Artist of the Week – Sarah Hesketh

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When people ask me what my reading guilty pleasure is, I usually say fantasy novels. I’ve been known to joke that if I ever get a tattoo it would be the line ‘three from the circle, three from the track’ from Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, and so I was totally delighted when Carolyne Larrington asked if I’d like to get involved in the Modern Fairies project. It seemed like the perfect chance to explore my love of the rich worlds of fantasy and fairy, at the same time as taking my writing in a completely new direction.

Writers spend almost all of their time working alone. It can get a little tedious, listening to the sound of your own typing. So, for me, one of the biggest thrills about the first group weekend in Oxford was the chance to spend time with other creative people. The experience was made all the more interesting because the other artists all work in different creative disciplines. Musicians, illustrators, singers, film-makers – they all work in very different ways from each other, and yet the way in which people were able to immediately start sparking from each other’s ideas was really inspiring. Watching a group of musicians sit down together and instantly begin to create work was really quite thrilling. To begin with I felt quite jealous at how quickly they could start to create something from scratch - for me, writing is usually a very slow process. But then I realised that just by sitting and listening to the music they were making, I too could begin to generate ideas, just by working through the moods and tone of their notes. This quality of collaboration was true of the group discussions as well. Although there were some people in the room who were incredibly knowledgeable about folklore and fairy, I think we all had some of our initial preconceptions overturned, as one thought led to another.

It still feels like relatively early days in the project but so far, the image I’m really drawn to in the stories and poems we’ve been looking at, is that of the ‘loathly ladies’ and their dual identities as both monsters and beautiful women. The issues of power and control, and how we look at the female body, seem so pressing today, and so I’m starting to think about ways in which we can use these complex stories to think about and question contemporary ideas.

I used the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ at the beginning of this blog. It was a deliberate ploy to stir up strong feeling (writers can be terrible manipulators). There’s absolutely nothing to feel guilty about in a love of folklore and fairy. For hundreds of years these stories have been bringing us pleasure and offering ways for us to try and explain what is often difficult or unexplainable in our everyday lives. I’m really looking forward to welcoming some of these fairies into the 21st century - and finding out just how subversive and modern they can be.

Sarah

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