Book Chat: Anwen Kya Hayward

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Cardiff-based PhD student and author Anwen Kya Hayward is my inaugural interviewee in this new blog feature. Her passion for literature and mythology has led to her penning a novella called Here, the World Entire giving an alternate interpretation to the Medusa myth, which I ranked as one of the ten best books I read last year. When not obsessing over mythological heroes or with her nose in a book, she can be found baking or, and I quote, “gently touching cats’ noses until they do the blinking thing and an unbreakable bond of trust is formed”. I quizzed her on some of her favourite and most memorable books.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am only on page two of my current read, so there’s not a whole lot I can say about it! It’s Nowhere to be Found, a novella by South Korean author Bae Suah. All I know is that it’s a bildungsroman of sorts, but a very compact one, following the noteworthy events throughout the life of an unnamed narrator. I’m aiming to read ten books by female authors of colour in January – you’d be surprised at how difficult it is to find books that aren’t by white authors until you actually specifically look for them – and this is number eight.

What were your favourite books growing up?

Listen, it was Enid Blyton’s entire back catalogue. I’m not proud of it. I held tea parties in my garden with my dollies and supped lashings of ginger beer with them. I pretended that the oak tree down by the stream was the Faraway Tree. I ate cucumber sandwiches. Then I grew up and learnt about things like ‘why golliwogs are bad’, and reassessed my entire world. Still like ginger beer, though.

Which fictional character would you most like to go for dinner with?

Oh man, can you even imagine going to dinner with Voldemort? I bet the waiters wouldn’t dare bring your food cold or late. You’d get the best service in the entire restaurant. Definitely Voldemort.

What factors are important to you when choosing a book?

Honestly, I’m kind of a fanatic for books. I’m not what you could describe as ‘choosy’. However, I prefer either smaller books or weighty tomes; go hard or go home. I like a book that I can finish in one sitting or completely live inside for a month. I also tend to go for books written by authors who are underrepresented in the literary community; authors of colour, disabled authors, LGBT+ authors, etc. I think it’s important to read books written by those whose voices have not historically been amplified, and if we show the publishing world that it’s not an insurmountable risk to publish books by marginalised voices, then hopefully the tide will turn.

A book with fewer than ten Goodreads ratings is probably an instant win, too. It’s like discovering a new planet.

What genre(s) do you prefer to read?

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. Give me a book about pirates, or rebels in seventeenth century France, or Roman senators, and I’ll probably lap it up.

Can you tell me about a book that scared you?

Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl contains one particular scene involving a demonic twin which gave me nightmares and made me shower with the door open for about a week, just in case a monster crept into the bathroom with me and I needed a quick escape. The book itself isn’t a horror – and I’m not easily scared, even when it comes to horror media – but it has some deeply unsettling passages, and that one really got to me.

Can you tell me about a book that made you cry?

I feel personally attacked by this question, because I read a book last week that had me practically bawling in a Caffè Nero: Trail of Broken Wings, by Sejal Hadani. Broadly, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of a family marred by their abusive father, and the novel uses multiple perspectives to show how abuse ripples through the lives of those it touches. Some of the lines were so heart-breaking that I had to highlight them. It’s truly the kind of book that lives in you once you finish it, as corny as that sounds.

It also helped me understand my own family a great deal; my grandfather was raised by an enormously abusive man and we still feel the effects of it today. Seeing something I knew so well rendered so beautifully in fiction really got to me.

If you could spend a day inside a book, which one would you choose?

So, probably not the safest or sanest answer, but it would be Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Imagine being surrounded by that level of change! We live in a world that always seems to be changing for the worst, spiralling downwards and downwards towards a ceaseless void of bigotry and doom, and the world of Metamorphoses isn’t like that. It’s a world changing towards progress, towards civilisation and self-awareness, and sure, a lot of people end up getting turned into trees or bears or goats, but the overarching message is one that I can get behind. Avoid the gods, though. At all costs, avoid the gods.

Can you describe your ideal reading set up? Where, when and what?

Honestly, it’s a long train journey in the evening. I have to travel a lot; my university is based in London and my partner lives near Bath, whereas I am located quite happily in Cardiff and don’t drive, so there are a lot of train journeys in my week. There’s nothing else you should be doing on a train. No laundry, no cooking, no cleaning your cat’s sick out of the rugs. It’s guilt-free reading at its best.

The impossible question: what is your favourite book?

Not so impossible for me – it’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, by Patty Yumi Cottrell. It’s just an absolute masterclass in narrative voice. Cottrell’s protagonist is deeply flawed but reflective of that part of us that we all like to pretend doesn’t exist; the neuroses, the bodily functions, the complete lack of self-awareness. On top of that, the plot absolutely floored me. The revelation at the end made me put the book down slowly and just sit still for a long while. If I can ever write a book with a voice half as strong as Helen Moran, I’ll die happy.


You can purchase Anwen’s first novella Here, the World Entire via the link, or follow her on Twitter: @kyatic.

“Here, The World Entire” by Anwen Kya Hayward (2016)

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“I hear his heartbeat first.”

If you’ve been lingering around this blog long enough, you’ll know I have a particular fondness for Greek mythology. I’m no expert, but I like to keep my hand in, enjoying the stories of the heroes and gods who live their lives like a historical soap opera with added magic. Anwen Kya Hayward, is someone who knows what she’s talking about. Academically instructed up to the eyeballs in the mythological studies, Anwen and I met through social media several years ago, and I have always enjoyed her passion for her subject. I’m a lazy git, so I can’t claim now that as soon as she was published, I snapped the book up, but nonetheless, here we are. Only six months late.

The tiny novella is based around the myth of Medusa, confined to her cave after being punished by Athena for something that wasn’t her fault. Once beautiful, Medusa’s golden hair has been replaced with a nest of snakes, and anyone she looks at turns to stone. Perseus intrudes upon her quiet cave, telling her that he needs her help, and was sent by Athena to ask for it. If only she would come out and meet him…

The main narrative is interspersed with events from Medusa’s history, primarily the events that caused her to be transformed into this monster, and an incident where she accidentally wiped out a whole village with her powers. Often seen as a villain in modern interpretations of Greek mythology, it is really something to see her here portrayed with humanity, sealing herself off from the world to protect everyone else as much as herself. She knows she is dangerous and doesn’t actively want to hurt anyone else, even shouting through the cave entrance that very fact to Perseus, although acknowledging that he will die if he comes in.

As mentioned, it’s a short book but I consumed it in an hour or so, supine on a sun lounger on one of the hottest days in living memory. Hayward is economical in her language, and not a word is wasted, building up an incredibly rich and beautiful world set entirely in a cave, where neither character can look at the other. Medusa, naturally, rarely describes anything she can see, so much is made of what she can hear, using aural clues to work out what Perseus is doing outside her cave. For something written, it’s incredibly unusual and very well done.

It’s a gorgeous little read, with a real sense of tragedy about it, as we explore the inner workings of a monster’s brain. It seems to tie into my recent readings of Frankenstein and Wonder, which also deal with not judging people based on their appearance or first impressions. Medusa is sympathetic, but if you know how the old myth ends, you’ll know why that’s a difficult thing to have to deal with here. A sublime piece of work, and I look forward to more.