(c) Paul Edwards

BLOG Craig Thomas

NWR Issue 103

xx Minifest Women’s Writing Festival 2014

Having launched in 2012 with a one-day ‘mini-fest’, XX Wales returned in 2014 in a much expanded form.

Spread out over two and a half days, the event was hosted in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, to ‘bring together readers and new and established writers, plus editors and critics, to enjoy the burgeoning range and depth of writing by women from Wales in English.’

There were interviews with authors, as well as panel discussions and readings. There were also a series of workshops running concurrently. These focused on how to get ahead, whether that take the form of a correctly formatted manuscript submission, getting published in a literary magazine or creating a memorable poetry performance.

The idea of women putting themselves forward was one of the key themes of the weekend. It arose in the first talk, ‘Fearless Feminist Spot’, which saw political commentator Melissa Benn interviewed by Wales Assembly Member for Cardiff North, Julie Morgan, about her new book, What Should We Tell Our Daughters?

It was one of the seven points in the keynote speech on ‘The Woman Writer’, delivered by the publisher of Virago Press, Lenni Goodings, and it again reared its head during the ‘Script And Screen’ panel. Here we learnt that despite a noticeable increase in script submissions (to the point where they are rapidly becoming unmanageable), still not that many are from women.

Of course, this was not the only issue raised, nor was it offered as a silver bullet to the issues facing women who write, but it did seem to be the one with the highest potential gain for the lowest potential cost. All that was needed was for women to put themselves forward.

There were plenty of women doing just that. The ‘New Poetry’ event saw readings from, amongst others, Forward prize-winning poet Kathryn Simmonds. The interview with artist, Shani Rhys James, whose latest book, Florilingua, pairs a number of her canvases with specially commissioned poetry, was also interspersed with readings.

The readings on Thursday and Friday nights took place on a theatre stage converted into a more intimate setting, with ‘First Thursday of the Month, New Poetry and Fiction’ (Poetry Wales) and ‘Cardiff Literary Salon’, respectively.

The penultimate event of the weekend, ‘Men Reading Women’, as the title suggests, even saw a number of men getting in on the act. A mixture of politicians, academics and poets were asked to pick an author, say a few words and do a reading, followed by a Q&A session. The choices were diverse, with the readings ranging from the funny to the emotional and at times, both. Eager to proselytise about their chosen authors, the session overran in to the beginning of the next, meaning that Q&As were abandoned!

The weekend came to an end with an interview with the always compelling and highly amusing, AL Kennedy, who first read an extract from her new collection of short stories, All The Rage.

From the very outset, the festival was entertaining, informative and compelling. It raised many important issues facing women who write, provided insights on writing young adult fiction, writing from life and writing about sex, and provided a platform for a number of writers and poets, many of whom were early in their careers.

Throughout the weekend there was a friendly atmosphere, with many of the speakers spending some time after their slot chatting in the corridor to members of the audience and signing books.

However you care you measure it, XX Wales 2014 was an undoubted success and I sincerely hope it will return.


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