I am having a rest from literary festivals this year, so I am very grateful to Ellie, my Wherevertheroadgoes Colourboration friend, now back from world travels and settling into her new home just a few miles from Hay on Wye, and this week our occasional roving reporter at the 2013 Hay Literary Festival. I fear for a book-loving friend living in such close proximity to a town with eleventyzillion bookshops, but the Hay Festival attracts the big names so needs must, and I am excited to see who Ellie will be listening to. As I always say, I know it can be an extra burden to take notes at these events, and then have to write them up too, so double thanks to Ellie and her partner Adrian for taking the time and trouble to share it all with us for free, as we sit in our armchairs (well I am) and leave them to cope with the parking and the muddy fields and the queues.
Notes from a blustery first couple of days at Hay
Once we knew we were moving to within a stone's throw of Hay-on-Wye, our aim was to be in our new home in time for the festival. We managed it by the skin of our teeth! So driving the four miles there, and crossing from England into Wales, we had to pinch ourselves to make sure it wasn't just a dream. Hay Festival is a huge affair located on fields just on the edge of town. We were greeted by sunshine interspersed with cold blustery winds and sharp showers, and I imagined the festival area might be exposed and prone to mud, but it's a beautifully constructed village of substantial marquees surrounded and interlinked by covered walkways, with shops and eateries inbetween.
The girl at the box office exclaimed over the number of tickets she was printing out for us. I did rather splurge as there is so much choice with more than 400 events, not just literary ones but music, comedy, current affairs and much more. Some very big names and so very hard to choose.
Illustrator Sir Quentin Blake, recently turned 80, gave the Hay lecture, our first event.
Entitled 'In and out of the book: the uses of illustration', he touched on the importance of visual as well as verbal language in childhood. He also described just some of his many famous characters and his memorable work with Roald Dahl - in particular Matilda.
What I found most fascinating were his words about his recent work providing illustrations for hospital wards - a maternity unit and an eating disorders clinic. With a scant brief he spent time talking with patients and went on to produce illustrations to reassure and comfort them with his parallel worlds. An eating disorders patient feeds sparrows on her window ledge, a mother and baby swim through the air - meeting each other and bonding for the first time.
At the end of the lecture someone announced that Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were in the festival bookshop. We had no idea they would be visiting, although we had wondered about quite a high police presence, including sniffer dogs. We managed to catch sight of them before they were whisked away.
Explorer and co-founder of Survival International Robin Hanbury Tenison talked about his photographs taken on his earliest expeditions in the 50s and 60s, a time when many tribal populations in the world had had very little contact with westerners and their worlds were far less exploited by governments and mass tourism. This struck a chord with our memories of recent travels where it's often hard to photograph local people without them either refusing or over-posing. He had considered the photos purely snaps taken long ago and forgotten about until someone asked him about them. This glimpse into a lost world gave some remarkably tender and natural portrayals that reminded me of Quentin Blake's work for the hospital settings mentioned above.
Rob Hopkins discussed the transition movement - something we didn't know too much about and it was inspiring to learn how people just getting together can bring about real positive changes in their community. Something that we will be thinking more about now we've moved to the country.
We were so disappointed that Sandi Toksvig couldn't appear as planned alongside John McCarthy, but he gave a moving account of his journey to meet Palestinians and his book about their story. One questioner asked about the language barrier and how John could trust the truth of what he was being told. He admitted that he does have to rely on interpretors, but when an old man with tears rolling down his face shows him the ancient olive trees that have been torn up across his land to build the separation wall, there is no doubting the veracity of the story being shared.
Between events, we found the tapas bar, providing wine, beer and delicious eats from Spain with friendly aplomb. I feel sure we will be haunting this stall in the days to come to catch up with friends! There are also lots of other tempting food places and of course the bookshops themselves are a tempting draw.
Rokia Traoré is a stunningly beautiful Malian singer songwriter who played the Wales Stage with her band and just got better and better. There are several Malian acts appearing at Hay, the town is twinned with Timbuktu and launched a charity Hay2Timbuktu to fund development projects there. Following the recent troubles in Mali, their support is needed even more. Rokia's music is a mix of western rock and African rhythms and this tiny woman had people of all ages dancing in the aisles. We held on for her encore - a moving cover of a Billie Holiday song, before rushing to see Irish singer Christie Moore. Although we missed the first song or two, his songs were as strong as ever, from rambunctious irreverent favourites, to a very poignant song about the loss of the Chinese cocklepickers at Morecambe Bay. All in his comforting lilting Irish tones like the cup of hot chocolate with a shot of brandy we warmed ourselves up with when we got home.
Looking forward to many more events from more Malian music to writers like Barbara Kingsolver, as well as more get togethers with friends, in the days to come. In the meantime we'll be trying to get more boxes unpacked, furniture arranged and the garden kept at bay in our idyllic new cottage in the few hours inbetween events!