Please Mind Your Head

The sign on the rafter caught my eye. Not my head – I was cautious and not that tall. But the words got in anyway and rattled about in my brain.

Yesterday was a full and delightful day. I spent it at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend in the company of a small group of writers, all Literature Wales bursary winners, participants on the Literature Wales Mentoring Scheme and the Hay Festivals Writers at Work Programme. There were poets, short story writers and novelists of all stripes.

We met in the studio of Richard Booth’s bookshop, a wonderful hidden-away attic space with arched rafters, stone walls and plenty of light. It was the perfect place for a flight of swallows to gather, or maybe a charm of emerging writers. In that private room, we talked shop and workshopped new writing, shared our hopes and our struggles and discussed the craft of writing. It was lovely to be with like-minded folk.

And above our heads, that sign, tacked to the rafters: a word to the wise and a bit of a warning.

Please Mind Your Head. What an excellent reminder.

Because that’s what the Hay Festival is for. It is a place to mind our heads. To pay attention to the things that catch our interest and to be curious about them. To notice the world is more full and fascinating than we can imagine on our own. This is a place to feed our thoughts and then to come away more fully minding.

Over the course of the day, we took in some of the literary highlights of the weekend. Biographer Richard Holmes spoke with us about his work and our own approaches to writing and, in the Tent, we heard Horatio Clare and Rose Tremain whose performances were both rich and personal. It was encouraging to hear established writers discuss their books and careers with such consideration.

And in between events, we wandered. The town was decorated for Christmas, the streets bright with twinkling lights and all the shop windows sparkling. Intelligently, the Winter Weekend was scheduled to coincide with a food festival so there were also plenty of delicious stands and stalls to peruse. So many things to notice and entice and through it all, the words of that sign echoed out: Please Mind your Head.

At the end of the day, some of the writers spoke about the weekend as a chance to plug back into their creative community or to recharge to their creative batteries. For me, the day was about that simple word to the wise. It left me observant and maybe humbled, pulled back from the wider world’s worries and paying closer attention to the specific world around me.

Katie Munnik is a Canadian writer living in Cardiff. Her debut novel The Heart Beats in Secret will be published by The Borough Press April 4, 2019. You can find her on twitter @messy_table. Katie took part in the festival's Writers at Work day at Hay Festival Winter Weekend, supported by Literature Wales.