Avani Shah Discusses Her Apprentice Award
At the beginning of 2017 writing had been forced to the back of my mind. I was a few months out of my Masters and struggling to stay afloat. My MA at UEA had been a wonderful experience and watching how my friends came at their own work (some of the best fiction I have ever read) changed the way I approached the discipline completely. Finishing the course felt like waking up.
I applied for the Word Factory Apprentice Scheme amidst a flurry of job applications. I didn’t think I would win, but I needed something to make me feel like I hadn’t given up on writing altogether. If my MA tutors and coursemates showed me the kind of writing I was capable of producing when I put my mind and devoted my time to it, my apprenticeship with Word Factory has taught me how to incorporate my writing practice into my everyday life.
I first came across my mentor Nikesh Shukla’s writing in 2014. SHAHS, I wrote on Facebook, tagging my cousins who shared names with the characters, I just finished a hilarious book about a GUJARATI kid from HARROW. Over the next couple of years, I read Meatspace andThe Good Immigrant and when I found out Nikesh would be my mentor I was thrilled and intimidated in equal parts.
‘I’m totally starstruck,’ I blurted out when he introduced himself to me at my first Word Factory event.
Nikesh was nice. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m an idiot.’
Needless to say, he’s not. Working with Nikesh has done wonders for both my word count and my ego. He has a solution to everything. When I told him that I was struggling to fit writing in around my other obligations, he shared his secrets. When I needed career advice, he offered his input but also listened to me while I worked out my next steps aloud. Thanks to his encouragement and ideas, my novel has grown and continues to grow in ways I could never have imagined.
My apprenticeship with Nikesh also turned out to be at the centre of something much bigger, something I hadn’t expected to find as a part of this experience – the wider Word Factory community. My fellow apprentices – Melissa Fu, Durre Shahwar, and J. Fergus Evans – and the apprentices who came before us – Rebecca Swirsky, Holly Dawson, Uschi Gatward, Kerstin Twatchmann, Claire Adam, Divya Ghelani, and Emily Devane – are all such wonderful writers and I have learned so much from getting to know them and reading their work.
The apprenticeship scheme comes with access to a host of literary masterclasses and salons and as well as learning from Dave Lordan and K. J. Orr, I was lucky enough to be an apprentice in the same year as Word Factory’s inaugural festival Citizen: A New Story. The two-day event brought together poets, philosophers, journalists, novelists, translators, film-makers and activists to discuss nationality, identity and belonging and how as artists we can use our voices and imaginations to unravel art from artifice. The classes and lectures were full of such thoughtful and considerate conversation and I came away each evening buzzing with ideas. Over the course of the festival, witnessing how hard Cathy Galvin and her team worked to put it together, I realised what Word Factory was all about: a community coming together to celebrate something they love.
Both Cathy Galvin and Paul McVeigh have been so welcoming and encouraging and it has been a pleasure to get involved. I am now lucky enough to be a member of the Word Factory Social Media team – it is a great way for me to remain in touch with an organisation I love and serves as a constant reminder, now that the apprenticeship is over, to make sure writing stays a part of my daily routine.