Emma Brankin on Her Writing Journey & Debut Collection
5 minutes read
Emma Brankin reflects on her writing journey, her experience on Faber Academy's Writing a Novel course and the publication of her debut short story collection, Attention Seekers.
When I applied for Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course, I had written 5,000 words of a manuscript in five years. Alongside my clear productivity issues, I had many misconceptions about my writing.
Some of which were:
- 75 per cent of words on any page must be adjectives
- Plot was optional
- An agent wouldn’t have to actually read my work, they would just innately sense I had the spirit and soul of a novelist and sign me up immediately.
A year or so later, thanks to Faber, I had a plot, considerably less delusion (and adjectives), some agent enquiries in my inbox following readings and roughly 70,000 words of a first draft.
The course motivated me to be productive and taught me the essential elements of a novel while still empowering me to write my story in my voice. Flicking through the beautiful Faber notebook I was given on my first day, it’s clear to see how inspired I was. I’ve scribbled down endless questions and underlined so much key advice from my wonderful course leader Richard T. Kelly.
And, of course, it introduced me to a room full of fellow writers with ambitions and aspirations of their own.
The course made clear to me the value of peer review. Most of my course mates and I are still in touch weekly, sharing successes and offering support.
In fact, it was one of the loveliest parts of my own recent book launch, having so many of my Faber friends in attendance.
Now, you may have noticed that my debut publication, Attention Seekers, is a short story collection and NOT a novel. However, I do believe Faber’s course played an essential role in my evolution as a writer.
It bolstered my belief in my writing and equipped me with the necessary resilience required to keep going.
I remember Faber putting on a wonderful talk with author Amy Sackville where she revealed that the first ever novel she wrote did not acquire her an agent. Quite honestly, in that moment I was horrified. The thought of having to try again after so much effort seemed impossible to me then.
But nearly all writers must cope with rejection and Faber’s course was refreshingly honest about how tricky querying can sometimes be. So, when some agents’ encouraging feedback made clear that my novel’s manuscript needed some revision, I was up for the challenge – but felt it was the right moment to take a Ross/Rachel-style break from my novel so I could return with fresh eyes. However, I was soon shamelessly tempted (just like Ross with Chloe the copy girl) to experiment with some short story writing. The challenge of creating whole worlds, crafting memorable characters and landing emotional truths in a concise, tight package was one I enjoyed. It also meant I could cover a larger variety of topics through the multiple stories, conjuring up modern day Greek heroines, imagining an alternative reality for a pre-fame Marilyn Monroe and fashioning an imaginary friend for a troubled teenager in the shape of a world-weary Anne Boleyn.
Always though, as I wrote, there was the ever-prevalent fear that I was the literary equivalent of those tone-deaf X Factor contestants who declare they’re the next Mariah Carey. Therefore, I was delighted when some literary magazines started offering to publish my work.
In 2021, I was lucky enough to win three short story competitions, including Fugue Fiction’s contest, judged by the wonderful author Eloghosa Osunde, of VAGABONDS! fame. She said that my story ‘The Scandals Of Christendom’ “stood out for its imagination, character, beauty and the protagonist’s life force”. I was also over the moon when my story ‘Silent Retreat’ was shortlisted by the prestigious Bridport Prize.
I’d always thought I’d probably eventually approach an agent with a short story collection, but when an opportunity arose to publish something via the wonderful indie publisher Valley Press, I decided to take a chance and say ‘yes’ rather than risk regretting what could have been many years later.
So, here I am, many years on, a published author of a short story collection that Mslexia magazine recently reviewed as “a brilliant collection”, featuring “characters crafted to perfection”.
I feel very lucky to be able to hold my own book (and even luckier that my book’s ‘attention seeking’ cover features a cat licking its bottom) and I am hopeful that my return to longer-form writing will go equally as well. There is no denying that I am the writer I am today because of the Faber course. It is the perfect place for people wanting to take their passion for storytelling to the next level. If you are considering enrolling, please be open to wherever the journey may take you.
Emma Brankin is the author of the story collection Attention Seekers. She is a writer and educator from Glasgow, Scotland with a Masters in Creative Writing and Education from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her work has made Bridport Prize’s Short Story Contest’s shortlist and Wigleaf’s Top 50. In 2021, she won the Short Story contests for Fugue Fiction, To Hull and Back and Superlative. Other stories have appeared in publications such as Narrative Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She assists her cat Sabre with his burgeoning social media career via @sabre_reads.