I was going to ration LitFests this year after quite a disappointing round of them all last year.It all left me feeling jaded and a bit cheated.
Not wishing to be controversial or cast aspersions or insult anyone or get knee-capped, but in my very humble opinion, as a consumer rather than a provider, my extensive research seems to show that writing a great book doesn't automatically turn you into a great public speaker.Truth be told, this aspect often needs a bit of application and I'm afraid I went to some grossly under-prepared and ultimately dull and god-awful dreary events last year.
I understand it must be enormously difficult to emerge from the seclusion of writing the masterpiece and have to thrust yourself out into the world of readers.But it's not rocket science,do the rounds and promote your book to within an inch of its life but please add a bit of zing to your voice and some interest to your story because I'm travelling long distances, paying a lot of money and really looking forward to hearing you speak.
I actually also want more than to just hear you read a large chunk of your great work.I may have already loved your book or I may be about to queue at the table afterwards to buy it, so you have the god-given opportunity to win me over to anything you may ever write again in your entire life.
On the other hand all I may remember is the occasion you disappointed me so much that I may need a great deal of persuasion to read you again.
I got the distinct impression many writers found it all a bit irksome and it showed.
NB Can you tell that I've had one of those weeks at work that has involved my having to be VERY assertive with a GP? I can only apologise to any writers reading this, blame the NHS.
There are a few honourable exceptions, people who I would put myself out to listen to,
Hilary Mantel, passionate and exciting
Penelope Lively, quietly measured but hugely intelligent, well-prepared and interesting
And then there was Julia Blackburn and that memorable occasion a few years ago when she read from her biography of Billie Holiday to a background track of Billie singing.Such a simple thing to set up and as she read the shivers went down every spine in the room, acres of goosebumps and hair standing on end. You suddenly realized you were in the midst of something very special.The atmosphere was charged beyond electric, the presence of Billie in that room and the pain and the anguish of her life all palpable as Julia read and Billie sang.We all had tears streaming down our cheeks.Prior to that day I had barely taken any notice of this great singer, from that day to this I have never forgotten the power of that moment.
Ask me what I saw last year and I can barely remember.
NB Can you now tell that the District Nurses who share my office (because it all happened in front of them) made a big pot of tea and we all had a big moan together and so now I'm feeling better?
So the Hay Festival programme arrives and I flick through in a rather desultory fashion.All a bit ungrateful considering there are literally hundreds of events to choose from and I'm sure you'll all have words with me and tell me not to be so churlish and judgemental.
Isn't that all very sad for a bookaholic like me? I should have been jumping up and down with excitement but I wasn't.
While I'm in this revelatory and seeringly honest mood I might as well own up, I really don't enjoy the Hay Festival tented venue, it doesn't have the soul that I have found at other LitFests (goodness I can hear the hit being taken out on me right now)
Far too much canvas.
You all know how I hate anything that makes me think I'm camping.Tents and marquees have a gloom and a smell of their own, the sight of a guy rope gives me the heebie jeebies, makes me feel depressed.I associate it all with latrines and burnt baked beans.
But I suppose Hay is do-able in a day from here.Early start, lovely drive up via Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley. Bookhound's speciality LitFest picnic in a field and a wander round the bookshops.Can't all be bad and eventually I capitulated, because I found a couple of potential gems in the programme.
We'll drive home very late but Bookhound says that's alright, we're grown ups so no one will tell us off.