On Being a Writer in Wales: Hammad Rind
When I started writing my debut novel Four Dervishes (Seren Books, 2021) nine years ago, just after moving to Wales, I had a very vague idea about concepts like ‘literary scene’, ‘writing community’ and ‘publishing industry’.
Like many writers starting on their first literary journey, I imagined a writer’s lot to be that of a hermit, hiding in an attic, the modern version of a monastery, with a typewriter (or more realistically, a laptop), having turned their back towards the world, and churning out draft after draft of novels.
I remained in this hermit stage for at least seven of these years. And when, having written the 75th draft of my novel, I sought ways for it to come out in the world, I realised how important it was to connect to fellow writers on similar journeys.
Luckily, Cardiff is a city with a lot to offer in this regard. My first encounter with the ‘writing community’ was at the monthly held open mic event held at the dreamy, dim-lit Little Man Coffee.
This experience proved to be memorable in more than one way: not only did I read out parts of my novel to an audience for the first time but also, I was treated to a very impressive performance by Eric Charles Ngalle, no less than a local literary celebrity.
That I read the entire first chapter of an earlier draft of Four Dervishes (around 7 pages) should be forgiven on the grounds that it was my first open mic event.
At that time, I started going to another open mic collective Where I am Coming From, which was run by the dynamic trio of Cardiff-based writers Durre Shehwar, Taylor Edmund and (the current National Poet of Wales) Hanan Issa. It was an inclusive and welcoming platform, which, in addition to giving voice to new writers, provided many networking opportunities.
These included a trip to the Hay Festival in 2019, which was organised by Literature Wales. The short journey over the Wye to the little heaven of bibliophiles was very enriching, though to my wife’s chagrin I came back laden with a dozen new books.
One of the events I attended that day included the book launch of the latest novel by Uzbek writer Hamid Ismailov, who ended his talk with a traditional Uzbek melody. More remarkably, I had an opportunity to talk with Ismailov in Persian, one of the languages the multilingual writer had grown up with in Bukhara and Samarkand.
Since that first encounter with Literature Wales, I have had many opportunities to collaborate with this very supportive organisation, including the most recent one being a collaborative project with a cohort of six multilingual poets based in Wales led by the former National Poet of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn.
The road to publishing is not always easy and often full of thorns and discouragements. As a writer from an under-represented background and without an agent, and thus crucial know-how and links, I had to send numerous submissions to any publishers willing to take unsolicited manuscripts in various English-speaking markets across the world.
As is often the case, there were many rejections. But just as a medieval Persian verse assures – ‘I looked for the beloved across the globe only to come back and find him in my own hearth’ – what I sought was also near my own home.
In February 2020, just weeks before the entire world was forced to turn hermit, Seren Books organised their second series of Cardiff Poetry Festival and their very encouraging poetry editor Amy Wack got in touch with me for collaboration.
I ended up running a poetry workshop for the festival on the ghazal, one of the most loved poetic forms in Persian and Urdu poetry, which sold out. Fortunately, our collaborative journey did not end at the workshop.
In over a year Four Dervishes was published by Seren Books – a journey that was made memorable, especially owing to the support I received from the Seren Books team as well as the valuable feedback from the seasoned historian and writer Jon Gower.
Wales has rich and strong cultural and literary traditions which it values highly. The nation has resiliently managed to protect and nourish its culture, thanks, in no little measure, to a strong sense of national identity and in the face of the inescapable dominance of the English language.
This has relatable parallels for me coming from the Western Punjab, where the ‘vernaculars’ like Punjabi and Saraiki compete with the national Urdu and the official and hegemonic English, with the vernacular being only considered good to be spoken inside home, and still producing many wonderful poets and artists working in these regional languages.
Wales offers a vibrant and encouraging literary scene to both new and seasoned writers, fitting many literary events and opportunities in a very tight space. There are many open mic events and poetry / prose reading circles, which welcome writers at all levels of experience.
Then there are major and independent publishing houses, some of which have yearly festivals, many in dainty, sleepy villages off the beaten track, including Crickhowell, Llantwit Major and Fishguard.
This is all to say that as a writer I have found, in Wales, the perfect haven for my literary career. As a small but fantastically creative and supportive nation my leap off the cliff from a hermit and amateur towards professional writing found a soft and favorable landing.
I have found myself thrown into a vibrant, engaging and active literary community engaged in fantastic work, nurturing and progressing the Welsh literary output.
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