I was one of four artists selected to produce new work about Hadrian's Wall as part of the Hexham Book Festival in celebration of the wall's 1900th anniversary
This summer I was lucky enough to be chosen by Susie Troup and the team at Hexham Book Festival as one of their four commissioned artists. This was a paid opportunity to create new work celebrating the 1900th anniversary of the building of Hadrian's Wall - a brilliant reason to get my walking boots on! 🥾
I wanted my piece of writing to be a sensory exploration of Hadrian's Wall, incorporating what the wall would have looked, felt and smelt like when it was built and also how it is now. Because I can never resist getting young people involved in my work, I also proposed to speak to some youth groups from towns along the wall to gather experiences of growing up in towns like Kirkwhelpington, Corbridge and the West End of Newcastle. That slightly more urban, built up experience was important to me because people often neglect the fact that there are parts of Hadrian's Wall sitting nonchalantly next to petrol stations and in housing estates in the middle of the city!
As well as gathering people's thoughts I also visited parts of the wall myself. My partner Sam and I took an 8km walk from Walltown Crags to Thirlwall Castle and back again, visiting the brilliant arts organisation Green Croft on the Wall on our way. I also spent some time at Segedunum in Wallsend and went to see Vallum Crossing in Benwell, too.
The finished piece
The result of all my walking, talking and writing was a ten-page free verse poem titled 'This Next Hill'. Each section corresponded to a particular sense - so roughly two sections for each of the five senses - and I played around with the way the piece was set out on the page, which was something I'd never really done before. It was an attempt on my part to recreate some sense of movement, of interconnected experiences, and a little nod to the conflicting uses and wants/needs of people who visit or live near cultural heritage sites.
At the beginning of July, I joined the other three artists at Hexham Book Festival for a celebration of our work - we each got to read our pieces to the audience and say a little about our process and how we gathered our material. I thoroughly enjoyed being by far the least famous person at Hexham Book Festival, and it was great to meet the other artists and hear about how they tackled the brief!
Where can I read?
You can read This Next Hill as well as the other three commissions over on the Hexham Book Festival website.
A big thank you to Susie Troup, Hexham Book Festival, and Lisa Robinson from North Tyne Youth for helping me with this commission.