Meet the team who keep the WayWORD Festival on course

Meet the team who keep the WayWORD Festival on course

The WayWORD Festival returns for its third outing next week, hosted by the University of Aberdeen. The student and volunteer-led literary festival runs from 20 – 25 September. And for the first time, most events will be held in person.

WayWORD will feature workshops, author events, book launches, panel discussions and performance nights. And keeping it accessible, a BSL interpreter will be available at all performances, and online performances will be captioned.

There are several big names to look out for this year. These include Monica Ali, Raymond Antrobus, Christopher Brookmyre, Jenny Colgan and Bee Asha Singh, Alan Spence, Booker Prize-winner Douglas Stuart, Nan Sheperd and Esther Woolfson and more.

We spoke to team members, Kirsty, Elisa and Stacey about the festival and who they are looking forward to seeing this year.

WayWORD committee member, Stacey

Let’s start out by telling us a little about each of you

Kirsty: I studied MA English and Scottish Literature and MLitt Creative writing at UoA and started as a student committee member in 2020 but have since been employed by the WORD Centre for Creative Writing assisting in the devising and delivering of events, including WayWORD.

Elisa: I am a fourth-year student in English with Creative Writing at UoA. This is my first year being part of the WayWORD’s student committee. So I am using my creativity and determination to help with the organisation of events. That can be by giving new ideas to develop and spread the WORD, but also by designing graphics to promote every event online. I will be chairing the live-streamed conversation with Maya MacGregor at Hazlehead Academy on Thursday 22nd September, 1:00 pm – 2:45 pm.

Stacey: I am a former student of North East Scotland College and I’ve done courses in Media & Communications as well as Technologies in Business. I am a committee member of this year’s WayWORD festival. This means I have been planning my own event as well as promoting a range of events and the festival in general. I will be co-chairing an online event, Discussion: Gaming as a Narrative Art Form, on Saturday 24th September 10:30 am – 12 pm.

2020 was a pretty wild time to start a festival. How did it come about, and how did plans change to accommodate the covid pandemic?

Kirsty: We started planning in 2019, so we were already 5 months deep by the time covid was on anyone’s minds! On so many occasions we were faced with difficult decisions, from moving workshops online to potentially postponing the entire festival!

In the end, we stuck with our original dates and embraced the power of zoom, which was a wholly different vision from the brainstorming in 2019.

WayWORD committee member, Kirsty

There’s an increased community and school programme attached to this year’s festival. What can folk expect from that?

Kirsty: We are all about community and have spent several months in Hazlehead Academy working with pupils to create these events.

We never anticipated how innovative and ambitious these groups would be. They approached each task with so much thought and took their events very seriously. They considered the impact on the audience and the impact on the wider community. How much it would cost; logistics; potential guest speakers; impact on diversity and inclusion.

Elisa: Creativity, diversity, and inclusion, as Kirsty rightly pointed out, but I would also add humility.

It was absolutely wonderful to see the young people of Hazlehead Academy organising the events not thinking about themselves and about who they would like to see and what they would like to do. Instead they worked on what their audience would love. I believe that is something very rare today. To put others first instead of yourself, not be too egotistical. And these teens really did that well.

Their thinking was broad and thorough. And some of them who were very shy overcame that. They can be very proud of what they did, and I am sure our guests and participants will feel how much fun they had helping us with the festival.

WayWORD committee member, Elisa

You’ll be seeing a lot more people in person this year, what extra challenges does that bring?

Kirsty: There is the added challenge of travel and accommodation logistics which we have only done on a much smaller scale but it is now nearly the entire programme!

Elisa: To do as well as last year? No, seriously, we have to think a lot about attracting people and making the trip to in-person events worth their time, which is not always an easy thing. But to be utterly honest with you, I think seeing more people brings much more excitement than challenges on the team!

Stacey: With previous festivals being held fully online in 2020 and semi-online in 2021, it will be interesting to see how 2022’s festival will come together with more events in person than online. The building will be quite busy with guests, audience members, team members, and volunteers so it may be a challenge to manage a lot of people and make sure everybody knows what they are doing.

Christopher Brookmyre

Building a festival like this takes a great deal of work and organisation. How does the university provide additional support?

Kirsty: We are partly funded by the University and have access to some of their support teams, such as Media Services, Marketing, and Estates, who all help to make things happen on the ground, and catering who will be providing a food shack this year.

WayWORD is run by The WORD Centre for Creative Writing. Its part of the School of Language, Literature, Music, and Visual Culture. So we have access to some of their resources such as the venue, King’s Pavilion. Staff from across the university offer to mentor the students who organise the festival. And many academic staff help to pitch ideas, contact speakers, and chair events as well.

Our Creative Director Dr Helen Lynch wears many hats and pulls together all the different strands of the university support. It is a real team effort between WayWORD staff, wider University Staff, and the students.

Jenny Colgan

The whole festival is programmed by students and young people. Why was this important for the WayWORD Festival, and what benefits does that benefit those who volunteer?

Elisa: More than being a youth-led festival, I believe WayWORD invites different generations of people to exchange and broaden everybody’s artistic views.

Students get the opportunity to learn about new things, just like professors and adults that help them. It is a constant act of sharing. That’s what made me embark on the journey and join this third iteration.

I am a very introverted and anxious person, and as I am not a native speaker. I don’t have much confidence in speaking with local people. But I love sharing about books and art in general. So volunteering in WayWORD really pushed my boundaries. It helped me find people with shared interests that were eager to listen to my broken English.

Stacey: It is beneficial having the festival programmed by students and young people because they know what kinds of topics younger people are interested in and to engage them to come and check out what’s on offer at the festival.

As the only college student on the committee who has never studied at university I felt scared being in an environment I know very little about. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the group. But that fear soon disappeared when everyone was so kind and welcoming to me.

Being on the committee has helped me to come out of my shell more and developed my confidence. I definitely don’t regret signing up!

Monica Ali

What events are each of you particularly looking forward to at the WayWORD Festival this year?

StaceyPerforming Identities, North East Writers and Chamber Music Scotland, Fan Fiction Panel.

ElisaMaya MacGregor, Tattered Memory: Memoir with Timothy C. Baker & Helen Taylor, Rachelle Atalla, C. J. Cooke.

NaomiTattered Memory: Memoir with Timothy C. Baker & Helen Taylor, North East Writers and Chamber Music Scotland, Raymond Antrobus.

KirstyMichael Pedersen, Scottish Contemporary Drama: Debbie Hanan in conversation with Lucy Hinnie, Padraig Regan & Naush Sabah.

Find out more about the WayWORD Festival

Thank you so much to Kirsty, Stacey and Elisa for taking the time to talk to us. You can get more info about this year’s WayWORD Festival, and all the guests at

Although all events are free, ticket booking is required. Book now to avoid disappointment.

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