The Good Literary Agency Prize Winner of 2022

An interview with Mariana Sancliment

Source: Mariana Sancliment

In February, Creative Writing at Brunel announced The Creative Writing Prize in partnership with The Good Literary Agency for our MA students. The winner of 2022’s prize is Mariana Sancliment for her story Untitled. As the winner, she will receive:

· A full manuscript read (should she decide to complete the book)

· A comprehensive set of editorial notes

· A 1 on 1 meeting with an agent at TGLA

· The potential to be offered representation by TGLA once the manuscript is completed

Brunel Writer editor, Josh Harland, caught up with Mariana to ask how she feels to have won the prize, the topics and challenges of Untitled, and her influences and aspirations as a writer. Congratulations, Mariana!

JOSH: Hello Mariana. How are you doing today?

MARIANA: Hi Josh, I’m doing great! How about you?

J: I’m wonderful, thank you. Let’s start with The Good Literary Agency. How does it feel to win the prize and potentially secure representation with TGLA?

M: I think I feel two really big things at the same time. The first thing is that I am incredibly excited. When I read the email, I was literally jumping with joy. I guess the second feeling is that I can’t quite believe it and I worry that they’re going to email me and say, “Hey, we made a mistake, it wasn’t you…” So, I feel both of those things at the same time.

J: I think we should bring everyone up to speed. Can you give us a summary of Untitled? Your blurb, as it were?

M: Yes! So, Untitled is the story of an indigenous, domestic worker living in a town called San Pedro El Alto very close to Mexico City, and it is the story of Faustina, who’s the main character, who works for this well-off family and then goes missing.

At the moment, there’s an incredibly violent landscape in Mexico where every day ten women are killed because they are women, so the femicide wave is at a historical level. Untitled is the story of someone who’s life is invisible, because in Mexico some lives matter more than others, sadly, and it is an effort to bring to light the life of a wonderful person whose accomplishments will go unnoticed if nobody writes about them.

J: What were some of the challenges you faced writing the opening of Untitled?

M: There were a couple of challenges. The first one was getting the balance right between everything that’s happening at the same time, making sure that I provide a good, accurate description of the social landscape, which includes colourism, social indifference, an incredible amount of violence, inequality, oppression, denigration, love, complex working relationships, lack of education, early pregnancies… there’s just a lot of stuff in the background to unpack, and getting the balance right between the action of the characters and just making sure that the reader understands the setting is definitely a challenge for me.

Also, writing in English is a challenge. English is not my first language, and there’s a lot of nuance in language and things that can only be explained in Spanish. For example, in Spanish we have the word feminicida, a murderer who commits femicide, and that word doesn’t exist in English. It hasn’t been translated; there’s no way I can use words like this, so language is definitely the second challenge.

The biggest challenge for me is trying to write the voice of Faustina accurately, ethically and honestly, doing service to her life and story. I think those would be my top three challenges.

J: What were some of the influences for Untitled, as well as some overall inspirations, authors or music and so on, that help you with the writing?

M: Oh, wow. I’m very easily influenced because I’m a romantic, and I am inspired by so many great writers. Some lecturers at Brunel have been incredibly inspirational in different ways. Professor Bernardine Evaristo is the reason I joined the MA at Brunel and I’m just so inspired by the way she tells women’s stories. The way she writes and her experimental writing techniques are a great inspiration for me. Then, Dr Emma Filtness’s creativity module was incredibly inspiring as well to consider alternative ways of storytelling. And then Helen Cullen, my supervisor, was also incredibly inspiring in how thorough and how seriously she takes the craft of storytelling. So, I think I’ve been very lucky with the lecturers that I’ve encountered at Brunel.

In the process of writing, I read tons and tons of books. I wanted to explore Magic Realism, so I read all these Latin American writers who are incredibly inspiring. I don’t know if you know Clarice Lispector, she’s a Brazilian author and… wow. I was just blown away by her way of telling a story.

In the end, I guess the biggest inspiration is Faustina herself. That’s not her real name, but the person that this story is inspired by… I have never met someone so resilient and brave. Yeah, she’s definitely the biggest inspiration for the story.

J: Just one more question. It’s quite an open one, though: What now? In the future, what kind of fiction – or non-fiction – do you hope to publish? Do you want to write more in the same kind of genre or do you want to explore different things? Do you already have other stories in your head?

M: The first thing is to complete this story, which is super important to me. I have applied to study for a PhD at Brunel so I can continue to write about Faustina and also do some critical research on how to use experimental writing to tell ethically and authentically the stories of domestic workers, which tend to be misrepresented, either romanticised or oversimplified. So the first thing is to finish what I started and get it out there, so more people can learn about the lives of domestic workers.

The second thing is to find a way to change the ratio of the time I dedicate to writing versus the time I have to be working full-time. In that regard, I do have definitely more ideas that I want to materialise, and they’re all related to the whole aspect of the women who raise us, the women who clean the world, the women who look after the world… I’m really interested in exploring those kinds of stories, and from a Latin American perspective which I think is not so surfaced in the UK. I’d like to have more of a balance there, more writing and less working.

And the third step would be to be able to fully transition to a more creative life and either teach or just find a way to write and consume literature nonstop. I’m also interested in other types of projects, like for example, exploring the topic of femicide, I was also hoping to create a piece with a piñata where the names of victims of femicide are inside. Going beyond writing and just exploring forms of activism to raise awareness of this other pandemic of gender violence that so many women in Latin America and other parts of the world are experiencing.

J: Thank you very much for coming to this interview over Zoom. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?

M: I think one final thing, is the untitled side of things. The reason why my story is still untitled is related to one of the things I mentioned earlier… that there are so many things that are part of the story that I still don’t know what the most compelling angle is to drive the title. I am waiting for it to come to me. Hopefully it won’t be untitled for long.

J: So, it’s a temporary thing?

M: It’s a temporary thing while I figure out… you know, should it be Faustina? Should it be Who Cleans the World? Should it be Where’s Faustina? I don’t know.

J: Titles are often the last thing to come together.

M: Exactly.

J: Thank you again Mariana.

M: Thank you!

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Frederick Forsyth: Writer, Handler, Soldier, Spy

by Adam Conway

Photo by John Swannell

Last week the university had the pleasure of welcoming guest speaker Frederick Forsyth as part of the Writing in British Intelligence events. I was initially unfamiliar with most of his work, having read only Dogs of War years ago and, at the behest of my grandfather, watched the film based on his most popular novel The Day of the Jackal.

Of course, this writer wasn’t always a typical novelist, having worked as a pilot and then for MI6, attempting to save lives and even prevent nuclear weapons from falling into enemy hands. In his talk, Forsyth recounted how he’d started off as a pilot, before going on to work in journalism for Reuters and the BBC, where he was recruited by MI6. “Spy work isn’t like Ian’s Fleming’s novels,” according to Forsyth. “Spies are often people travelling, missionaries and journalists, who are asked if they can report back to the agency.”

Forsyth said there are three types of spies: those who travel carrying packages, those who handle agents and those who are recruited to betray their own countries. The final category he called ‘real spies’; he himself had never been one but he had handled a few in his day and on rare occasions they would actually provide information useful to the protection of our borders. Often, we think of people being sent into organisations and countries working their way up the ladder for their country, but according to Forsyth, it just didn’t work like that. It was easier to find someone and turn him with a handler to get information than plant someone just for a chance of information. Most information the handlers collected was rather useless, he said, but occasionally it would be something that saved lives.

Forsyth said that spy work happened in strange places, such as bumping into people in a public toilet; MI6 had even managed to persuade a U.S.S.R foreign affairs agent to feed them information, just because a journalist had overheard him having an argument with his boss whilst going to relieve himself. The agent hadn’t provided anything useful after ten years of working with MI6, but that particular information proved invaluable.

What made Forsyth quit spy work, however, was working for MI6 in Nigeria during the Biafra crisis. When he returned to the UK, he discovered that he had no job and no money, so he decided to become a writer. His friends told him it would’ve been easier to rob a bank, but he planned his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, based on an assassination he had planned for real. It went on to sell twelve million copies.

One of the things that inspired him to write was that being a writer was a great cover story for a spy. Often, he would say he was writing a book or an article and this allowed him to ask questions and see things that the enemies of Britain didn’t want him to see, from strikes in the U.S.S.R to the locations of certain government officials. Forsyth’s work was inspired by his life as an MI6 agent.

As a fellow writer, I found what he had to say interesting. All the skills required to be a spy are skills needed to be a writer, from research to finding a powerful story amongst the little details. Even skills such as sitting quietly were important to be a writer as well as a spy. His wife would ask him what he was doing as he stared at walls trying to think about his stories. When he told her he was working, she’d get annoyed and tell him he wasn’t doing anything. It was a great relief to hear that the hours I’ve spent staring into space, trying to decipher how to write my own stories, have not been wasted. Forsyth is, after all, a man, who has written twenty-four books and worked on five movies based on his books.

Forsyth taught me skills such as being patient and waiting for a story, how to gather information and most importantly being willing to stand up for my principles both as a writer and as a human being. So, I ask you fellow writers out there: do you feel the same way? Do you, like Frederick Forsyth, feel that you have the skills of a writer, handler, soldier, spy?

Frederick Forsyth was in conversation with Paul Lashmar as part of the Writing in British Intelligence series of talks. Click HERE to find out more. Frederick Forsyth’s latest novel, The Fox, came out in 2018 and can be bought HERE.

Adam Conway has done over forty jobs including butcher, baker and missionary, so he figured he could add writer to the mix and write about his and others’ experiences. He is currently writing his third novel and is the editor of the Brunel Anthology 2023.