Hay Festival is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. If you have never been, you are missing out on the best literary festival. Hay is set in a quaint little town in Wales called Hay-on-Wye and is sponsored by Telegraph Books. I’ve only had the honor of going the past 3 years and I still kick myself for not going sooner.
Each year, the line up grows with bigger and bigger names, but the ethos stays the same. Everyone is invited (both authors and participants), regardless of your background. Literary festivals have a stigma attached (right or wrong) that only scholars with patches on elbows should attend. This breaks all stereotypes. For one, patches are often replaced with mac and wellies.
First event was on Friday when Charlotte and I went to HayFestival to see Michael Morpurgo. This was a delicate subject as Charlotte really didn’t want to go as she read Morpurgo at 5 was put off by his descriptive emotional scene. Although she liked the play War Horse, she refused to read the book. Even at school, she wouldn’t read his books. I knew I had to change that and knew/hoped seeing him would make a difference. And it did.
We saw Michael twice on the day, one event which was free as long as you showed your library card as Michael and everyone at Hay are HUGE Libraries supporters. After the event there was even a collection for libraries. There were many passionate pleas from Michael related to the importance of saving libraries. ‘Closing 600 libraries – slashing a child’s right to education… HOW DARE THEY!’
“Close down a library and you cut children off from the oxygen of enlightenment.”
After the first event, Charlotte was able to meet him. This was a changing moment for Charlotte as she promptly went to the book shop and bought one of his books. We then heard him talk again when he was in conversation with his biographer and Peter Florence. This was a very touching event in which you learned more about the author, at some points you felt you were learning things with him.
We left Day One at Hay on a huge positive, and couldn’t wait for Day Two.
Unfortunately, Charlotte wasn’t well so I went to HayFestival on my own. However, you’re never really alone at HayFestival. I first went to Sky Book Show with guest Boris Johnson, Hilary Mantel and Tim Minchin (one show alone). Tim Minchin sung ‘When I Grow Up’ from Matilda and I found myself (never hearing it before) foot tapping along and wanting to immediately download the album. For me, Tim Minchin’s brilliance was highlighted when he spoke of the honest thoughts his wife had when he was asked to work on Matilda. His wife said something along the lines of ‘Couldn’t they get a real composer to do it?’ He referred to his lack of degree and the feeling of insecurity on talking on a subject when others are better. Think there are a lot of people (myself included) that can relate to that feeling. I didn’t ‘get’ Tim Minchin before, but I do now.
I then went to hear Hilary Mantel (who I’ve shamelessly never read) talk about her books. This is one of the brilliant aspects of Hay Festival, although I avoided Wolf Hall because it was history related (history and I don’t get along) I’m now thirsting to read it as listening to her made me realize I judged the book by the cover. She was asked about her feelings about one particular character and she simply replied:
‘The important thing to remember is the characters don’t know how the book ends.’~ Hilary Mantel
During the conversation with Peter Florence, the audience were allowed to ask questions.
Question: If Cromwell was alive today what would he be doing?
Hilary Mantel: He’d be a banker. (We’re in Barclays Pavilion!)
After listening to Hilary, I quickly made my way to listen to Boris Johnson talk. Talk about two different ends of the spectrum. While Hilary was interesting to listen to on one level, Boris was interesting to listen to on a different level. You sat there never knowing where his conversation was going to take you. You almost felt sorry for his advisors, they must be on edge at all times. Boris reminds me a lot of George W. Bush. Boris-ism were unlimited in his talk. Too many to record really! Boris was there to talk about his new book Johnson’s of London.
When asked if he has Prime Minister goals, Boris Johnson replied ‘It’s about as realistic as being decapitated by a Frisbee.’
When asked his thoughts on Greece, he (controversy) stated that Greece should pull out of the Euro now.
In between the shows, I noticed Oliver Jeffers was drawing on a big mural. I went over to have a look and met up with Rose (Bookeating_Girl) who I follow on twitter but never met. She was with Oliver and explained the mural was being created to be donated to raise money for Hay Festival charity. When I went over, it was Axel Scheffler adding a Gruffalo to a Huey (yes, it was as surreal as it sounds). Basically, they were trying to round up authors/illustrators to create a Huey (related to Oliver’s new book). I happened to see Pete Lord Aardman while I was in the bookshop and asked him to take part. Where else, other than Hay Festival, could you go up to Pete Lord Aardman and randomly ask a strange request? (Don’t answer than…)
It was then time for the Hamlin Lecture with Harry Belafonte. This was a truly and deeply touching conversation when we learned about the troubled childhood, distant father, turbulent relationship with his mother and brother … and the drive to work hard. You found yourself on the edge of your seat, waiting for his next words to flow out. It was hard to listen to the struggle he, and other Black families, had to go through. I’m embarrassed America was like that and grateful I was brought up not to see color.
Harry Belafonte talked about his struggle to help change society but keeping to his own values and not selling out. It must have been so difficult to have such a weight on his shoulder.
We are the gate keepers of truth. Purpose of art is to show life as it should be. ~ Harry Belafonte
As I was coming out of the Hamlin Lecture, I happened to run into Mr and Mrs Peter Lord Aardman again. I asked (after promising I wasn’t stalking them!) if they managed to get to Oliver’s mural. They hadn’t but after a quick stop for ice cream, went straight there.
I left Hay Festival still trying to process everything that had happened in that one day.
That’s what Hay is like – it’s giving you so much and you don’t always realize it until long after the day.
The following day, it was back to Hay with Michael and Charlotte. I again had tickets to Sky Book Show. Michael and Charlotte soon recognized that I was lost in the zone of Hay again so after they had a look around the festival, they took the shuttle bus into town. While they both also love Hay, they get something different out of it compared to me – and that’s ok!
After meeting up with a few new friends, and checking up on the Oliver Jeffers mural, I went to see the Review Show. I hadn’t planned on attending this event but it was there and I thought ‘Why not.’ I didn’t stop laughing for the whole hour! I still don’t know who the people were (my lack of knowledge shining here) but you didn’t have to – another reason to love Hay. It introduces you to new people you might not have known before. I’m now going to book tickets to see the Review Show for next year.
Although it sounds like I was back to back events, I also had time to visit the HayFever section (for kids) and of course, the gorgeous Wiggled Garden which shown brightly in the field despite the rain. Heather and her team again put on a fabulous interactive display for everyone to enjoy.
Then it was time to see Oliver Jeffers. While the age group was for 5+, we thoroughly enjoyed his event as he talked about his new book and how he comes up with ideas. Oliver didn’t use an easel with paper, but an iPad with an app. It was interesting to see that the kids didn’t seem to notice the difference at all. During Q&A, a kid asked ‘What does Batman do.’ I do believe that has to be the best question ever asked at Hay or any other festival for that matter!
Hayfestival is running for another week. We’re heading back this Friday for one last day.
Hay is something that everyone should attend at least once. They operate with a group of fabulous stewards who make you feel like you’re their only participant. They work long hours (before, during AND after the event!) but all seem to truly love what the do. Talking to a few of them, you realize they have helped for 5, 8, 17+ years.
Hay is raising a lot of money for charity too. Some of the ones I’ve seen were for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Saving Libraries both incredibly dear to my heart.
Happy 25th Anniversary to Hay Festival and a huge well done to Peter Florence and everyone involved in keeping this vital literary festival going. Thank you for keeping the spark of reading and books alive to so many kids (of all ages).
Today, June 8th, Charlotte and I went to Hay Festival again. It’s been raining all week and we were warned the weather caused havoc with the parking. We thought we left in time but country roads lead to country issue – like cows crossing the road.
We eventually got there but were too late to see Jacqueline Wilson. We decided to get in line to wait for an autograph instead (we were first – hooray!). This is the best part… As we were first, and for some reason there was no one else behind us at the time Jacqueline had a lovely conversation with Charlotte. We explained the issue and said we had seen her talk several times before so while annoyed, it wasn’t the end of the world. Jacqueline asked C if she had any questions and C said no because you answered my question about the jewelry before. Jacqueline said ‘In that case…’ and she took one of her rings off and told Charlotte to try it on – this is very rare! C had her picture taken with the ring still on and we left feeling very surreal – did that really just happen??
So we drove over 100 miles for C to wear a ring. And it was TOTALLY worth it. Thanks Hay Festival!