Hi Aimee. Can you introduce yourself to the reader?
Hi there! I’m Aimee Wilkinson, and in terms of my work role, I’m the Head of Artistic Development for Writing East Midlands (one of England’s Writer Development Agencies).
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day
Many, many things. As a Writer Development Agency we are here to promote writing and writers at any stage of their careers, which includes the hobbyists and emerging writers, all the way to professional writers with a large portfolio of work and experience behind them.
We run conferences, events, writing schools with writing courses for adults and young people, competitions, mentoring and critiquing programmes and a large body of ‘writing residencies’ which place writers in culturally or socially significant venues and help them gain experience, build new audiences and create new and exciting work. My role is to oversee the adult delivery side of the above, develop new projects and to also ensure that we are constantly discovering writers of quality and re-defining what quality is, in line with the current and ever shifting literature landscape.
There is no typical day in my job, that’s one of the many reasons why I love it so! One day I may be going to see and support a writing workshop with refugees and asylum seekers, the next I might be writing a funding bid for a new project, or visiting a literature festival or talk.
What’s great about your job?
That no day is the same, and so I am always interested and challenged by what I do. I love helping writers along their journey, building their talent and confidence and signposting them to opportunities which will help them grow. It is so satisfying to work with a writer from the beginning and then see their work picked up by an agent and then published and in bookshops, or to work with an emerging spoken word artist and see how their audience and confidence grows.
Increasingly our writing residency projects have a strong social impact element, for example, we might use a residency as a way to explore how creative writing can help with things like loneliness or social isolation, and these discoveries and the process of building evidence and a case for the power of literature is really exciting and satisfying to me.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
Juggling lots of different projects at the same time. This is often the way when working in the arts. I have to channel my inner octopus and juggle deadlines and tasks to make sure nothing slips, but it has also build my multitasking skills so it’s not a bad thing!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Running writing conferences for 270 people and seeing how much people enjoy it and seeing that some of the writers I have recommended have been taken up by agents. Running spoken word festivals which toured the region and placed local writers and emerging artists on the same stage as headlines such as Lemn Sissay, Tounge Fu and Kate Tempest, to name just a few. Bringing writers to unusual places such as prisons, hospital settings, museums and refugee centres and getting reluctant writers to write and discover something new about themselves.
How did you get into an arts job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I worked hard at building a portfolio of volunteering experiences in the arts before working in the sector, which is something I always recommend to not only emerging arts professionals, but also emerging writers. It's a great way to network, experience new arts events and see what works (and what doesn’t!).
I built up a strong portfolio of experience outside of the arts sector which gave me lots of transferable skills such as copywriting, marketing, networking, client management and partnership building all of which are very useful in the arts and when creating new projects.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
The literary industry is very supportive of emerging writers, which is fantastic, and many mid-career and established writers will be supportive in terms of giving advice and time to people interested in moving into the field.
I do think it is harder these says to earn a living solely from writing, and most writers diversify their work. Therefore writing residencies and teaching have become increasingly important for writers to maintain their finances, but they also have the happy outcome of also feeding into writer’s creative work and giving them new ideas and building new audiences.
Currently there is also a strong movement to diversify the writers who are published/ promoted/ programmed and this is something I feel very passionately about. It's something we constantly think about when programming our work, and it is heartening to see that well established publishers such as Penguin are also looking into this with their Write Now programme, This is great, as it's supporting new voices, which in turn will support new audiences to the art form.
I truly believe that literature is for everyone, and can take you to different places and change the way that you view and interpret the world. Therefore it's important that we read widely, and have a wide range of writers to choose from as an audience.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Have belief in yourself, use your tenacity and grit but most of all have fun.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Often, work in the arts can feel hard to get into as there is no one direct path, which used to really frustrate me as I like processes and clarity in life! You don’t know what you don’t know, and this can feel like a barrier.
Volunteering really helped me get a foot in the door and start understanding the arts world, discovering what I might be good at and where my passions lie.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people about how they got where they are, don’t be afraid to ask questions and even ask for work experience if you can. Be a yes person, and start to build the networks which will launch you to where you want to be.
If you like literature, check out this interview with author Nikesh Shukla.
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