Multi Story Edinburgh

Episode 65: Back to the Future - Hannah, BA Illustration

June 02, 2022 The University of Edinburgh Season 3 Episode 8
Multi Story Edinburgh
Episode 65: Back to the Future - Hannah, BA Illustration
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode we meet Illustration graduate Hannah Foley and chat troublesome travels, hiraeth, and what it is to be indigenous.

Each episode is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. In season 3 we talk to graduates about going back. But is it back to the beginning or back to the future? 

Hannah is an author, illustrator and specialist nurse for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She grew up in a tiny redbrick, terrace house in the Southwest of England. She went away but now she is back.

Whether it is returning home after graduation, returning to Edinburgh after adventures elsewhere, or just returning to a place that felt like the past but turned out to be the future,  season 3 of Multi Story Edinburgh explores how going back is never life in reverse.

All opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect those of the University of Edinburgh.

Multi Story Edinburgh has been created and produced by the Alumni Relations team at the University of Edinburgh. If you are interested in telling your story, please get in touch and let's talk.

Music: Since When by Mise Darling from
Artwork: Vector created by vectorjuice / Freepik

[Theme music] 

Voiceover 00:11 This is a snapshot, a moment, a sneak inside the minds of our graduates. This is season three, back to the beginning or back to the future. 

Hannah 00:23 I am back in my home county of Devon, which is where I grew up. 

Voiceover 00:28 Hannah Foley. Illustration graduate from Edinburgh College of Art. 

Hannah 00:32 I am working as a specialist nurse for people with multiple sclerosis. In my day job, the job that pays the bills. In 2018 I won the Kelpies Prize for a children's novel I had written. And I have my second novel coming out with Zephyr Books in February next year. So that is the other thing that I do. And then I also have three children, which keeps me pretty busy.  

I think leaving can sometimes be a funny thing - can't it? And you don't necessarily feel like there's this fixed point where you kind of go, but I think I definitely - when I was 18 - left to go and explored other things. And I--I feel quite mixed about some of the rhetoric that I absorbed in my kind of late teens. I'm not totally sure where a lot of it came from. I think probably some of it from school, some of it from just society in general, but very much swallowed this thing, hook, line, and sinker that, you know, it would be a waste, if you're bright, and you know, you're good at school, it would be a waste if you didn't go away and explore other things. It would be a waste, if you didn't go to university, you should get out there and, you know, follow your dreams and explore every horizon. And there was definitely a feeling of if you stayed around that was a second best option. And I don't think I questioned it in any way at all. I absolutely set my sights on getting out there. And--and I went travelling quite a bit to start off with and found that experience really confusing. At that age in my life, I didn't really have the words or the kind of concepts to really understand why I found it so difficult. Now I look back on it and I think - the words that spring to mind are - voyeuristic, gratuitous about travel. And I now can look back on that and think - yeah, travel for young people going out from Britain is very much in the context of the Grand Tour, and all of that privilege and arrogance that comes with that history of that kind of travel. And I now look back on it and think, yeah, no wonder I found it so problematic. It is really problematic. And I feel like we're still saying that stuff to our young people. And we don't really explore how it's maybe not a good idea or that the way we're doing it is--is--is not good.  

At the beginning, there was very much a sense of I'm purposely leaving all of that stuff behind because it's restrictive, and it's limiting and it's slow, and it's backward, especially coming from Devon, which has got really, you know, very strong stereotypes in the media. You know, I think I very much felt that needed to get out there. I came back and I went and did my nurse training in Nottingham. Nottingham was pretty much, you know, my mum and dad, I remember drawing a line in the country of where they were happy to travel to see me and Nottingham was the furthest limit [laughs]. So I went to Nottingham, did my nurse training and then went to live in Yorkshire with my partner. And then, really, art college had always been in the back of my mind. It was very much a sort of dream or something that did, I guess, well, you know, I was sort of 28/29 when I came to art college and, you know, theoretically a mature student, but not really at all [laughs]. 

And I think it's really interesting for me, the-- you know, the art college experience, because I didn't, you know, I didn't live in halls, or, you know, I didn't really have this sort of traditional kind of student experience. We actually lived outside of Edinburgh in a sheep farm in the Borders while I was studying. You know, for me, it sounds - it probably will sound very strange for people - but being part of that community, which was actually quite similar to the community that I grew up in, was a transformative experience for me in a way that travel never was or leaving home never was. I didn't have that transformational experience up a mountain or a New York skyscraper. I had it amongst people who were a lot like those I had kind of left behind. And I think it was very much that experience of living in the Borders that helped me to begin that journey of going home.  

I remember graduating and that horrible feeling of when you finish, and especially as an art student, you know, it was so different to training to be a nurse where I went straight into a job and I cracked on and, you know, you just feel like you dropped off a cliff. I found it really lonely, you know, you've got to kind of like go out and find your own work and be your own sort of cheerleader, it's really, really difficult. And there were lots of other things going on for me at that time. But I really remember phoning my mum and just breaking my heart to her on the phone. My mum is Welsh and she's just such a lovely, wise, softly-spoken lady. And I remember her saying to me 'It's hiraeth, Han'. And I hadn't heard this Welsh word that she was talking to me about before. And it's a really beautiful word that we don't, I mean, ‘homesickness’ in English just doesn't even begin to cover it. It's a longing, a deep, deep longing, not just for your family and your home, but for your kids, also your wider community, and also for the actual land itself. I remember her saying this to me, and just having this really visceral response to what she was saying. Suddenly, you know, it was like my body was flooded with smells, and sights and tastes, and just a feeling of a particular Devon evening when the air is in a particular sort of way. And the light, and I just--I just knew, and--and we were back home, in Devon, within the year almost to the day. And, you know, coming back to that word 'back', I haven't looked back really.  

Suddenly, I had this massive appreciation for just how precious and special it is. And it's a complex relationship. It's not like I love everything here, you know, there are a lot of things I get really angry about [laughs] and are really incredibly frustrating. But having gone away, you know, it gave me new eyes to see what is so special here and what I love so much about it. And, you know, that I am part of this, so kind of not being here and being part of it was almost limiting myself and not fully appreciating all the parts of me because I am connected to this landscape, I feel that really strongly. You know, lots of nature writers talk in a really similar way. Like for me, you know, I'm always looking at every horizon for a little dimple of blue sea because it's so often the view that you can see in Devon, and I remember talking to my neighbours from Norfolk and saying 'You know, skies, they just need skies, big, massive skies'. And I think we are part of our landscape in a way that we don't really talk about within British society. That first novel, that I wrote, that won the Kelpies Prize, actually was probably born from me not being part of my landscape in a funny sort of way. You know, there, there's a lot in that book about exploring family and where you come from and home, and those kinds of ideas. And now that I'm back here, my next novel is really rooted in this place. And I love the way - and I think this comes from being at art college - but I have a very sort of visual sense of stories being embedded in land, in layers. And that--I think that was something that Edinburgh really taught me because you've literally in Edinburgh got these layers of history layered up, you know, you can--you can see it. And so, I was able to sort of take that home and kind of really recognise the layers of stories built up in my own landscape, and what that meant to me. Yeah, I think landscape is a massive part of who I am as a novelist. Yeah. 

[Theme music]   

Voiceover 08:29 We also ask our guests to tell us about a place - somewhere local, somewhere that kind of captures something important, something worth sharing. 

Hannah 08:42 As I said, I think that--that idea about what I love about it is not straightforward. So I think I would take you somewhere which perhaps reflects some of those issues for me. So just 10 minutes from my house, Exeter is surrounded by ridges. And you can walk just 10 minutes from my house up to one of the ridges past the allotments. It's called Roly Poly Hill. And there's a bridleway which is an Iron Age road. And you can stand on that road and in one direction, you can look down into the city and up to the cathedral. And then the other direction, the land falls away to just green fields and villages and woods and farms. For me, you know, living here, I love that way that the rural and the urban sort of seep together and they interact with each other. You know, just around the corner from my house there is a Gregg's but there's also Farmers Friend where you can get just about every kind of agricultural workwear you possibly might want to get. You know, it isn't straightforward. And I'm stood on that ridge, and it's precarious because I think a lot of the things that I love about that connection - between the rural and the urban and how those two things feed together - other people don't necessarily value that. As British people - because of our colonialist and industrial history - we've got a really dysfunctional relationship with land. It's not the case that everybody out there in Devon is caring for the land in a really wonderfully stewarding way. Although, there are some absolutely brilliant people. You know, it feels like a constant tussle between, you know, that consumerist capitalist model and being--we're trying to work out what it is to be indigenous to here. We're more and more hearing voices from around the world who are critical of, you know, that Western kind of thing of 'We're going to go out and take our development to you and our amazing infrastructure and our idea of economics'. And I think the Indian farmers’ protest was a brilliant example of that--of them turning around and saying 'Actually, if you want intensive farming and agribusiness that is going to wreck your soil and wreck your land and wreck your communities, you knock yourselves out. But actually, what we want here is something different'. And so that brings a question to us of what is it to be indigenous? So I feel really excited about the thought of graduates going home because I think, us as a nation, we need to wrestle with that question. Otherwise, we don't have a sustainable future on this planet at all. 

Voiceover 11:19 Thank you for listening. Join us next time for another graduate and another story. 

[Theme music]  

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