RLS Fellowship: David Bishop on Applying with an Open Mind

desk at Grez
Category: Writing

I didn’t think writers like me were awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. I’m not a poet and my project - a historical mystery set in late-Renaissance Florence - is not exactly literary fiction. Indeed, I was so convinced applying was a fool’s errand that I didn’t bother until the last possible day. Just as well I had some sample prose available; otherwise I would abandoned the attempt before I started.

Better to focus on writing your next story than waste time waiting for news about your submission

As programme leader for the genre-loving Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University, I advise my students to employ a ‘set it and forget it’ approach to submitting work for publication opportunities and competitions. Better to focus on writing your next story than waste time waiting for news about your submission. I certainly managed that with my RLS application, completely forgetting I’d even applied.

When I got the phone call offering me four weeks in France and a stipend of £1200 to work on my novel, I thought it must be a prank. I almost swore at the kind person on the other end of the line, having had a day full of annoying calls from robots and random call centres. But it was real: a golden opportunity to devote a month to thinking, reading and writing, away from the distractions of everyday life and my normal routine.

Of course, every place has its distractions and Grez-sur-Loing is no different. But the small town an hour south of Paris is also a joyous place, with friendly residents and gorgeous surroundings. RLS Fellows stay at Hotel Chevillion. Despite the name it isn’t a hotel, but a friendly creative hub that hosts artists, composers, writers and translators from Scandinavia. Some stay a few weeks, some for six months - the lucky devils.

A golden opportunity to devote a month to thinking, reading and writing

My French is limited to pointing, smiling and shrugging but I didn’t starve, thanks to a local boulangerie/patisserie. To offset the many, many passionfruit eclairs bought there I took up jogging for the month and went swimming in the river on sunny days. Once a week all the creators at Hotel Chevillion gathered for a potluck dinner to talk about their work and how it was progressing, sympathising and encouraging each other.

I promised myself I would write 20,000 words for my novel and I did, despite six days spent supervising my MA students as they wrote 20,000 words for their major projects. My progress slowed after returning home, but I’ve vowed to have a complete first draft by the first anniversary of my time as a RLS Fellow. That would not be possible without the precious month I spent in Grez-sur-Loing, writing and reading and thinking.

So if you think writers like you aren’t ever selected for a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, think again. Prepare the best application you can, submit it and move on to something else. You never know, you might get an unexpected phone call that could change your writing life. Bonne chance!


Image credit, David Bishop

David Bishop

David was a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellow in 2017. Find out more about the fellowship here.