Monday 6 November 2023

Anna Vaught, "The Alchemy: A Guide to Gentle Productivity for Writers"


Anna Vaught is an English teacher, mentor and author of several books, including 2020’s novel Saving Lucia and short fiction collection, Famished; 2023 saw Saving Lucia published to national acclaim in Italy as Bang Bang Mussolini, memoir These Envoys of Beauty, the magical realism novel The Zebra and Lord Jones and, after The Alchemy, the Curae anthology of short prose from the winning entrants to the prize she established in 2023 for writer-carers; next year sees her first essay collection, To Melt the Stars. Her shorter and multi-genre works are widely published in journals, magazines and anthologies. Until recently, she was a columnist for Mslexia and has written regularly for The Bookseller, including as a columnist. With a background in secondary English, mentoring with young people and community arts, Anna is now a guest university lecturer, tutor for Jericho Writers and teaches occasionally at secondary level. She works alongside chronic illness, and is a passionate campaigner for mental health provision and SEND support for young people. She is a PhD candidate at York St John from December 2023-4, undertaking a PhD by Published Works on Magical Realism and Trauma, foregrounding her own work. Her title begins with a quotation from her memoir: "Go there on a wing in your imagination": Magical Realism and Imagination as Therapeutic Writing in Saving Lucia and These Envoys of Beauty. 

About The Alchemy

The Alchemy is a robust, frank and loving guide to an often opaque industry. As well as offering tips on working in gentle increments and re-imagining what productivity and the work of writing look like, there is advice on sending out work and navigating the industry, looking after your mental health as you go.

Full of practical advice, strategies, comfort and the occasional entertaining essay, The Alchemy is about writing a book when you thought you could not. It is for all writers, but with a particular eye on those who are tired and lacking in confidence, and those who face significant challenges – perhaps you are chronically ill or care for a loved one. It is a book for beginners, but it is also for those of you who are stuck in your habits and practice – perhaps you just need a pal to guide you through the day to day with the book you wanted to write. That’s what The Alchemy is. Let’s do this together.

You can read more about The Alchemy on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a short extract from the introduction to the book. 

From The Alchemy, by Anna Vaught


The Alchemy is about writing a book – a work of fiction of whatever kind – when you thought you could not. This is a book for everyone, but with a particular eye on those who are tired and lacking in confidence; those who are disabled, chronically ill or perhaps care for a loved one who would struggle without them. Essentially, this has been me for some time now, and that is how I know about productivity – and how I know about challenging what it is; how we think of and understand productivity in terms of a creative project.

I thrived not only from deadlines, spreadsheets and flow charts (although these things are excellent), but from learning to work with what I had, when I could and, also, in understanding that writing a book happens all the time. Much of what can become a book, or deepen what you already have, might be found in being observant in your daily life – insofar as you can be, because I want to exclude no one here. Not everyone will be active.

I want to free you from the idea that you must write every day to be a writer, or even if you want to complete a full-length book. If that works for you, wonderful, but it won’t work for everyone, and won’t be possible for many. So I try to get us to think about the creation of a book in different terms: in observations, but also in knowing that thinking is also a huge part of the job. Give yourself unhurried time in which to do this.

In laying all this out, I am going to offer you various essays full of ideas and first-hand experiences, and I will suggest writing exercises as I go. Finally, I am going to offer thoughts on sending out work and navigating the industry, looking after your mental health as you go. This is a book for beginners, but it might also be for you if you are stuck in your habits and practice; perhaps you are newly unwell or constrained in some way, or perhaps you just need a pal to guide you through the day-to-day with the book you want to write.

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