“what struck me is how much we have in common” | Katherine Woodfine

“what struck me is how much we have in common” | Katherine Woodfine

Day 3 of the Hay Festival Aarhus 2017 and the Aarhus Dokk 1 library is beginning to feel very familiar – from the orange and red lanterns floating from the ceiling, to the sweeping view of blue-grey water from the windows.

It’s a wonderful and inspiring place. As I write this, toddlers are running up and down; a group of teens are working busily on creating their own ‘blackout poems’; and one of my fellow Aarhus 39 authors is reading her work aloud, whilst an illustrator draws live. Children are adding their contributions to a big doodle wall; a little girl is sitting by herself in the middle of the floor poring over a picture book; and colourful origami cranes covered in children’s messages, wishes and drawings are being hung from the branches of a big tree. It’s been very special to have the chance to get to know this stunning library and to see how well it’s used by families, students, visitors to the city and everyone in between.

For me, what’s also been special about the festival has been the chance to get to know the Aarhus 39: a group of writers for children and young people from all around Europe. Over the last three days, we’ve had plenty of opportunity to chat – in the library, over dinner at cultural space Godsbanen, and even in a cosy book cafe. It’s been brilliant to meet the other authors and hear about their work, but also to find out more about how publishing works in every part of Europe, getting a new insight into what it might be like to be a children’s author, whether in Iceland, Norway, or Austria.

But whilst it’s been intriguing to hear about a wide range of different experiences, and to examine our differences, what’s struck me more than anything else is how much we all have in common. The same challenges – such as the difficulty of making a living as a children’s author, or a shortage of media coverage for children’s books – seem to come up time and time again. Perhaps more than anything else, everyone has discussed the devastating impact of library cuts and closures, which is especially potent when we’ve spent the last three days in a dynamic new library.

I’m sure that when we leave on Sunday, we’ll all be heading home inspired by our experiences at Dokk 1, which shows clearly why investing in spaces like this is important, and demonstrates why libraries are so powerful. But I think we’ll also be leaving with a sense of what we share with other writers all around Europe. I certainly know I’ll take with me a renewed sense of the connections between us, and what a privilege it is to be part of this wider European community. That’s certainly the message I’d choose to write on an origami crane, to fly from the top branches of the library tree.

Katherine Woodfine is an acclaimed writer from the UK, part of our Aarhus 39 selection of the best emerging writers from across Europe appearing at the inaugural International Children’s Literature Hay Festival Aarhus 2017 .