We were very fortunate to have former Random House editor, Ali Reynolds, as our judging panel chair for the last two years. Ali brought vast experience and huge enthusiasm to the role. And the great news is that Ali is carrying on her involvement with the Bristol Short Story Prize. We caught up with her to find out more:
How did you find the experience of judging the Bristol Short Story Prize?
I absolutely loved it; it was such a privilege to be involved. I had the opportunity to read truly brilliant stories and judge alongside fantastic literary experts, Bidisha, Chris Wakling and Anna Britten. Just being in a room discussing stories with them was a dream come true for me. Each year culminated in the awards ceremony which was also a highlight, it gave me a chance to meet and congratulate the writers. We read each story anonymously so I loved meeting the writers behind the stories I’d become so close to through the judging process.
You’re continuing to be involved with the Bristol Short Story Prize; what will you be doing?
I think the Bristol Short Story Prize has such a strong focus on discovering and supporting writers and giving them an opportunity to get published. There are a lot of competitions out there and a lot of options for writers but the Bristol Short Story Prize shines out because it has such integrity and puts the writer at the heart of what it does. This inspired me to want to continue my connection after I had finished judging, and to play a role which is very much in keeping with the aims of the prize. So, I’m going to continue the work I have been doing for the last year or so – building relationships with the publishing industry, with literary agents in particular, on behalf of BSSP; building relationships with those who see the Bristol Short Story Prize as a helpful conduit capable of bringing talented writers to their attention. The aim is to make the anthology a must-have source of talent for agents seeking new writers and to make those nuanced relationships between writers and agents happen.
You have relaunched your editorial consultancy as Arc, what has changed?
The main aspect that has changed is the team. I’ve worked as a freelance editor and literary consultant for many years but now Arc has expanded to have a team of truly fantastic experts, all of whom are so experienced and knowledgeable. The emphasis has always been on robust editorial support, which means honest advice and developing fiction and non-fiction to the best stage possible. These aims are still the same but we are now building our connections with literary agents and helping our writers find ways to reach new audiences with their work.
How important are freelance editors in the rapidly changing publishing world?
Publishing is changing. The routes into self-publishing are giving writers options to see their work in print and mainstream publishing is going through a process of opening-up, creating digital and new marketing platforms and establishing courses and new ways to connect with writers.
Freelance editors play a role in supporting writers and helping them ‘break through’ into publishing by having their work as ready as possible. There is, quite often, only one good shot at getting representation from an agent so writers know that they need their work to shine as brilliantly as possible. Also, freelance editors are able to assuage the concerns of writers who want to self publish but know that they need their work to have gone through a rigorous editorial process before they take the plunge and publish.
So, freelance editors are connected to the industry, they should be up-to-date with current trends and know what agents are looking for. Their role is to translate the industry to new writers and manage their expectations of what is required and what they need to know to make it to publication. For me it is also about the personal as well as the professional. The dynamic between editor and writer can be a close one – I often offer the first critical response a writer has received – and it can be a rewarding, if challenging, process. Most of the writers I know have enjoyed that process and have found it to be a valuable aspect of their writing career.
Would you like to recommend any books you’ve read recently?
Where do I start? I can’t recommend Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing highly enough. It unnerved me with its brilliance, the tightly structured writing and the depth of Jake’s story. I also recently read Ali Smith’s Artful which is just that – it is a piece of art like no other and manages to take in so many aspects of life alongside a very moving fictional story about loss without ever being pretentious or inaccessible. I’m just starting Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries… the list will go on.