Ellie's second report from the Hay Fesitival is crammed with amazing events, so if it's raining where you are perhaps just pretend you are in a deckchair and why not tag along. My thanks to Ellie again for doing this and with apologies for the belated posting (where do the weeks go?)
Blusteryness gave way to warm sunshine for a couple of days, before bad weather returned and it has rained heavily on and off for several days and been cold. It was quite noisy at times if you happened to be in an event tent during a shower. Thank heavens for the covered walk-ways!
After a couple of days we soon learned the ropes of Hay. When and where to queue for the different venues, and which area of seating to aim for. Most of the events start and end at the same time to avoid overlaps, which means that there's a crowd surge when all the venues empty. Picking the right exit to your venue can help avoid the worst bottle necks!
Comedian Marcus Brigstocke played the largest venue on the first Sunday night introducing his own version of the 'Big Society' with his sharp satire. He also poked fun at festival goers who like to be seen reading a certain book but are actually peering over the top to check that people have noticed them! Our sides ached from over an hour of solid laughter!
Monday morning saw politician Jack Straw getting a grilling from the festival's interviewer, Peter Florence. A fascinating figure whose humble beginnings set him apart from many of his political contempories, and an unhappy childhood that sent him to seek comfort from books, Straw was Foreign Secretary at the time of the war in Iraq. The subject of the 'dodgy dossier' about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction came up several times. Hans Blix, who had headed up the UN weapons monitoring and inspection body at that time had been at Hay the day before, and many members of the audience had seen him so questions kept coming back to that subject. As Peter Florence said to Straw "this was never going to be an easy book tour for you".
Such was the popularity of American writer Barbara
Kingsolver that she got bumped up to a bigger venue.
She has long been one of my favourite authors, and I have returned to her novel Bean Trees many times, and enjoyed her subsequent books. She was a delight - warm and funny, elegant and charming she spoke about the climate change theme of her current novel Flight Behaviour. She uses her background as a scientist to inform the novel and believes we are all in denial (she quoted country singer Pam Tillis's hit 'Cleopatra, Queen of Denial') about climate change, and are in danger of throwing our good life away through our abuse of our planet. She spoke about how the first sentence of the novel is important and makes a promise that the rest of the novel must keep. By reading a novel you remove yourself from your everyday life and experience life in a different way - through another's eyes. Most sessions at Hay are followed by a book signing. I had been anxious not only to buy the novel, but also to get my old battered copy of Bean Trees signed. My books are still packed so that meant going through several boxes of 'US female fiction' frantically trying to find it. I was booked to see Roger McGough immediately after the session though and I had to make a choice - whether to combat massive signing queues myself and miss the first part of the next session, or to send Adrian to meet Barbara. As it turned out he had come with me to the event and was happy to meet her and get both books signed.
It was a tough call as I would have loved to have met her too, but Roger McGough's performance was incredible. His voice is so familiar from Radio 4's 'Poetry Please' programme and of course poetry is best served out loud so to hear him read his own work was a joy. He has a very entertaining way of turning words and meanings around to capture the essence of an everyday truth. Adrian doesn't particularly 'do' poetry so wasn't joining me for this one, but I know he would have enjoyed it if he had.
I enjoyed a joint session with Maggie O'Farrell, another favourite writer, who appeared alongside Rupert Thompson, who I knew nothing about, but to whom I warmed immediately. I'm now itching to read his novel 'Secrecy' set in post-Renaissance Florence. The interviewer was scarcely needed as there was a good rapport between the two writers with some insights into their process aired. No neatly planned plotlines here, both writers shared what Maggie described as her very organic approach... well actually chaotic. The works evolve gradually almost as a sculptor creates from a piece of stone, but with many redrafts. Maggie O'Farrell held up her reading copy of her new novel 'Instructions for a Heatwave' and showed all her annotations. Words and phrases she wished she'd used, and those she wished she hadn't. No novel was ever perfect, otherwise you wouldn't need to write the next one.
Paul Roberts is the force behind the new blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum on Pompeii and Herculaneum. We visited both of these sites in the shadow of Vesuvius on our travels and were looking forward to rekindling our memories and finding out more. It was a fascinating illustrated account including behind the scenes views of the huge store rooms of artefacts in Naples he accessed for exhibits and how they were transported to London. The focus is on the ordinary people who were caught up in the aftermath of this devastating eruption and what has been discovered about their lives, and he really brought this to life in a very entertaining and easy to understand way, warning the audience to 'brace, brace' whenever he was about to show a slide of one of the more explicit objects of Roman life. He struck a chord with us when he was asked about the effects of mass-tourism. It is the cruise groups that have the greatest negative effects - so many people passing so quickly through, but it's the tourist euros that help fund further excavations and maintenance of the sites. And although he couldn't answer the little boy's question about exactly when Vesuvius would erupt again, a major eruption is apparently long long overdue.
I'm in awe of speakers like Paul Roberts who can entertain and inform holding their audience for a whole hour without a script, make perfect sense and not lose their thread. Linguistics guru David Crystal was another one. His new book is about the history of English spelling, very much my area of interest (yet another of them!). He looked at how our words have evolved to be spelled as they are today, the influences and the way the language is continuing to evolve.
There's so much to report on and I don't want to invade Lynne's blog indefinitely so I'll quickly mention that Ruby Wax, who completed a Masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy last year spoke inspiringly and with her trademark humour about her own mental ill-health with Rosie Boycott. We also went to a panel session with war writers, most memorably Paul Conroy who was with Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times in a besieged town in Syria when Marie tragically lost her life. He spoke movingly of this experience and was obviously still recovering from being wounded himself. There was a wine tasting with Simon Hoggart - with anecdotes about life being too short to drink bad wine. Liebfraumilch was mentioned at least once! And the wines (not at all bad) we tasted were served to a large audience by the ever-efficient Hay volunteer stewards who contribute to all aspects of keeping the festival so slickly smooth-running.
After several days of bleak weather, and one day when some
of the car parks were closed due to the rain, the weekend grew closer and
promised a reprieve and we saw the sun again.
Umbrellas were exchanged for boaters and wellies for sandals as the temperatures and everyone's spirits rose again. The deckchairs had dried off and were in use again...
In danger of overload, so many events in a short period of time on top of a tiring move, we still had a session on green building, featuring among others Ben Law (he of the famous Grand Designs wooden house) and our last event - comedian Jo Brand to go. Then Adrian spotted a blackboard notice that Cerys Matthews would be doing an impromptu performance recording at The Daily Telegraph's stand the next day at noon. He asked about it, and no, no need to book, it wasn't ticketed. Just turn up. We arrived at five to noon expecting a crowd, but there were just a few people milling about and playing chess in the drawing room atmosphere of the stand. Yes, Cerys was coming and sure enough after a short wait she arrived and urged everyone present to make themselves at home on the sofas and comfy chairs, as she checked her guitar tuning.
What we didn't realise was that she has just brought out an anthology book of songs: nursery rhymes, childhood favourites, folk songs with a bit about their origins. She started by playing Baa baa black sheep urging old and young alike to sing along. She dipped into her book and played for us for about 40 minutes and we still can't quite get over that we were in on such a joyful interlude singing with a major star. A highlight of Hay!
Eventually it was time for us to drive back down to Hay festival one last time to see Jo Brand. A great end to a hectic ten days with lots of thoughts, ideas and impressions, chance conversations and catch ups with friends still whirring in our minds, and new books to read of course. And no longer any excuses keeping us from getting on with sorting out our new house and garden.