Just don't go in the turret.
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Rebecca Sharp - Feral Questionnaire.
1. What area/field are you in?
I’m a writer. My fields are poetry, theatre and interdisciplinary practice.
2. Describe in as many ways as you like what you do. Tell me all your job titles.
My short-hand is always ‘I’m a writer’; because as soon as you say ‘poet’ or ‘playwright’, it becomes only about those things. Even though yes, I am those things. I write poetry, I write plays and sometimes I write prose. I make work for print, performance and occasionally installation. I’m a publisher – I make book-works and love to be creative around what ‘publishing’ can mean… I’ve published perfumes, for example.
I devise interdisciplinary and collaborative projects – for which I write and sometimes also perform, or have contributed to visual or sound/music elements. I sometimes apply for funding for these activities – so I’m also a project manager, and all that that entails.
I’m a workshop leader – I love devising and delivering creative workshops. I do this independently, and also through school and community projects. I’m a board member of Scottish PEN, which involves steering international campaign work and contributing to projects around freedom of expression.
3. What is the biggest eye roll you’ve given a question or comment about being a freelancer? Or what would you like waged people to understand about working as a freelancer?
I recently received a pretty prestigious funding award and someone asked me what I was going to spend the money on, as if I’d won the lottery (it wasn’t as much as winning the lottery, by the way!) – or as if it’s magic fairy-money or something. Or maybe we somehow function differently to ‘regular’ people and don’t even need money – what on earth would I do with it!? Feed it to my unicorn, presumably. In this case, the funding was to support me in the writing of a particular piece of work – so I think the person thought I was going to use the money literally for pens and paper. Err… nah, more like rent and food, like everyone else. It buys you the time and headspace to do your job, that’s what it’s for. Unless it’s a full-on budgeted project, where you’re paying other people’s fees, or buying materials or venue costs and that kind of thing – funding awards are generally how you get a wage for writing/making something. I didn’t ask them what they got paid last month and what they spend their money on!
"...maybe we somehow function differently to ‘regular’ people and don’t even need money – what on earth would I do with it!? Feed it to my unicorn, presumably."
I’d love more people to understand that freelancers aren’t on a clock the way a waged person is. Every email, call or meeting is unpaid time for us – when for a waged person it will be part of their working day. So try not to invite us to too many speculative meetings that involve travel and take the best part of a full day to attend – unless you’re able to pay us for that or at least cover our expenses; or try to have the meeting another way. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and necessary. Do still contact me and invite me to things! But just be mindful of the difference in our circumstances.
I’d also love there to be more understanding about the fact that as a freelancer you’re always having to apply for your own job. Many folk I know don’t go near funding applications because it’s so precarious and time-consuming and soul destroying (99% of the time) – and I don’t blame them; I’m getting to that stage myself. But when you do apply for those things, or bid for a contract – you’re essentially re/applying to do what you do, most of the time – and more often than not, you won’t get it. It’s a strange position to be in.
4. What’s your favourite part of being a freelancer?
5.What is the hardest part?
Precarious income, forever trying to hang on to an abundance mindset. Having to reapply to be yourself, trying to detach from that process and the outcome: trying not to just replace one set of limitations with another.
6. How long have you been feral?
Since about 2005, then I had a part-time job (which I loved) until about 2009. Then I’d say full-time feral from 2010.
7. What have your highlights been? (Take a moment to have a brag about your accomplishments)
*taps mic* Well…
At the start of this year I was awarded an RSL Literature Matters Award from the Royal Society of Literature, in support of my new poetry pamphlet collection Rough Currency which is coming out early next year with publisher Tapsalteerie. The Award was a total surprise and utter delight – I’m really proud of where the work is going and so grateful for the support I’ve had.
My last play The Air That Carries The Weight was performed at the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh with Stellar Quines theatre company. To have a play at the Traverse was a benchmark for me, so I was very happy when it happened. And – I can’t stress this enough – John Byrne did the set design and all the production artwork. Many, many amazing people worked on that production, but – John Byrne. What a total dream. I may never stop telling you this.
In 2010 I made a mega-beast project called The Ballad of Juniper Davy and Sonny Lumiere. I was artist-in-residence with METAL Liverpool, which has its base in some amazing Victorian train station buildings (Edge Hill station). The Ballad was (still is) a collection of poems that tell the story of the two characters of the title; set around the train station at the time it opened in 1836. A kind of industrial, magic-realist love story. I worked with artist Elizabeth Willow to devise a site-specific promenade performance around the poems; Elizabeth dressed all the spaces and designed everything; I wrote a musical score and we had a group of live musicians as well as the performers delivering the poems. It was somewhere between theatre, poetry and visual installation – all of these things at once. The book was published and the score recorded – it was a huge undertaking, so many moving parts, and we pulled it off. The shows were magical and all sold-out. It was just one of those magical times when it all came together – working with Elizabeth and having the support of METAL. It was also my first time applying for funding from Arts Council England and seeing what that was like – so it felt like a real step up. Still something I’m proud of in terms of the sheer amount of work involved; but I also have happy memories – some projects are just hard work and you’re glad when it’s over – but this was a dream.
8. Why did you decide to become self employed?
I realised very early on that I’m too wilful and thrawn for regular employment. Those are, however, considered assets in the feral community. I like working with other people on projects and am a delightful addition to any team (winky-face) – pretty much all of my work is collaborative at some stage – but my happy place is by my damn self. It’s the freedom again, and the variety. Since I was 18 I always worked in theatres and art spaces, so I got a glimpse of what a creative career might look like quite early on, just by making a nuisance of myself – before I even knew that’s what I was doing.
I’m also super-efficient, organised, determined and creatively driven. The best place for those things is probably some species of self-employment.
"I’m too wilful and thrawn for regular employment"
9. How do you protect your work time from distractions?
I’ve just become really relaxed about what ‘work time’ means, and what I consider to be a distraction. I’m my biggest distraction, so I own that. But there have been so many times I’ve tried to stay chained to my desk when the best thing was to take my dog for a walk; and the ideas and focus come flowing back. So ‘work time’ for me can take many forms – and something that seems like a distraction might end up being the thing I need. I don’t care about week/weekend or day/night – if I feel like it, I’ll work. I chose not to have kids, so that’s undoubtedly a factor – my choice wasn’t so that I could work all the time instead, but I just intuitively always knew I wanted a simple life with as much freedom as possible – so as much as I can influence that, those are the choices I make.
10. Where do you work? home?studio?/favourite cafe/all of the above?
Home. In various places I’ve lived, I’ve always had a home office of some description. Though I’m finding these days I can work just as well on the couch as at a desk, so I’m less rigid about that now. At the moment, I’m considering a separate outside space like a shed studio – I just need a bit more space. I like to spread out, play music, burn things, get ritualistic.
11. Do you think you’ll ever retire?
Nup. Financially, I don’t see how I ever could. And creatively, I wouldn’t want to – we all know it doesn’t work like that. I could see my work style and focus shifting and changing as I get older, and I welcome that – but there won’t be a retirement from anything.
12. If money wasn’t factored into your work choices, what would be your most glorious dream for your future as a freelancer? Be as outrageous as you dare.
I tried to answer this question so many times, and it kept coming back to money. So we’re assuming we’ve successfully killed Capitalism and something like Universal Basic Income is in place? Great! If everyone’s ok and getting what they need and are fulfilled and happy, and we still have the NHS and the planet’s safe, I’ll be in my writing turret in an eco-cottage deep in the woods. In-built publishing studio, perfumery lab, rehearsal space, recording studio, gallery and theatre. House full of dogs and the surrounding land used for other rescue animals. Part of a creative community – so other folk would use the place (and look after the animals) while I’m away in Florence or wherever on a research trip / book tour / rehearsal month. Except the turret. No-one goes up there except for me. Just don’t go in the turret.
13. Anything else you’d like to highlight about the life of a freelancer?
We’ve got more power than we realise.