Writers at Work at Hay Festival: ‘A Furnace of Creativity’

A notebook and a pencil

Past participants in Hay Festival’s Writers at Work development programme share their experiences and what the scheme means for them.

Catrin Kean (Salt)

I was lucky enough to be awarded a place on the scheme from 2016 – 2019, and it changed my life. In fact I still get cold sweats at the thought that this may not have happened – I had written down the wrong closing date for entries and only realised 45 minutes before the deadline!

This connection with other writers was invaluable.

Before Writers At Work I was writing short stories in a bit of a void. I was sending the stories off and getting them published in various anthologies, but it was all rather low key. Once I was on Writers At Work I was immediately linked into a network. We had invaluable advice from visiting authors, publishers, editors and agents, and we also had each other – a supportive group of writers. We continued meeting for feedback sessions after the official Writers At Work week was over, and that support continues to this day. This connection with other writers was invaluable.

Rebecca F. John was part of the first Writers At Work group, and she read a few chapters of my novel, Salt. When she later got a temporary editing job at Gwasg Gomer, she selected Salt to be put in for the Book Council of Wales’ Author’s Award scheme. I got the award, and the book was published by Gomer with Rebecca as my editor. It then won both the Fiction prize, the People’s Choice prize and the overall prize in the 2021 Wales Book Of The Year Award. I’m now writing a second novel which I also received an Author’s Award for, with Rebecca again as my publisher – this time with Honno.

Like I say, Writers At Work changed my life!

Louise Walsh (Black River, Fighting Pretty)

In two key areas, Writers at Work was life changing.

Firstly, it created a writing community that I’m in contact with most weeks. We organise roundtables and socials as well as celebrate successes and lift each other up when things get tough. 

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Secondly, through Writers at Work, I came to see writer development as a long-term, ongoing practice, rather than focussing on one project at a time. It helped me see the wider picture. I’ve slowed down and learned to have patience, taking time out for an MA, attending regular webinars and planning writing holidays. I’m working on a book at the moment and it’s remarkable how much my process has changed since participating with Writers at Work.

Morgan Owen (moroedd/dŵr, Bedwen ar y lloer, Ysgall)

My time as a Writer at Work was a true immersion in a milieu of authors, poets, and writers at an intensity that few events other than the Hay Festival allows.

To be able to speak about literature, listen to other writers and write every day for a week and a half was an introduction to a state of mind that has been immensely beneficial to me since. And all of this took place, of course, in a world apart, in a temporary country of writers and artists (though still very much rooted in reality!).

Writers at Work works in this ‘feel good’ manner – in a spirit of co-operation and not competition.

It obliterated any squeamishness I had about calling myself a writer and poet. It gave me renewed focus and inspiration, and many conversations that I had as a Writer at Work have since bloomed into poems, essays, and even books. It also exemplified how tirelessly and selflessly many people work to bring us all together and nurture our work. It gave me a foundation. It was a furnace of creativity and kindness.’

Jane Fraser (Advent, The South Westerlies, Connective Tissue)

In 2018 I was selected for Writers at Work for the first time. I came with trepidation and a heavy load of imposter syndrome. I looked to Writers at Work to be a catalyst to the next stage of my writing journey.

In 2018, I came with 2 objectives: to get my first collection of short fiction published, and to secure a literary agent.

Two months after the Hay Festival 2018, I was approached by one of the UK’s foremost independent publishers of literary fiction, SALT, with an offer of publication for The South Westerlies. It was officially published on 15th June 2019.

Three months after the Hay Festival 2018, I was offered representation by not one, but two, top London literary agents. I signed with Gaia Banks of Sheil Land on 31st August 2018.

The ‘feel good’ atmosphere of Hay is infectious. Writers at Work works in this ‘feel good’ manner – in a spirit of co-operation and not competition. Even though our writers work in two languages, there is a cross-fertilisation of ideas.

In summary, Writers at Work at Hay has given me exposure to the best of writers and their process, agents and the rules of an ever-changing game, and publishers and publicists in a dynamic and fast-changing world of different models of getting books to market. 

I will be ever grateful for what has been a truly life-changing experience. I came as someone who did writing. I left as a writer. An author with a book in the shop. Someone with a voice.

Writers at Work is a development programme for emerging Welsh writers at Hay Festival (25 May–4 June). The deadline to apply is Friday 28 April at 12:00pm. Find out more here.

The IWA will be at Hay on 30 May 2023 for an event on the future of Wales. Sign up here.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer. If you want to support our work tackling Wales’ key challenges, consider becoming a member.

Marine Furet is the IWA's Communications, Media and Engagement Officer.

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