the emerging artist has a home


I am thrilled to share with you that my short story “The Emerging Artist” has just been published in international online literary journal Queen Mob’s Teahouse!

I’m so excited that this quirky little story has finally found a home. If you like strange, satirical fiction with its tongue firmly in its cheek, then I think you might enjoy it.

You can read it here!

Writing this story was an interesting experience. As I explained in my cover letter to the journal, the idea first came to me after attending an in-conversation event with the artist Marina Abramovic at London’s Festival Hall a couple of years ago. I had just read Heather Rose’s novel The Museum of Modern Love so was desperate to go along!

But as interesting as Abramovic herself was to listen to, I found myself really frustrated with the audience. The second part of the evening was a Q&A and unlike an event I attended last year with Liz Gilbert where you had to email any questions for the Q&A session ahead of time (which I think worked much better, and not just because they picked mine! If you’re a newsletter subscriber you already know that story), this really wasn’t that interesting at all - there was a long queue at each microphone to ask questions which were all “this is more of a comment than a question” which frankly just makes you grumpy, doesn’t it? You didn’t come to hear these people witter on!

Anyway. At one point, after about six very long-winded questions about nothing in particular, a young woman got to the microphone who introduced herself as “an emerging artist” and proceeded to give a monologue about herself to Marina Abramovic, oblivious to the fact that a few audience members had audibly groaned at her introduction (the British tend to be very reserved and polite people - but this was just after the Brexit vote in 2016 and brazen public rudeness had started to become a thing. It’s got worse since). But she was so earnest, this emerging artist. She seemed completely unfazed by the fact that no one was that interested in what she had to say, but she was trying to seize her moment anyway. It was, in an odd way, inspiring.

I understand “emerging artist” is an accepted term in the art world. In fact, “emerging writer” is becoming more common too. But what does it mean exactly? And what are the connotations of being considered “emerging”? Is it a bit like the caterpillar waiting to be come a butterfly? When have you “emerged”? Who gets to decide? There are no Emerging Bankers, or Emerging Journalists, or Emerging Doctors. They just reach a point in their qualifications and experience where they have the right to call themselves that. Is it the same for artists? I’m not sure.

I’m also fascinated - and equally irritated - by what feels like a proliferation of pretension in that world. These days pretty much everything can be labelled as ‘art’. We have devices on us constantly that can be used to create images, audio and video. And, in theory, we can all reach an audience. But I think these things have meant we’ve lost a bit of reverence for art.

But, as David Walsh (he of MONA fame) has pointed out (and which I experienced for myself on my last visit to the gallery a few months ago), lack of reverence for art is also a response to it. And it is not an invalid one.

So, with all this swirling around in my head, a few days after the Festival Hall event, I wrote the first draft of what became The Emerging Artist.

And then I drafted, and re-drafted, and re-drafted. And then drafted some more. And around the time I began the story, my lovely friend Lisa and I began meeting up after work to workshop our various projects - she with her amazing epic play in progress, me with my short stories and various attempts at a novel. Our meetings usually ended up being at Padella Pasta in London Bridge, because one cannot write well if one has not dined well. So I was extremely fortunate that I had a kind and willing audience for the earliest incarnation of the story and her feedback was so very helpful. It’s by far a better story for her input!

But one never knows how one’s work is going to be received. This story was rejected by several other journals and I got very disheartened. While I wondered whether to keep my faith in the Emerging Artist and keep sending her out, I listened to an excellent interview with writer Kristen Roupenian, who wrote the short story “Cat Person” which went viral - she shared that that story was rejected several times before it was published. In fact, Kristen found rejection was the standard response to her work!

I had been submitting stories for five or six years and gotten, like, tiny little acceptances here and there….and Cat Person, like all my other stories, had gone out to several different magazines and been rejected by them, which is par for the course … but it was still sitting at The New Yorker at that point, and I just assumed they had forgotten to send me my rejection letter! … but I think by that point I had come to understand the failure that is built into the process. It doesn’t matter how good a story is or isn’t, it’s still not going to be the right story for 99% of people. So you just have to do whatever you can to give yourself the stamina to keep rolling the dice … keep going until it doesn’t feel like failure any more [but] it feels like the process.

So this gave me fresh courage to keep going. And I’m so glad I did! Thank you Kristen.

And thank you Queen Mob’s! What an honour to be published in a journal dedicated to “writing, art, criticism—weird, serious, gorgeous, cross genre, spell conjuring, rant inducing work.” To know they thought my story was even one of those things, that thrills me down to my toes. I will have a soft spot for this journal in my heart forever.

the first

Today is New Year’s Day, 2016. 

It’s been a cloudy, cold, intermittently wet day here in London. Somehow my husband and I managed to start the year without hangovers, despite drinking two bottles of champagne and chasing it down with whisky before crawling to bed around 3am. Perhaps we aren’t getting too old for this after all.

Today my husband also fixed my phone, which has been driving me batshit crazy for months. It was one of those things I just don't have time to sort out.  It finally has enough memory to update all its apps. WhatsApp finally works again and in it I found many messages I had missed over the past few months, including one from a friend who, it turns out, quit her job before Christmas and is now cycling around Canada. I had no idea. I’d seen her snaps on social media but thought she was just on holiday. 

I suppose that’s a metaphor for how I feel about life in general right now. I finally have enough memory, enough brain power, to plug back in to the world and life now that The Latte Years is ready to be released. 

The process of having a book published has been nothing like I thought it would be, at all. Every author says that and I didn’t believe them. It’s been a rollercoaster, in the most incredible, amazing and challenging ways. One minute you’re fantasising about what it will be like to see a book with your name on the front cover. The next you’re running along a frosty street at 6:30am to get to the sorting office when it opens, because a copy of your book has arrived, but as you work full time, you weren’t home when it got there. Later that day, you’re sitting in a cafe on your lunch break, reading it, and people walk past the window, burrowing themselves deeper in their coats against the cold, back to their offices, life keeps going.


Eventually you remember to look up and sip your coffee, and it hits you that this isn’t just a book you’ve borrowed from the library. You wrote it.

Books aren’t books to you any more. You know what the author went through to write it. It is all-consuming, intense, exhilarating, powerful, exciting, frustrating, even heartbreaking. You know about deadlines, about getting up at 6am to write before work, writing in the evenings, writing for nine to ten hour stretches at the weekends, your social life dropping dead. You know about days when you forget to eat, you’re so caught up. You know about drafting and redrafting. You know about cutting 50,000 words. You know about the frustration of feeling golden sentences forming in your brain and your typing fingers not able to catch them before they slip away. You know about fighting that nagging voice in your head that tells you you’re a fraud, you’re going to be a laughing stock, that you’ll never be good enough. You know about the sick dread you feel when you realise it’s over, it's gone to print, and you’ve just thought of something else you wish you’d had time to change. 

But then you realise your book is a bit like you. Flawed, but still lovable. Still able to find a place in the world. And lucky - so very bloody lucky - to have so many people who believe in it. 

And that’s why I can’t wait to do it again. I’m already writing the next one.

So, that’s my wish for 2016. To keep writing. To learn, to grow, to push myself. But to keep going, above all.

What’s yours, my friend?

Much love, Phil xx