I was in need of something. I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I knew that the Hay Festival Winter Weekend might hold the clue, and it did. But the magic began three days beforehand, when I received an email from Literature Wales with an itinerary for our industry day. They’ve been running these talks and workshops for a few years now, but this is the first time I’ve been able to attend, as I was lucky enough to receive a place on their mentoring programme.
The email did not bode well – a whole session was to be set aside during the afternoon for sharing our work-in-progress. Normally, I would be keen to devote time to sharing feedback and receiving constructive criticism on my poems, but not now. I was suffering from the old writers’ block, and had barely written anything in three months. This was the last thing I wanted. I literally had to force myself to switch on the laptop and start re-reading old poems, drafts that I’ve revisited again and again. Every single poem looked terrible. I had it bad.
And then I found some scribbles in a notebook, something I had rejected two weeks previously. It was far too sentimental, nowhere near my normal standard of work. But what would happen if I typed it up? I decided to give it a go, and before the night was over, I had two new poems saved on my laptop, and four more released into the world, ready and waiting for the workshop.
And then the day itself – the first day of true winter, with frost and sunshine, driving through a spectacular landscape, watching a red kite swoop down at the side of the road, and arriving to find hot drinks and pastries waiting for us, meeting a few new faces, and catching up with people I hadn’t seen for many months.
I enjoyed hearing from John Mitchinson, and his colleague Rachel, from Unbound Books. They talked about how the platform began small and has grown into something much bigger – a crowdfunding publisher which works best for unusual and quirky books, those that don’t seem to fit neatly into a particular genre. They were encouraging but honest about the fact that this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not sure it would work for lyric poetry, but it did spark some ideas along other lines, so you never know.
We attended just one of the official Hay Festival events – an interview with art critic and novelist Laura Cumming. It was fascinating to hear her story of investigating her mother’s past, and I enjoyed soaking up some of the Winter Weekend atmosphere. The scent of mulled wine was glorious, and I was not cold, despite the weather.
But the highlight for me was the afternoon workshop – a chance to receive feedback from fellow writers, and to give feedback in return. I was spurred into action, and have just spent a cosy Saturday evening editing my poems.
Rachel Carney is a poet, book blogger and PhD student based in Cardiff. You can find her on Twitter @CreatedtoRead. She received a place on the 2019 Literature Wales mentoring scheme, and took part in the Writers at Work day at Hay Festival Winter Weekend, supported by Literature Wales.