Wednesday 21 June 2023

Only Connect Part Two - Miracles and Music with Sheena Wilkinson

 Earlier this month Sheena Wilkinson wrote a lovely post about working with other writers, and mentioned that we were going to do an event together at the Belfast Book Festival. 

I am so grateful to Sheena for generously  suggesting that we do this event together , and for pitching it to The Belfast Book Festival, who were SO lovely to work with. Other Festivals should take note!  They paid for my travel, put me up in a hotel, AND paid us for doing the event, which, I am relieved to say, went well, and was actually fun to do. The writer and journalist Sue Leonard, who is very well known in the Irish press for her literary interviews,  was wonderful - she was very encouraging and calming and had really done her preparation - she really knew our books and asked really thoughtful and good questions about our stories and our writing practice, and the audience were great - very smiley and engaged, and also willing to ask questions at the end.

It really struck me how much we, as writers for children, loved each other's first book for adults, and how we had similar 'voices' - we both wrote our books to give comfort and create a safe space for the reader, and whilst both of us were keen to be true to difficult aspects of our stories, and not be twee, as writers for children, we also knew the importance of giving the reader hope.  Here is a picture of us on stage, having  a lovely time answering Sue's brilliant questions. I hope it wasn't too hard for Sue to get a word in edgeways - luckily she is a very experienced interviewer!

Our festival event was to be on a Saturday, and paid for a double room in a hotel, so I was able to invite my husband to join me, and we paid his travel and breakfast etc. After Sheena and I had zoomed and chatted together, Sheena invited me and my husband to come and stay with her and her husband the night before. This was very brave and generous of her, as we had never met in real life, and also very kind, as she herself was only returning from England the same day herself. We couldn't get on the same flight as her, so on the Friday we caught an earlier one, the Festival paid for a taxi to pick us up and take us straight to the Crescent Arts Centre, where we left our luggage, and we had a lovely pub lunch and then went to two fascinating Festival events about translating poetry and then about translating two novels, and a launch of an exhibition, then we caught the bus, and after half an hour arrived at the park and ride where Sheena was there to welcome us and drive us to her home. We arrived to a delicious home made meal by her very kind husband, and started to chat, and discovered that we were all very keen on folk music.

Now this is where the miracle happens. I always have loved folk music, and used to sing lots, to the extent that I have sung at friends' weddings and at church. But sometime during the emotionally stressful period where I was looking after my elderly Irish parents, and for the years after their deaths in 2014 and 2017, up to now, I became unable to sing. It physically hurt my throat to try, and if I managed  a verse I would peter out very soon, and I had to stay silent, and I felt very very sad but resigned. In the past month I had felt a change - I had been at a Catholic Mass and an Anglican Eucharist and had managed to sing part of a hymn at each service, but my voice had quickly tired. So I told Sheena and her husband about this, and said that I would love it if we had a music session, my husband and Sheena's husband  could play guitars and Sheena could sing, but I would only listen.

Only a miracle happened. Something about Sheena and her husband's Irish kindness and welcome  relaxed something deep in me. Sheena herself has a beautiful voice, and it was so gorgeous hearing her sing, and both the men sang and played the guitar so well. Very tentatively, I started to join in the odd word or phrase, and Sheena smiled at me and encouraged me. I had started to find my voice coming back before, but it always faded away,  but this was deeper,   before I knew what was happening, I was properly singing again, first quietly and then more confidently, and we found that Sheena's and my voices went really well together. The next thing was they were encouraging me to sing on my own, and I did. After that we stayed up late and took turns to sing, and it was wonderful. Our husbands really got on, and it was just such a great evening.

It is hard for me to put into words how much it means to me that Sheena, in appreciating my voice in 'Small Miracles', and inviting me to do an event with her about her wonderful book, also somehow enabled me to be able to sing, and love singing again. This is not a small miracle, it is a big one. Thank you so much, Sheena!  I am so glad, as you put it, that our books became friends first, and I really want to continue to read your books and sing with you! Thank you to the Scattered Authors Society for enabling such life-giving connections to take place - and here's to many more creative collaborations for us all!

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

What a wonderful story about finding your voices in more ways than one! Well done Anne - and Sheena!

And what a happy and well organised festival too!