In the light of Hay Festival’s recent callout to Welsh and Wales-based writers for its innovative Writers at Work scheme, the editor of the welsh agenda caught up with one of last year’s beneficiaries, clare.e. potter
What does the Hay Writers at Work scheme involve?
An intense period of workshops, talks, writing, critiquing, and networking.
The schedule is rigorous and demanding. The Writers at Work (WAW) have their own tent, and each day consists of presentations, Q&A sessions and writing sessions by literary agents, publishers, magazine editors, and international authors. So you’ll need to do your research in order to get the most from these. Say for instance, you have an hour with Thomas Keneally, Andrew Davies, David Mitchell, or Cathy Rentzenbrink (as we did), what do you want to know about their journey, their craft? Or, you have a Faber & Faber commissioning editor for an hour (they’ll have your bio, be sure it’s relevant)—how are you going to make an impression? Primarily, these professionals are there to help you understand precisely how to pitch your novel, your play, market yourself, but it also provides an opportunity for you to practice doing it. Some of the WAW made crucial connections during these sessions and at the social gatherings; these were very exciting. It was overwhelming to be in the company of long admired writers, and utterly fascinating to hear that they have had/still have similar struggles to us new writers.
You will also be provided with tickets to selected events. I found that even though some of the speakers/events were in genres I thought I had no interest in writing in (YA fiction, for instance), they were still hugely beneficial, and in some cases, unexpectedly the most inspirational.
You’ll be expected to blog about your experience and some of these will be published on the Hay Festival Website. I did a self-promotion there; see that’s part of what you learn, too.
You’re a well-established writer. What made you decide to apply?
I applied to the Writers at Work scheme because I realised I had been spending a great deal of time helping to nurture the writing of others (as a tutor at Cardiff University and workshop facilitator in the community) but I had not been devoting enough time to my own writing/professional progress. I saw a call-out from Literature Wales and decided to go for it. This initiative arrived at a crucial point in my career; I’d lost momentum with my new collection, but having 9 full days immersed in writing and talking to others about writing fired up my ambition and gave me direction, more confidence too.
Writing is often viewed as an individual craft. What does the collaborative nature of the programme do for you creatively?
I’m collaborative in my practice anyway, working with artists, theatre practitioners, people in various community settings. But WAW gave me long-term colleagues with unique set of skills and experiences to draw on (magazine editing, music, film, comedy, Welsh language writing and so on). The Hay programme afforded us the privilege of learning from some ‘rock stars’ in terms of writers (and one real rock star in Amanda Palmer!) but it was the actual group of writer participants that was the deepest source of inspiration for me. These are peers I have come to admire and trust professionally; we established a workshop group that continues to meet to critique work, share articles, call outs for publication, etc. Many ideas and new initiatives (such as Word Ward) have been sparked between writers from the programme.
There has been a lot written recently about Wales’ literary scene being something of a dog-eat-dog world. Is that something you recognise?
Not really. In every profession there can be tensions, and with budget constraints there’s undoubtedly more competition for funding, projects and other opportunities; however, when I think of the Welsh literary scene, I think how vibrant, supportive, and diverse it is. It might be argued that it’s myopic to see us as an insular group steeped in some literary turf war. Consider Richard Gwyn’s The Other Tiger, an exceptional anthology of translated Latin American poetry, or the work of Eric Ngalle Charles, these writers have focus and reach beyond Wales. I’m constantly inspired by the innovative ways Welsh and Anglo-Welsh writers are collaborating across art-form. Last week at the Seren and Cornerstone Poetry Festival for instance, writers like Paul Henry, Cyril Jones, Robert Minhinnick, Rhian Edwards, and Philip Gross presented work they’d created with musicians, film-makers, artists—two genres speaking, in some cases bilingually; this is very exciting. And last week, Joao Morais’s story ‘Pavement Poet’ was animated as part of the New Welsh Review’s multimedia platform. It’s all feeding itself and growing. We’ve got something special here, and as we are a relatively small nation, we can continue to connect and motivate one another to reach out here and internationally.
Who are the Welsh writers we should be looking out for in the coming years?
I imagine I’m supposed to reel off some ‘new,’ ‘young,’ ‘emerging’ talents, and there are plenty of those (thank goodness); in fact, I was in Abercynon Primary working on a Lead Creative School’s project, and believe me there are little writers brewing quite beautifully there—you’ll be hearing from them, I’m sure. But I’m in no qualified position to be alerting anyone as to which writers they should look out for. That said, I believe there are many established writer-artists we should keep continuing to learn from. There’s a tendency to be seeking out the new fresh thing, but often that’s to be found in mature writers who have honed their abilities and have wisdom (it’s possible to be innovative and grey!). I want to learn from and enjoy both.
clare e. potter is a poet and performer, currently the Landmark Trust’s poet-in-residence at medieval house Llwyn Celyn; clare has had artist residencies with the Wales Arts Review, Moravian Academy, Pennsylvania, and will be the Velvet Coalmine’s poet-in-residence 2018. She works on collaborative community projects and public installations with various artists, and her second collection A Certain Darkness is forthcoming thanks to a Literature Wales bursary.
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