Monday, 1 June 2009

Bookarmy at Hay Literary Festival

The summer season of literary festivals is now in full swing. As you may have read on Friday’s blog entry, I escaped Bookarmy Towers and spent the day wandering around a Welsh field in the stunning late May sunshine, at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard of Hay Festival before, imagine a field full of big white tents, with a grass quad in the middle littered with people reading and lounging on deck chairs, sipping Pimms and eating strawberries against the backdrop of the beautiful Black Mountains. Idyllic.

The idea was for me to go to Hay and blog throughout the day directly from the field of white tents. However, this was hampered by a Blackberry melt-down, leaving me unable to tweet, blog or upload pictures to the site. Very annoying - next time, I’m taking an iphone. Thankfully, I was saved by the good people of Hay-on-Wye, who took pity on me as I went door to door begging for a computer and internet connection, so I was able to send back to Eilidh in the office some news and pictures –Sarah, if you are reading this, you were a saviour. Thank you very much for letting me use your computer!

If you love to read and have never been to Hay, you are missing out. As the town’s welcome sign says, Hay is a ‘town of books’, and they’re not exaggerating. Contained within this small, beautiful town, by the Wye river, together with its very own crumbling Arthurian castle, Hay boasts around 30 bookshops, some specialist, and each a unique treasure trove of wonderful books in which any bibliophile can lose themselves amongst the high shelves.

Hay Festival used to be in held in the centre of town, with venues in the castle and the local Primary school, but in recent years it has become so popular that it has moved location to a field about a kilometre out of town. This has allowed the event to grow and include music events in the evening. However, it does mean that when it rains wellies are essential; but I guess this is true of all festival-going in the UK.

The first event I booked myself into was Jacqueline Wilson. On entering the tent each of us was handed a raffle ticket. This ticket was to decide which members of the audience would be lucky enough to get their books signed. This was very necessary because two years ago at Hay, the demand for Wilson’s signature was such that she stayed in the festival bookshop for over 6 hours scribbling her name on fans’ books to avoid anyone being disappointed. What a star.

She was fantastic; engaging, in control and oozing stage presence, she told the audience about her journey to becoming one the most successful children’s writers. Did you know that she is the Jackie behind ‘Jackie magazine’? Or that, for the first 3 months of her working life, she lived in a linen cupboard in a women’s church hostel in Scotland? I did try and tweet all this from the event but I think it got lost in cyber space. (By the way, which is better, the google phone or the iphone? – all opinions gratefully received).

I gave my raffle ticket to a little girl sitting next to me whose pile of Wilson books sat so high on her lap she had difficulty seeing over the top. Sadly, my ticket wasn’t a winner and the little girl’s books remained unsigned.

I then went to a comedy current affairs event. Four comedians commenting on the top and more trivial news stories of the day, with some audience participation. I learnt a lot: Jesus showed himself in a jar of marmite, Remains of the Day is to be made into a musical, and the craze for adopting monkeys to combat ‘empty nest syndrome’ is sweeping America. Check out the stories – brilliant.

Hay is never just a place to see and hear some of the world’s greatest writers discuss, debate and illuminate their works, but as suggested by this year’s festival strap line - ‘Ideas May Blossom’ - Hay is not just a festival about books; it’s a playground for the imagination. With comedy, music, film screenings, debates about religion, science and climate change, Hay is more than a literary festival. Hay turns the private and solitary act of reading into a public, celebratory event where readers can discuss all aspects of all types of books, and connect with authors and one another; a bit like bookarmy really, but without the need for wellies and waterproofs.

Looking forward to next year already.

To listen and watch a selection of the Hay events, try clicking here and see what goodies you can find.
Posted by Hannah

No comments: