I became friends with Huw Evans in a rather strange way.
In 2014, I had the bright idea of compiling an anthology of writing from people in the Catalyst network of churches. It was an open submission project, and after getting word out, submissions started to come in. It was only then that I realised that I had a problem: I didn’t really know anything about poems or short stories. How on earth was I going to work out which ones should go in and which ones shouldn’t?
While thinking this through, I received a series of poems that even I could tell were of a particularly high calibre. I decided to take the plunge. I replied to the poet to congratulate him that we would love to feature his poems in the anthology, but also to ask him whether he’d kindly be the editor for the entire project. Amazingly, he agreed!
That poet was Huw Evans.
From that point, Huw became Sputnik’s writing guy. He edited another anthology the following year, and featured in a number of other Sputnik events and publications. He also provided valuable informal feedback to writers across the network as well as coaching both of our Sputnik interns, Tanya and Jess. On top of all of this, Huw became my friend.
In late 2017, Huw was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in March 2019, he died. He is sorely missed.
Huw had much wisdom to share, but the piece that has shaped me the most was maybe the simplest. Just turn up.
We can get ourselves in such a fuss about how to create, different techniques and methods, but so often the thing that stops us doing anything is that we don’t do anything. If you ever asked Huw how you could get better at whatever art form you were practising in, his response would be the same: just turn up. Just put in the hours. Just write. Just draw. Just paint. Just perform. Just keep doing it over and over again, until you start to get good.
He lived this out. As a young man with a desire to write poetry but not a lot of spare time, he decided to set aside 2 hours every Saturday, from 11-1, to write. It didn’t matter if he felt like it or not, if he felt inspired or not- he would close himself in his room, so he told me, and write.
When his four kids got a bit older and he had a bit more breathing space, he did a creative writing Masters, but it was the disciplined ‘just turning up’ that had kept the candle burning, so that he could really hone his craft with more concentrated focus when the time came.
And like an experienced runner, when he knew that his race was coming to an end, he put all those years of ‘just turning up’ into practice and ended with a sprint regarding his creative output. Since his diagnosis, he published a poetry anthology (Minor Monuments) and a children’s novel (The Goblin of the East Hill) with other works still likely to surface.
The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:16 ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’
I really wish God had given him a few more, but Huw was a man who used those days very, very well. He loved Jesus, loved his natural family and was faithfully committed to serving his church family and he has left behind a body of work and a body of wisdom that will go on for many more days yet.
In a sense, he has passed the baton on to us.
Thank you, Huw, for the inspiration and encouragement, and for introducing me to RG Collingwood, and for being the only over 50 year old I could have a meaningful conversation with about Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman, and for being the first person to perform a sex poem at the Catalyst Festival, and for ‘just turning up’ both to your writing desk and to your church when almost everyone else in our family of churches was choosing one or the other.
Alongside the poetry and novels, in Huw’s creative purple patch of his last years, he also wrote and staged a one man show, Not Long Now, which was his response to his cancer diagnosis and the drastic shortening of his life expectancy that came with it.
I saw a preview of the show at the Catalyst Festival 2018, but after that, Huw honed the show further, and officially premiered it at Shilbottle Community Hall in November 2018. Fortunately for us, he produced a video of this performance, and whether you knew Huw or not, I’d thoroughly recommend putting aside an hour and giving it a watch. It will do you good.