The Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) held an info session in Victoria at the end of January. The two program officers at the session encouraged attendees to apply for grants and handed out cards for the program officers in each discipline. They suggested we call our individual program officers to discuss applications.
I had applied for a B.C. Arts Council (BCAC) grant last fall and had just learned that my application had not been successful. The timing seemed propitious. Two voice mail messages to the BCAC program officer, seeking feedback on my application, had not been returned. I was hoping that the CCA officer might be more forthcoming. And, to his credit, he was that.
Almost immediately, he told me that I was not a strong candidate for a grant because I take too long to write a book. It seems the expectation is that a writer can produce a novel in one year. When I explained to him that I work full-time and can only take so much time off each year, he said I could explain that in my application, but unless the writing sample was exceptional, the peer review group would probably not want to take a chance on me. They grant money to people who they think will finish their project in a timely fashion. Since it took me eight years to finish Plastic, I do not fall into the "timely" category.
I hope to complete my next book in five years. But that still isn't fast enough. I was left with the impression that I would only be taken seriously if I gave up my job or at least took a one-year leave to work full-time on the book. I would love to do this, but the reality is that I cannot. My employer would not agree to a one-year leave of absence and my mortgage would not get paid.
This is very disappointing news for most writers in Canada. Very few of us earn enough to live on from our writing. In cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, where housing costs eat up more than half our salaries, taking even three months unpaid leave is a financial impossibility.
So in spite of the very positive encouragement from the program officers at the info session, the honest answer is much more grim. I will have to wait until I retire before I can meet the criteria the peer review group seeks. I am disappointed by this answer, but at least now I know the truth. I am grateful for that.