Quarantine has brought with it a myriad of opportunity.
Whether that means gardening for you or online dating for others, it's hard to deny the impact of the excess time spent at home.
For some, the time has been wholly reflective, meaning that creative outlets have been nurtured wholeheartedly at a time when we have the time to do so.
Encouraging this creativity is publisher Penguin Random House whose annual WriteNow programme aims to find and publish new writers from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves.
This includes, but is not isolated to, writers from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) or LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) communities, those who have a disability or come from a socio-economically marginalised background.
Excitingly, 2020 is the first year that writers from the Republic of Ireland are eligible to apply, with Penguin calling for applications from unpublished writers in fiction, non-fiction and children’s/Young Adult genres.
To apply, writers are asked to submit 1,000 words of writing, as well as describing why they feel their voice is under-represented.
The application period has been extended to 31 May – to reflect the current circumstances – and that many writers might be under considerable pressure at work or home.
Following the application process, the 150 most promising writers will be invited to a free digital workshop in July to learn more about how to get published – as well as receiving one-on-one feedback on their work from one of Penguin’s editors via video call.
Of those 150 writers, 10 of the most talented will be invited to join the WriteNow programme, where they will each work with one of Penguin’s editors (with special expertise in their genre) to develop their manuscript over the course of a year.
"The word author can sometimes conjure up a certain image, but we want to show that stories and writing can come from anywhere. There should be no one single definition of an author – everyone should be able to define what it means to them, and every talented writer should have the opportunity to get their voice heard," says Siena Parker, Penguin’s Head of Creative Responsibility.
"We know that the journey to getting published can be complex and that our industry remains a bit shrouded in mystery – and that unfortunately, some writers face more barriers in the journey to getting published than others. WriteNow aims to break down those barriers and, most importantly, discover talented new writers who we want to publish one day."
A number of WriteNow alumni have already made quite an impact as, to date, six writers have been published by Penguin, with four more to come in 2020 (in addition to two further books from one of the authors already published).
Geraldine Quigley, WriteNow alumnus based in Derry, and author of Music, Love, Drugs, War (FigTree, 2019), found herself in the programme after a friend sent her a link to it in 2016. She was working in a call centre at the time and had been writing the first drafts of the book in her spare time.
In February 2017, she heard that she had been chosen as one of the final 12 to enter a one-year mentoring programme with a PRH editor. By January 2019, her book was on shelves and had been praised by names like Roddy Doyle.
"To be selected for final ten was extraordinary," she says. "WriteNow is unique in that it gives the mentees the invaluable experience of working with some of publishing’s most respected and creative editors. If you’re lucky enough to get selected, you really couldn’t ask for a better start to a writing career. It’s hard work, but one of the best things I’ve ever done."
For more information on how the programme works and how to get involved, check out their designated website here.