxes, and sent it off that afternoon. It was this one, that, on 3rd September, came back positive. It was this, then, that boosted us to the lofty heights of 83% and the rest, as they say, is history.
I was advised before my second application to make some changes, the main one being to take the emphasis off the book itself and think about why this book was so important. I knew why it was important, but in my exasperation to raise such a large amount of money I had perhaps taken my eye off the true meaning of it for me (and those involved). It was the mentoring aspect of A Wild and Precious Life that sung out, then. The fact that many of our writers, particularly those from our original creative writing class set up at St Mungo’s, had written every day for survival, to keep going through excruciating difficulties, and yet had never considered themselves writers. Zoe and I wanted to give them the opportunity to learn their craft and to improve, and to see their words in print. With this in mind the second application had more emphasis on mentoring select contributors. I think in the end it was this that pulled us through.
One of the most touching Tweets that I received in the celebration of this news was from Peter Jordon, who has been an encouraging support throughout. He wrote, ‘You have shown me what hard work and perseverance can achieve.’ What I should have said is, No, it’s you who has shown me, that, against the odds, you’ve pulled through, where others, like my father, so spectacularly failed. It is you who has achieved something, along with so many of our contributors, some of whom have lost the best part of their lives to their addiction. Yet, still, they have found the strength to find their way home. This book is but a slight wrinkle in the world of recovery – a community of voices, some unheard, some emerging, some known names, who all know what it is to live wildly, and the precariousness of that; they have also learned how precious life can suddenly be, once it’s been so at risk. It’s this that should be celebrated.
Anyway, this is all becoming quite cheesy. I’ll leave you with a quote. One that I think encapsulates what this project means to me. It’s this:
If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.
Marianne Moore, ‘I May, I Might, I Must’