Managing Editor of MIROnline, Melanie Jones, discusses why we are free.
In January, MIROnline ran a free creative writing workshop, one of a series we’d planned for this academic year. It was a fun afternoon trying out different ways of writing together and critiquing each other’s work. Everyone left with some new writing under their belt and we felt pleased with ourselves as we packed up. On her way out, one of the participants asked, “so how is all this funded?”
Our response? Kindness. Generosity. Bullying. Stockholm syndrome. The truth is that while The Mechanics Institute Review does have some funding, the majority of the work we do at MIROnline is powered by volunteers. The facilitators weren’t paid to teach the class and I didn’t even buy them a drink afterwards (Stockholm syndrome).
On the way home from the workshop I started to think about the question more seriously. What are we doing at MIROnline? Why am I bullying my talented friends into giving up their time to help? Why insist that everything remain free? For me, the answers are quite personal, but perhaps sharing them will help to give a wider understanding of what we do at MIROnline and why we do it.
I am lucky.
I come from a working-class background, from council estates, from eleven different schools before I was twelve, from poverty. So, I’m lucky to have parents who were so passionate about education. They both went to university when I was a child. This didn’t feel lucky at the time especially as my Dad went to Bedford while my Mum, sister and I went off to Newcastle. We missed our Dad and pre-riots Newcastle was not always a fun place to be, but the message was clear, things can always change. By the time I was a teenager we were proper lower middle class and had the dishwasher to prove it.
I’m lucky that I was in the last group of students to receive university funding even if it was only for the first year. My sister Rosie, five years younger, wasn’t so lucky. Yes, I still ran out of money and dropped out. But I was pushed to go back and finish four years later.
When I realised that full-time secondary school teaching wasn’t for me, I was lucky to have a partner who encouraged me to quit, who let me spend a year deciding what I wanted to do, who, when I said flippantly that I’d love to be a writer, told me that I should just go and do it then (a thought that had never really occurred to me before.)
I’m also lucky that I had Julia Bell as my tutor during my Creative Writing MA. That she made me see all the things that were wrong with my writing, that I went home in tears after my first workshop, that I became resilient to criticism and learnt how to use it. She encouraged me to send my work to Hubbub (now MIRLive), and the Mechanics’ Institute Review anthology. These are the things that stopped me from saying “I’m an ex-teacher” and started me saying “I’m a writer.” I volunteered as an editor for MIR12 and that role was the stepping stone to MIROnline, where I am now managing editor.
Thanks to a bizarre set of coincidences that deserve a blog post of their own, I’m able to fund my PhD studies with part-time work. More luck.
While I’ve been working as managing editor, the question of charging money for some of the services we provide does sometimes come up. And even though we might give it some initial thought, Julia and I always decide that we want to stay free. Free to submit, free to come to our events and classes. Because what if you weren’t so lucky? What if you don’t have the money to spend on a degree level course? Or any course? What if you can’t submit your work for publication because sending off five stories can run past £50?
I was given many opportunities to develop as a writer, and I want others to have that same chance to build their confidence and talent regardless of what’s happened in their lives so far. I want the writers who publish with us to have a generous copy-editing experience, for us to help them develop as well as providing a platform for their work. I want new writers to grow in confidence and feel like they are part of a community. And I want the volunteers (see victims of my bullying) to have that experience too, to develop confidence as teachers, editors, and writers. I want to pass on a little bit of that luck.