A Day with Hay Writers at Work 2019

This year, I completed my professional development course with Writers at Work

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Most of the Writers at Work 2019 (I missed the photo call!) with  course administrators  Carys & Gweni and course leader Tiffany Murray – photo by Marsha Arnold

Writers at Work is a wonderful opportunity for writers born or living in Wales and it’s the brain-child of Hay Festival’s director, Peter Florence. It runs for the whole 11 days of the festival, is fully funded by the Arts Council of Wales and is led by the brilliant Hay Fellow, Dr Tiffany Murray.

I thought I’d share a typical day for those interested in what goes on in the Writers at Work tent. I say ‘a typical day’ but really there’s no such thing on the course – every day is unique. But I hope to give a flavour of what someone can expect if they’re accepted onto the programme, and maybe encourage writers to apply if haven’t thought of it before (see below for details).

So, a typical day at Hay Writers at Work…

I’m going to choose Tuesday 28 May 2019 – Day 6 – as my example. It has a good variety of speakers and besides, it was most definitely one of my favourite days on the programme this year.

The day begins with a Round Table Seminar from 10 until 11.30am

These seminars are held in small groups which have been allocated by Tiffany before the festival begins. There are usually 20 people on the programme (here’s the register for 2019), so there are four or five groups who share work and receive feedback. We meet anywhere there’s table space – in the W@W tent (if you’re lucky enough to get there first) in the green room (if it’s not too busy that day), in a café or at our accommodation. These feedback sessions are really useful and many groups stay in touch after the festival finishes. There’s now a growing network of W@W support groups around Wales.

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My notebooks crammed with notes taken at each session

Next it’s Translation…

This workshop by translator-extraordinaire, Daniel Hahn, is a real eye-opener. Last year we discussed how to translate a passage of Welsh prose into English, which was really interesting for Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh-speakers alike. But actually, you don’t need to understand the language being translated, as Daniel demonstrated this year when he brought along a Portuguese picture book for us to help translate. It’s the techniques of translation that are fascinating, whether you keep to the exact meaning of each word or use some flair. A really enjoyable, fun workshop.

That takes us to 2pm and time to squeeze in a bite to eat at the staff canteen

From 2.30 to 3.30pm, Cathryn Summerhayes – who recently won Agent of the Year and works at Curtis Brown – speaks to us about how to find an agent and what to expect from literary agency representation. She also asks us all to tell her what we’re currently working on. The year before she asked us to pitch our new ideas for novels to her, and it’s always possible that she might pick up on someone’s work. Cathryn is originally from Cardiff and is on the board of Literature Wales. She’s very keen to get Welsh voices across the border.

Half an hour break –  just enough time to make a quick drink in our tent and grab some biscuits

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Earlier in the week, former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman had visited the Writers at Work tent – here with Tiffany Murray (photo by Marsha Arnold)

The next session is a visit from Michelle Paver who writes fiction for children and adults. She tells us about her route to publication – she’d worked in law but had always wanted to write – and then she invites questions from us. It’s always interesting to hear the range of questions W@W ask. You can tell the authors enjoy talking about the process of writing – it makes a change from talking endlessly about their current publication, which is usually something they wrote a couple of years ago.

That takes us up to just past 5pm and time for a quick loo break – hopefully the queues won’t be too long…

We get a message from course leader Tiffany that our next speaker is on his way, so please can we make our way back to the W@W tent as quickly as possible. American singer and songwriter, Ezra Furman, is sharing his poetry with us next. He also sings us a very beautiful new song of his he says will probably never be recorded. He’s a very inspirational creative person and although the session is a complete change from most of our programme, it’s extremely successful. Some of us come away from it more than just a little in awe of Ezra.

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Ezra Furman singing a new song of his for Writers at Work

It’s 7 o’clock – back to the staff canteen for dinner

Next we’re off to the Starlight Stage where Michelle Paver has her main event. We’ve been given complimentary tickets for this, and we normally have these for any authors who come to speak to us. Everyone has to develop a stage persona, I suppose, and it’s very interesting to see how authors are on stage, compared to how they are in person when they speak to us in our small tent – another part of our learning curve as writers.

And the last item on our programme for the day…

It’s Ezra Furman’s main event where he sings with his band, The Visions. It’s a fantastic hour and a half – I won’t forget it in a hurry. (I blogged about the experience on the Hay International Writers Blog.)

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Ezra Furman and The Visions on the Oxford Moot Stage, Hay Festival

It’s 11 o’clock, time to head back to my accommodation

It’s been  a full day of new experiences and it’ll take months to fully process what I’ve learned, but I’ve taken pages and pages of notes. I make a quick phone call home when I get in and then I’m off to bed. Wednesday will be Industry Day where publishers, agents and the British Council Wales will come to speak to us in our little tent. There’ll be more author events on the main stages and to round off the day, a Literature Wales reception.

Better get some sleep!

Thanks for reading,

Sara x

P.S. I promised details of how to apply for Hay Writers at Work 2020, always assuming there’ll be funding for this amazing scheme to continue. Literature Wales will have a call-out for applications from writers born or living in Wales around Feb/March 2020. It asks for your writer’s CV, an extract of your WIP and reasons why the scheme would benefit you. Sign up for their newsletter on their blog page and you won’t miss the call-out.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Life Playlists: this week it’s Sara Gethin’s turn to pick her five special pieces of music…

Jo Lambert, who runs the wonderful Life Playlists blog, recently invited me to choose five songs that have a special meaning for me. Here are my choices…

JO LAMBERT - A WRITER'S JOURNEY

I was delighted when Jo asked if I’d like to take part in her fabulous blog series, Life’s Playlists, but it’s been very hard to whittle down my choices to just five songs. Here are the ones that survived the final cut.
The first musician that made a real impression on me was Kate Bush. I was 14 when she appeared on Top of the Pops singing ‘Wuthering Heights’ and she instantly became my idol. I saved up the money I earned from my Saturday job on a market stall to have a Kate Bush perm. It took an awful lot of conditioning! I bought her album ‘The Kick Inside’ (on vinyl, of course) and adored the cover; but most of all I loved the way her songs inspired me to be creative myself. Over forty years later, her music still has that effect on me.

With my new Kate…

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My Series of Interviews With the Authors #authors and Poets Who Will be at the Narberth Book Fair #bookfairs. Today with Sara Gethin.#FridayReads

Book Influences and my most embarrassing moment – the wonderful Judith Barrow interviews me for the Narberth Book Fair, happening Saturday, September 23rd in Queen’s Hall. Reblogged from Judith Barrow’s website.

Judith Barrow

Over the last few weeks and through the next month or so, I’ll be posting interviews with the authors and poets who will be taking part in our Book Fair:  http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/.

There are forty of us so, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults and fun workshops for children, activities for the children and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire.   

All free!!

And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.

And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year is a poetry competition: Submit a poem, in any form, of 20 lines or less, on the subject…

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Not enough stars

When a book review makes you cry… Carol Lovekin’s beautiful & thoughtful review of my debut novel, Not Thomas

Making it up as I go along

Island Life, Word Birds & Process

It isn’t my habit to regularly post book reviews. I’m a writer not a book blogger. Every now & then a special book comes my way & it becomes a pleasure to share my thoughts about it here.

Not Thomas, by Sara Gethin is such a book.

Unquestionably, unless you are made of stone, this book will make you cry. It will snag the edge of your heart, lodge in your throat & reduce you to tears. It’s a dark story with a paradoxically light centre which is one of its myriad graces. The story of the little boy who is ‘Not Thomas’ – if only the lady would listen – is by turn heart-rending & ultimately hopeful.

Tomos’ plight is shocking & in our so-called civilized society, no child should have to deal with the things this brave little five-year-old endures. As…

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My Review of Not Thomas by Sara Gethin #contemporary fiction

Here’s the very first review of my debut novel ‘Not Thomas’. It made me cry – in a happy way.

Judith Barrow

Not Thomas by [Gethin, Sara]I gave Not Thomas 5* out of 5*

My Review:

Every now and then I read a book that sets all my sense tingling with the brilliance of it.

And this is why I wanted to write my review in a different way than normal.

 I don’t just mean that the characters are so multi-layered and rounded that I can empathise with them. Or that the descriptions give a wonderful sense of place that make the settings easy to envisage.  Or that the plot makes a story that is innovative and original.

I mean a book that holds all these… and more. And this novel does just that

 Not Thomas is narrated through the point of view of the protagonist, Tomas. He’s five years old. And, because of this, the narration and his dialogue are simplistic and poignant; the words jump off the page as those of a five year…

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Introducing Honno Author, Sarah Gethin.

Today I’m reblogging Judith Barrow’s interview with me…

Judith Barrow

sara-gethinSara Gethin is a pen name of award-winning author Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli, an industrial town in south west Wales, and graduated in theology and philosophy from Lampeter, the country’s most bijoux of universities. She has been a primary school teacher, an assistant in a children’s library and a childminder. She writes for and about children. Her own children are grown up, and while home is still west Wales, she now lives in a small town with a castle. She and her husband enjoy travelling to Ireland and spending as much free time as possible in their Dublin bolthole.

Hi  Sara, lovely to have you with us today.

Good to be here, Judith

I’d like to chat with you about your debut book for Honno. But first please tell us a little about when you started writing?

I joined a writing class run by Swansea University around fourteen years ago when…

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Mystery Monday / #LlandeiloLitFest Interview with Thorne Moore

Interview with fellow Honno author Thorne Moore by Christoph Fischer, organiser of Llandeilo Lit Fest, April 2017

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Interview with Thorne Moore, who you can meet at the Llandeilo Book Fair on Sunday, April 30th. thorne
Thorne will also be part of a panel discussion on 

Saturday April 29th at 12 noon at the Angel Inn

Saturday April 29th at 12 noon at the Angel Inn
Panel discussion with local crime fiction writers Sally Spedding, Thorne Moore and Cheryl Rees-Price about Welsh Thrillers

Eventbrite - Panel discussion with local crime fiction writers Sally Spedding, Thorne Moore and Cheryl Rees-Price  £5,90 Welsh Thrillers with Thorne Moore, Sally Spedding and Cheryl Rees-Price

Welcome Thorne. Please tell us about the books you’ll be bringing to the Book Fair.

A Time For Silence, Motherlove, The Unravelling and Moments of Consequence.

Which genres do they belong to? moc

Moments of Consequence is a collection of short stories, some of them with a supernatural twist. The others are all psychological crime mysteries – domestic noir.

What are the characters and plots like?

The books mostly concentrate on women characters and their…

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What’s in a Name?

p1040350-webWhat is in a name? Well, quite a lot it seems, particularly when it comes to names of novels. (I should say ‘novel titles’ I know, but that doesn’t quite fit my theme, as you’ll see, so please allow me a little wriggle room.)

Originally, I didn’t put much thought into what to call my first novel. Its central character is a five-year-old boy and for years I’d been calling it ‘A Pure Heart’. I’d read countless extracts to the wonderful writing circle I belong to (more about the Circle in future blogs) and I’d introduce each passage with – “Here’s another section of ‘A Pure Heart'”. Then I’d read aloud an episode of Tomos’s story. The group was always very supportive and had helpful comments to make, but they could never remember what my novel was called. During our coffee break they’d simply ask: “How’s your story about Tomos coming along?”people-woman-coffee-meeting

At one meeting, after years of reading snippets, the chairwoman asked: “What’s the title of your novel again?” and when I replied with ‘A Pure Heart’ everyone was in agreement that it didn’t work very well. Not one of them had remembered its name.

I didn’t really like the title myself, and for some time I’d been wondering about renaming it ‘Not Thomas’ (Tomos’s social worker is originally from Kent and can’t get his name right). When I tried out this new title on my writing group, they instantly agreed that it was much better. And from then on people asked how my work on ‘Not Thomas’ was going. It was obviously much easier to remember.

So ‘Not Thomas’ it stayed. I imagined, when it was accepted by Honno Press, that Caroline Oakley, my editor, would suggest a different title. But when I asked if that was the case, she said, “Why? What’s wrong with it?” So ‘Not Thomas’ stayed ‘Not Thomas’.

And the tag-line for this website is ‘Not Me’. That’s because I’m not actually Sara. My real name is Wendy White, and while alliteration may be good for children’s books (which I write as Wendy), it’s not so great for gritty adult novels. So I renamed myself Sara Gethin – a bit more grown up, a bit darker.

So what’s in a name? Well, quite a lot actually.

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