‘Thank you, Hay Festival.’ – Rhys Milsom

‘Thank you, Hay Festival.’ – Rhys Milsom

Names such as Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, Marlon James, Thomas Keneally, David Crystal and many more arrive to talk about their craft to the masses at Hay Festival. They relax in the calming and serene place that is the Green Room before they are whisked away to the stage by festival volunteers and staff. I have sat and watched these writers closely as I have also been in the Green Room with them, at the same time.

The reason I’ve been in the Green Room is that I have been selected – alongside 19 other Welsh writers – to take part in Hay’s Writers At Work scheme. The scheme is designed for up-and-coming and more established Welsh writers to hone in on specifics of the book industry and to form a closely knit group of writers who can represent the vibrant and contemporary scene in Wales. We have had talks with agents, editors, publishers, writers and PR and marketing specialists, to enable us to understand how the mechanics of the industry work. We have been fortunate enough to have taken part in workshops run by Gillian Clarke, Sue Roberts (BBC producer), Julia Green and Cathy Rentzenbrink. We have watched writers such as Tom Bullough, Marlon James, Irvine Welsh and Owen Sheers read from their work and talk, at length and in detail, about their process and how their work comes to fruition.

But, most importantly, all 20 of us Welsh writers have formed a bond that is so rare between a group of such diverse and varied people. A bond which, I hope, we’ll revisit regularly and which will allow us to progress as a group of writers on the cusp. It’s difficult to give a singular highlight, but the session that immediately springs to mind is the poetry workshop by Gillian Clarke. We were asked to think of a childhood memory, and to delve into that memory into places so hidden we had forgotten about them. Gillian instigated the movement of our senses by provoking stimuli such as sight, smell, touch, sound. Once our thoughts were written down we were then asked to structure our poems (or, indeed, prose) how we liked, and then read them to our fellow writers.

The end result was fantastic. Each piece was excellent and it was stirring to hear different parts of Wales and different childhoods experienced in Wales from voices pinned in our country’s various country sides, towns and villages. The experience of the Writers At Work scheme has not only been beneficial, it’s been something that has been needed for a long time. Twenty Welsh writers, on the brink or at the middle of their careers, in the same place at the same time, sharing their writing and forming a group of wide-ranging but closely knitted voices is something which I would recommend to any writer. Thank you, Hay Festival.