A Day with Hay Writers at Work 2019

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

W@W 2019
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.

IMG_20190620_205411967
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

1S2A8252
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.

IMG_20190530_205001_921
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.)

IMG_20190528_212337188
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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

 

Hay Writers at Work 2018

I’m absolutely delighted to be among 20 writers from Wales who are taking part in the Writers at Work project at the Hay Festival this year

20150524_170947

Writers at Work will run for the whole 11 days of the festival and has a fantastic program of workshops and talks, with speakers ranging from authors and poets to publishing industry professionals. I’m especially looking forward to hearing the advice of Roddy Doyle, Frances Hardinge and Ian McEwan.

The object of the scheme, now in its third year, is to aid the professional development of writers from Wales. It’s funded by the Arts Council Wales and led by Hay Fellow, Tiffany Murray.

Meet the 20 writers taking part.

We’ll also have the chance to read from our work at public sessions and to discuss our new writing with members of the group.

I’m hugely grateful to be included in the class of 2018. It’s a fabulous opportunity and the start of the festival – 24th May – can’t come too soon! 

20150524_171046

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

Inside a Prison Book Club

I’ve had some interesting invitations in my short time as an author – I’ve shared my children’s stories in school assembly halls, I’ve read my poetry at Women’s Institute meetings and I’ve spoken about my writing experiences at my local Workers’ Education Association. But a few months ago, a very unusual invitation appeared in my inbox which made me do a double take.

20180325_185031-EFFECTS

The email was from Neil Barclay, who introduced himself as the librarian at HMP Thameside London and invited me to discuss my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, with their book club. At first I skimmed over the ‘HMP’, not registering its meaning. Then I did that double take. Yes, I had definitely seen the letters H, M & P and, of course, I knew exactly what they stood for – Her Majesty’s Prison.

The invitation had come completely out of the blue and it took me a moment to process that a prison would even have a book club. Then I saw Neil had included a link to the Prison Reading Groups’ website, a charity that provides books to prisoners, and it was obvious from that what an important role these clubs have. The PRG encourages reading for pleasure so that long hours spent alone can be put to good use – reading fiction is, after all, a walk in someone else’s shoes and a different perspective on the world.

Education Consultant Ruth Perry, who volunteers at the prison library, had come across my novel via a book blog. Yet again I had a reason to be thankful for those wonderful book bloggers who do a marvellous job of promoting new books from small publishers. Ruth read ‘Not Thomas’ and suggested to Neil that he might invite me to speak about it.

image1
With Ruth Perry who led the book club session

I was delighted Ruth had spotted my novel and extremely pleased to know that it was being read in prison. The novel is about Tomos, a neglected five-year-old boy, and I suspected that it might resonate with some of the men there. Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be taken into care, and many people in prison have been brought up in the care system. A sad childhood is not unusual among prisoners.

I eagerly accepted Neil’s invitation, curious to know what the readers at Thameside would make of my novel and keen to see the innovative library. Neil has won the prestigious Butler Trust Award for his work there and is greatly appreciated by the members of the library. In 2016 a journalist for The Guardian visited and reported on the positive effects of the power of books and it makes for very interesting reading.

image2 (2)
In front of the wall of titles of previous visitors, with the beautiful flowers I was given

Neil certainly succeeds in getting a wide range of guests to visit the library. Actors Sir Ian McKellen and David Morrissey have held recent events there, and authors Paula Hawkins of ‘Girl on the Train’ fame, and Val McDermid have also visited. Crime writer, Martina Cole, is a regular visitor, holding creative writing workshops at the library. I felt I was following in the footsteps of very illustrious people.

The whole morning – from meeting the book club members, as well as Neil, Ruth and Laura (an immigration lawyer who’d come along for the morning) to receiving the thoughtful and often moving feedback from the men in the group – was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Some of the comments the group made were very sad, especially from readers who could identify first hand with little Tomos. Some of the men said they’d cried as they read it – and I was impressed by their open approach in such a ‘manly’ environment.

After the book group session, Neil, Ruth and Laura took me on a short tour of part of the prison. A member of the library team kindly allowed me into his cell so I could see what living in that small space was like. It certainly made me realise the importance of the work Neil and his volunteers do there. Whether convicted of a crime or not, everyone needs a chance to relax and switch off from their environment. Reading in prison gives the men a way to do that, and it gives them a legitimate escape from their sometimes difficult surroundings.

My tour included a brightly decorated room furnished with soft toys where the men can record videos of themselves reading from picture books. It’s a wonderful project provided by the charity Storybook Dads, and it means that children don’t miss out on a bedtime story from their father while he’s away from them. Recording those videos is often an emotional experience for the men but a very worthwhile one. Neil explained that most prisons have now introduced the Storybook Dads scheme although sadly there are still some where it’s not available.

When I accepted Neil’s invitation I never imagined that spending a morning in prison would be an uplifting experience, but that’s exactly what it was. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So a very big thank you to Ruth Perry and Neil Barclay for offering me such a wonderful opportunity, but most importantly a massive thank you to the men of HMP Thameside Book Club for reading ‘Not Thomas’ – I will never forget your sometimes sad but very kind words.

20180325_185153
Momentos of my visit

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

Waverton Good Read Award

A huge thank you to the residents of Waverton in Cheshire who have included ‘Not Thomas’ on the longlist of their debut novel award for 2018.

The Waverton Good Read Award is a really brilliant idea for a prize, where a whole village of book lovers become involved in reading and voting for their favourites. The award has been running for 15 years and was first given to Mark Haddon for his novel ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.

This year there are some well-known titles among the 24 on the longlist, including Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, Keith Stuart’s ‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ and Graham Norton’s ‘Holding’. Rebecca F John’s wonderful novel ‘The Haunting of Henry Twist’ is included too, which means there are two of us originally from Llanelli on the list.

The shortlisting happens later this month and, of course, with such strong contenders I’d be delighted if ‘Not Thomas’ got through to the second round. But being longlisted by real readers who have no agenda other than enjoying what they read is prize enough for me.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if there were more prizes like the Waverton Good Read Award?

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

#BookReview #SnowSisters by Carol Lovekin

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, what with one project or another on the go, book signing events to attend and generally getting my brain in gear for Christmas, and so my blog has been slightly neglected.

Today, however, I have a recommended read.

It’s a novel I read a few weeks ago and loved so much I nominated for the Hay Festival Book of the Year – Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin.

20170929_200409
At the launch of Snow Sisters with Carol Lovekin

 

Some novels I zip through and others I devour slowly. Snow Sisters really is a novel to savour, with its gorgeously sensual prose delivered by a very skilful author. It’s a ‘curl up on the couch in front of a log fire’ kind of novel. If you haven’t already read either of Carol Lovekin’s wonderful novels, I urge you to – you will not be disappointed. 

Here’s a slightly extended version of the review I left on the Hay Festival Book of the Year page:

“I absolutely adore ‘Snow Sisters’. It’s Lovekin’s second offering and is beautifully written – just like her first, ‘Ghostbird’. The novel is set in Wales in the 1970s and has an eerie, gothic feel. It’s the story of a bohemian family, consisting of three generations of women who live in the beautiful but ramshackle Gull House. The house has a chilling history, and teenagers Meredith and Verity become sensitive to this as their home-life is turned upside down by their self-absorbed mother, Allegra.
I read this novel slowly as I wanted to relish the magical atmosphere Lovekin effortlessly creates with her lyrical writing. She paints vivid scenes for the reader. Colours are important – red flannel hearts for a lost child, a grandmother’s mystical blue garden and sumptuous greens for the vivacious Meredith. The author explores ideas of ghosts and family ties, and the enduring love between sisters.
‘Snow Sisters’ is a haunting, spellbinding novel that has stayed with me long after I – very slowly, to savour every last word – read the final page.”

Snow Sisters is published by Honno Press and is available to buy from them, Amazon and bookshops in paperback priced at £8.99. Also available on Kindle

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

 

#MusicTherapyThursday #NinaSimone #IThinkitsGoingtoRainToday #musiciwriteto

There have been so many versions of this Randy Newman song but my favourite is by Nina Simone.

It was used as the title track recently for ‘Broken’ a TV series where Sean Bean plays a good but struggling priest.

I find it’s an ideal song to summon up a heavy heart when I’m writing sad sections, and Nina Simone’s voice and delivery add new levels of sorrow. Very evocative. Beautiful too.

#musiciwriteto  

 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

#BookReview #JudithBarrow #AHundredTinyThreads #Honno

Over the last few months, I’ve been along to three book launches by fellow Honno authors.

But since I’ve had a busy summer and early autumn, I haven’t had the chance to review any of those novels. Now life is a little calmer, and so I’m going to start putting that right.

My first review is of  ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ by Judith Barrow.

Judith grew up in the Pennines but has lived in Pembrokeshire for nearly forty years.

Here’s my review… 

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

20171001_175328

I so look forward to losing myself in an engrossing read at the end of a hectic day, and Judith Barrow’s ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ fits the bill beautifully.

Judith has skillfully crafted a wonderful set of characters – some I love (Winifred, her grandmother & Honora) while some I loathe (Winifred’s husband and mother) but all are well rounded and believable. One of Judith’s many strengths is that she writes with a warmth for her characters that emanates from the pages, and she somehow manages to be fair to them all, too, even the ne’er-do-wells. Subtly, she helps us see how they’ve become the people they are, and the source of their strengths and failings. The dialogue is always natural, descriptions are vivid and flow easily, and I was very quickly drawn into Winifred’s world.

Winifred is one half of the couple that ‘a hundred tiny threads’ holds together.

We follow her as she grows from a young girl to a married woman with a family, and I felt I had a vested interest in her happiness. She’s a young, single woman at the start of the novel, working in her parents’ grocery shop with little time off. When she meets Irish artist Honora, who has an independent lifestyle, Winifred’s attitude to her own life begins to change. Honora encourages her to join the Suffrage Movement, against her domineering mother’s wishes. And it’s when she’s protesting with the Suffragettes that Winifred begins to fall for Honora’s brother, Conal – a love affair that changes the course of her life forever.

But never far away is Bill, who’s a very troubled character.

Bill’s actions are sometimes unforgivable. However, we’re shown why he has come to behave the way he does – not only is he damaged by a childhood devoid of love, but like so many men of his generation Bill has had horrific war experiences.

Judith doesn’t shy away from describing the sheer brutality of WW1. The scenes in the trenches feel very authentic, stomach-churningly so at times, but that all adds to the atmosphere of the novel. The atrocities Bill witnessed and perpetrated in Ireland with the Black and Tans are also unflinchingly portrayed.

The setting of this novel has clearly been researched very thoroughly indeed, but the reader never gets the sense that historical detail is there for anything other than the flow of the story and development of the characters – a real skill in this genre.

While ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is the prequel to Judith’s Howarth Family Trilogy and tells the story of the parents of Mary, the main protagonist in the three other books, it also works very well as a stand-alone novel. It makes a wonderful starting point for those who’ve never read the others, and I’m sure Judith’s many fans won’t need any encouragement to delve into this new novel and lose themselves for hours in Winifred and Bill’s back story.

I was intrigued by Winifred’s friend, Honora and her brother Conal’s story too. They were very interesting and lively characters. I wonder if, sometime in the future, Judith could be persuaded to let us in on their secrets too! 

‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is another excellent novel from a wonderful writer & storyteller and I thoroughly recommend the whole series.

Other books in the Howarth Family Saga series:

‘Pattern of Shadows’, ‘Changing Patterns’ & ‘Living in the Shadows’.

20170817_193542

Judith Barrow, Christoph Fischer and me at the launch for ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ at Waterstones, Carmarthen

Buy Judith’s new novel from Honno

Buy from Amazon

Follow Judith’s blog

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

Not the Booker Final Public Vote

A huge thank you and diolch yn fawr to everyone who voted ‘Not Thomas’ onto the shortlist of the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

NotThomas cover final front only

The final public vote has just opened to help decide the winner. I know the original vote was fraught with problems because of the Guardian’s fiendishly difficult website, but if you’d like to vote for Not Thomas and have the energy to tackle that voting page again, this is the link.

Hopefully, having navigated the page once, second time around it won’t be quite so horrendous. 

Of course, you’re still able to vote even if you didn’t vote in the first round. Click in the box that says ‘join the discussion’ near the bottom of the voting page. 

The Guardian would like your vote to start with the word VOTE then the title and author of the book and a 50 word review. Your previous review should still be online, and if you click on your username it should take you to it.

It’s been a weird couple of months on the shortlist

and I have yet to take part in the Big Green Bookshop event, where I’ll meet some of the other authors, which I’m really looking forward to, and my scathing reviewer, Sam Jordison, which should be rather interesting. I’ll be reporting back when I get the chance!

In the meantime, thank you so much for your support of Not T and me – I appreciate it very much indeed.

Bye for now & diolch o galon,

Sara x

P.S. Here’s that voting link again

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

 

A Trio of Book Launches

 

It’s been an exciting summer and early autumn for Honno, the Welsh women’s press.

I’ve been to three Honno book launches – four, if I count my own launch for Not Thomas back in June.

20170720_190848
Helen with Judith Barrow

The first was in July for Helen Lewis’s The House with Old Furniture

It’s a contemporary ghost story set in Pembrokeshire, where Helen and her family live. As well as being a very atmospheric otherworldly story, it’s also a very perceptive novel about grief and what it can do to families, especially children. It’s Helen’s debut novel and I thoroughly recommend it.

20170817_193542.jpg
Judith with Christoph Fischer of Llandeilo – and me too

The second book launch, the following month, was for Judith Barrow’s fourth in her family saga series. It’s called A Hundred Tiny Threads .

The novel tells the background to some of the characters in Judith’s other books, so is an ideal introduction to the series, as well as a revelationary read for those who have read the first three. I’m reading A Hundred Tiny Threads at the moment, and I’m thoroughly enjoying losing myself in Judith’s wonderful storytelling. I just know I’ll have to re-read Pattern of Shadows when I’ve finished to remind myself what happened next; and then Changing Patterns and Living in the Shadows

So many books, so little time!

20170929_200409
Carol and me

And the final launch in this Honno trio was one I attended just last week. It was for Carol Lovekin’s second novel, Snow Sisters.

It was held in Lampeter, at the Old Hall of the university. Carol read a spellbinding chapter from her new novel, which has all the hallmarks of being as brillaint as her debut, Ghostbird. I’m really looking forward to reading the magically beautiful Snow Sisters –  preferably in front of a log fire on a snowy evening, although I very much doubt I’ll be able to hold out until the weather turns that cold!

So that’s my Honno book launch round-up.

To all authors everywhere about to launch a new book, may your launch be full of friends, family and smiling faces (and maybe some cupcakes – I’m thinking of you, Dyane Harwood!).

Most of all, relax and enjoy!

Sara x

 

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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 all good bookshops.

cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg

Publication Day for Carol Lovekin’s Snow Sisters

Today is publication day for Carol Lovekin’s second novel, Snow Sisters.

snowsisters

I loved Carol’s first novel, Ghostbird, and so I’m really looking forward to reading her new offering. It’s received a fabulous review on Being Anne today – read it here. And follow Carol Lovekin’s own blog, Making it Up as I Go Along, to read about her unique take on writing.

Alongside a whole host of other local authors, Carol will be at Narberth Book Fair on Saturday, 23rd September, and she’ll have copies of Snow Sisters for sale, as well as her first novel, Ghostbird.

It’s going to be a great day – hope to see you there! 

Sara x

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child 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 all good bookshops – and this Saturday, from Narberth Book Fair too.cropped-not-thomas-header.jpg