Until recently the Royal Literary Fund’s website was, like the organisation, discreet and traditional. The pages were the colour of parchment, like leaves from leather-bound books found on second-hand stalls at Sunday markets; like the 1970s newspaper cuttings that fall from my mother’s cookery books – forgotten recipes for avocado mousse or ten tricks with red salmon.
Thanks to a generous legacy from the author of Winnie the Pooh, A A Milne, the RLF funds the Reading Round project of which Tricycle Readers is a part, and a number of Fellowships in UK universities. Milne’s gift proved to be the most lucrative, but many household names like Charles Dickens gave generously to ensure impoverished writers had a source of help in their darkest hours.
Getting published is the prize all writers crave, but rarely does success provide a living wage. Publishers will often give writers advances, and periodically there’ll be a story in the press about a super-sized advance gifted to a new find, but the reason it’s news is that it’s rare! While nobody is starving in garrets as in Dickens’ time, the vast majority of writers have other jobs to keep going. That’s where the RLF steps in, offering teaching posts and advisory work that encourages improved literacy and/or a greater love of literature, while also helping writers help themselves.
Writers who applied for aid from the RLF between 1790 and 1918 include: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, François-René de Chateaubriand, James Hogg, John Clare, Joseph Conrad, Bram Stoker, E. Nesbit and James Joyce. All are now world famous, but they toiled without any support. It’s worth reading George Gissing’s 1891 novel, New Grub Street, which looks at the world of books and journalism with humour.
To find out more about the RLF and what it does, have a look at the website.