In this guest blog post we hear from Anna Vaught, mentor, educator, writer and founder of the Curae Prize for Writer-Carers, with some first-hand experience of writing as a carer, and with some advice for those in the industry who are looking to improve their systems and communication to better cater for writers who are carers.

What is a carer?

A carer (I use the NHS definition) is anyone who looks after a family member, partner or friend who cannot cope without support for their illness, frailty, disability, mental-health problem or addiction. The latest data has shown that there are over 10 million carers in the UK, that around 600 people leave paid work every day to become an unpaid carer and that over 50% of people have their requests for flexible working turned down. Around 800,000 young people aged 5–18 are carers, too – a startling statistic – and we can see a big upswing in the 16–24 age group.

Where I fit in

I have been balancing needs for a long time – I was a carer for my parents in my teens, and one of my sons has been seriously ill for some years. The intensity of the last few years, managing without any professional support (this is a common theme, too – the resources are scant, I am afraid, and sometimes, across agencies, the will), while having assorted books published, writing numerous shorter pieces, beginning longer projects and teaching part-time, has nearly felled me repeatedly in terms of my own physical and mental health. Prior to this, I had spent a decade trying to find appropriate support and diagnosis; this is not uncommon for those in caring roles.

About seven years ago I began writing, partly in response to the level of stress I was under. My experience in the industry has been both joyous and rocky. In this piece I will share opinions, observations and practical pointers I have gained along the way, in the hope of affording publishers some insights.

I am forthright. Just be forewarned of that.

Thoughts on industry best practice

I have based these notes on personal experience and on my many conversations with writers and would-be writer-carers.

If you are a carer, you will likely need both clear planning and flexibility due to routines, managing medical appointments, unexpected crises, systemic failures and sometimes because you are too tired or too sad to get everything done. I believe publishers should facilitate carers’ needs for planning and flexibility in the same way. It might help to remember that there will be a good deal of intersectional need, because a lot of carers are also disabled or chronically ill, and there is a good deal of low income or even poverty, because becoming an unpaid carer can have a catastrophic impact on finances. However, if you think a carer is unreliable, think again. Carers have steely determination, excellent time management and the ability to work in tiny increments.

Publication dates, information about events, deadlines and meeting times should be clearly defined. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Communication should also be as clear as possible to enable the managing of expectations should any problems arise. Having publication dates change without being told really upset me, and I’ve found I can feel disempowered because of how much I’ve had to battle, and those sorts of things do not help a person and, by extension, their loved ones. And in terms of the communication itself, please also be good at dialogue. I have had situations when hanging on with both hands, and have had to bite my lip because of how I was spoken to or when dialogue was refused. Then I went back to mitigating crisis on the domestic front and fighting with hospitals and social services. For some people – many people – that is the reality.

Publishing professionals need to understand that residential or in-person events may be limited or impossible. I know that writers self-exclude for fear of this. It shouldn’t be the case, because there is genius out there, and who could be more committed than the author who produces work in extremis? Understanding in a work context is vital, and should be underpinned by the idea that some lives are very difficult. Arguably, our industry ought also to be aware that writing may be a conduit into feeling heard and seen for someone who feels marginalised. How you treat a carer is so important. Be aware of what is being carried.

In querying and submission, I propose that, as industry standard, an automatic email acknowledgment of work is in order, then a reply or a very clearly stated timeline on the period of consideration: more than three months, for example, means it is a no; no reply one month after a full request also means no.

May I add something? It is very clear (I’ve had this confirmed by many) that some publishers keep existing authors waiting for a long time – months, a year, more – for a decision on a first-refusal next book. Please do not do this. It saps precious energy.

Writers, especially those who are vulnerable, should be aware that ghosting happens at all levels, including when agents send books out on submission. Ghosting, as this frequent radio silence is known, is eviscerating! Rather more positively, there are a good number of agents, editors and small publishers out there who are resolutely transparent about what they do and display excellent information on their websites. We CAN do this. I think that those who cannot handle the volume of submissions should close to submissions until they have caught up – or adopt a different strategy.

Finally, no false promises should be made. Do not promise to develop an author’s career as a marketing skit or a hope you have. What is said must be founded in practice and profit and consistently across authors. It is unconscionable to mislead someone, especially someone who’s working in difficulty, hanging on to that dream, as people do. There is genius out there, much founded in intense pain and frustration: I am on a mission to make sure it is nurtured and seen.

I want to add that at some point we may all be sick, all disabled, all carers – or perhaps all three of these things. People get older, life turns on a dime. This is a WE: a key thing about unpaid care is its ubiquity, its very commonality. As an industry, we can work together to ensure that good things happen, talent is found and nurtured and best practice is adopted.


Anna Vaught is an English teacher, mentor and author of several books, including the 2020 novel Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and short-fiction collection, Famished. 2023 saw Saving Lucia published to national acclaim in Italy as Bang Bang Mussolini, as well as the publication of the memoir These Envoys of Beauty, the magical-realism novel The Zebra and Lord Jones, a teaching book, The Alchemy: A Guide to Gentle Productivity for Writers, and The Curae, an anthology of short prose from the winning entrants to the prize she established in 2023 for writer-carers (all three of which published by Renard Press). Next year sees her first essay collection, To Melt the Stars. Anna’s shorter and multi-genre works are widely published in journals, magazines and anthologies. She has been a columnist for Mslexia and the Bookseller. With a background in secondary English, mentoring with young people and community arts, Anna is now a guest university lecturer, tutor for Jericho Writers and teaches occasionally at secondary level. She works alongside chronic illness, and is a passionate campaigner for mental health provision and SEND support for young people. She is a PhD candidate at York St John from December 2023–24, undertaking a PhD by Published Works on Magical Realism and Trauma, foregrounding her own work. Her title begins with a quotation from her memoir: ‘Go there on a wing in your imagination: Magical Realism and imagination as therapeutic writing in Saving Lucia and These Envoys of Beauty.’ She is currently writing an extended nonfiction study, A Cultural and Emotional History of Lipstick, and completing a new novel, All the Days I did not Live.