RSS

Tag Archives: Hay-on-Wye

142. Why on Hay…

142. Why on Hay…
May 2015 saw me return to my favourite book-hunting reserve, the incredible Hay-on-Wye literature festival, (or, as one comedian present put it, book festival. When challenged that it was actually a literature festival, he asked: “What’s the difference?!” No response was forthcoming…)
 .
Hay is possibly the largest festival of its kind in the world, and the place I fly to from anywhere in the world to spend two weeks in May any year which doesn’t contain a World Cup.
IMG_5970
.
I returned to my role as a smiling, ticket-ripping, joke-cracking, child-entertaining, direction-giving, little-sleeping, yellow-jacketed volunteer, and this year I did it whilst camping in a nearby field, to save money on the scarce accommodation in this tiny Welsh village. I have barely camped since I was an 11-year-old boy scout, and was amazed at the new-fangled tents they have invented which turn from the size of a plate into a rain-proof cocoon with the flick of a wrist: it always took us Boy Scouts three hours, several broken tent poles (stop snickering at the back…), and the tents rarely lasted the night. Aaaaahh, technology…
.
.
IMG_5988
.
Anyway, enough reminiscing! This is about BOOKS, and this year’s festival saw me take in 56 events from my privileged position, (from authors to comedians, from actors to musicians from around the world), save hundreds of pounds in entrance fees, and then spend most of those saved pounds in the festival bookshop, (where my bill was surprisingly under £200, thanks to both a propensity for paperbacks this year, and a staff discount).
.
IMG_6052
IMG_6167IMG_6140
.
2015 was a year of anniversaries, and we were treated to talks on Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo (200 years ago this year); the Battle of Agincourt, (a six-century old confrontation between Britain and France which gave us Shakespeare’s ‘band of brothers’ and the famous British V-sign); and a guest appearance by one of the most important pieces of paper in world history, the eight-hundred-year-old Magna Carta, which restricted the powers of British Kings and was admired and adapted around the world, from France to the US Constitution.
.
.
Old favourites are starting to become slightly too regular at Hay, (I was barely shaking when I met Stephen Fry again this year, and I’m starting to nod to journalist and book-machine Jon Ronson as if we’re old friends…although I’m pretty sure he is wondering why some strange guy keeps nodding at him), and the early days were just as much about the special events than the authors.
.
IMG_5993 IMG_6023 IMG_6014
Jude Law joining a host of actors to read from Unbound’s wonderful ‘Letters of Note‘ was a highlight, and I finally got to meet poet and comedian extraordinaire Tim Key, (aka Alan Partridge’s new sidekick), at a surreal last-minute comedy event which left the audience partly amused and mainly bemused).
.
IMG_5981
IMG_5985
.
However, towards the end of the week came a day which could have been arranged just for me: after meeting Kazuo Ishiguro the day before, I had the joy of seeing two events each by two of my favourite authors, the ever-wonderful Neil Gaiman, (whom I later saw whilst invited briefly backstage to the Green Room and used my entire life-supply of willpower to not hassle: seriously, if you want to ask me to do anything, now is the time, I have zero willpower left), and my new Man Crush, David Mitchell.
.
IMG_6078
As if this wasn’t enough, Neil had brought along his heavily talented and equally heavily pregnant wife, Amanda Palmer, who was promoting her new book on ‘The Art Of Giving.‘ Her session featured several ukulele songs which actually brought me to tears not once but twice, first for its sadness, and in the very next song for its sheer joy.
(I almost cried again when I discovered after the talk that, not only was I sitting behind Mr.Gaiman, I had failed to realise that he was sitting next to Pink Floyd frontman David Gilmour. Mainly because I didn’t know what he looked like).
.
.
Promoting his new book ‘The Bone Clocks,’ David Mitchell gave a fascinating talk in the face of a less-than probing interview, eyes lighting up as he gave the most stirring description of the beauty of language I have ever heard from a writer. His evening event, a midnight reading of an as-yet-unpublished ghost story, (now very much published, ‘Slade House‘), was so late that it gave me and some fellow volunteers (and fans) the chance to monopolise him at the after-event signing, (as we were the only ones who hung around for it).
.
IMG_6108
We got to reminisce about life in Japan, and my new friend Hannah caused such jealousy with the dedication he had written in her book that we invented a new sport: Competitive Signing, (much approved of by his agent), which saw me buying extra copies which the incredibly affable author was happy to inventively deface for me.
.
Take that, Hannah, with your one-line dedication…
.
From popular philosophy to sports psychology, ‘young adult‘ fiction to Nobel Prize-winning economics, yet again Hay gave me a reason to lie awake in a freezing field at 4am and to take all the abuse an entitled retired soldier can throw at me for allowing another line to enter a venue thirty seconds before his.
.
And, of course, I will be back in 2016…
.
IMG_6030
.
.
Some things I learned, some quotes I heard, and some ideas I wrote down for you at this year’s Festival:
.
British National Treasure, new hipster-beard-wearer and philosopher AC Grayling‘s advice for being a good teacher: “Nothing beats the combo of ignorance and enthusiasm!”
.
80 people own the same wealth as half of the world, and 1% of the population will own half of the world’s wealth by 2016.
.
Classic British girls’ magazine ‘Jackie’ was named after the hugely successful kids’ author Jacqueline Wilson, who was the youngest contributor to it when it was founded.
.
Colm Toibín’s stunning short story ‘Mary‘ on the Virgin after the death of her son was originally a play, but when it ended after a few weeks he wanted it to be more permanent.
.
Kazuo Ishiguro used to believe that authors peaked in their mid 40’s, the literature equivalent of a football player dropping back to midfield, putting their foot on the ball and pointing a lot. Now he’s older, though, he’s not sure he agrees with the thesis…
.
An unforgettable line from Jude Law, during a reading of the war-time letters of lovers from ‘My Dear Bessie‘:  “Ooooooh, I wish I were a brassiere…”
.
Author, comedian and political genius Sandy Toksvig’s father used to refer to literary editing as ‘filleting’!
 .
Toksvig again on the democratic origins of the USA, the Mayflower Compact, signed in 1620  by 41 men…on a boat of 110 people!!
.
One more reminiscence from Sandy who informed an infatuated audience of 1,700 people that when at boarding school in Guildford, Surrey, students were allowed to go to the High Street everySaturday…but only to the left-hand side. No further details were provided…
.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks postulated that in Britain, we have removed nationalism as a relevant, acceptable sentiment since the wars, but not replaced it with anything, and hence religion has filled the vacuum. Who has managed to create a valid, modern British patriotism, he asks? Danny Boyle at the Olympic opening ceremony.
.
In an early-morning, two-hour lecture on ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I learned that the lovers share a sonnet in the scene when they first kiss: an alternating dance of lines entwining in poetry their sentiments, ending:
.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take…
.
Alice in Wonderland,’ one of my all-time favourites, was revealed to be a story shot through with one of the obsessions of the Victorian times: classifications. “What are you?” Alice is asked so often.
.
The same talk yielded this wonderful quote: “They kept a family newspaper, as so many Victorian children did…”
.
Cedric Vilani, a real-life French version of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka, informed his audience that acfordin tot he Wall Street Journal, in both 2009 and 2014 he worked in the number one job field in the world: mathematician.
.
Neil Gaiman, promoting his gorgeous Sleeping Beauty sequel ‘The Sleeper And The Spindle,’ illustrated by Chris Riddell, brought the shocking news that not only was Cinderella originally a Chinese tale, (who else cared so much about foot size, as he points out?), it was only when it was imported to France that the original fur slipper, (made of ‘vair’), may have become glass (or ‘verre’).
.
Resident comedian Marcus Brigstocke won my award for funniest and simultaneously most offensive comment of the Festival when he announced that “…Australia is just South Africa where the white people won… “
.
Former Scottish leader Alex Salmond seemed relieved to be out of politics and to announce with brutal honesty, in response to a question of why British PM David Cameron gave in to so many of his referendum demands: “He’s no very bright… “
.
(I also learned from this last day talk that in a referendum it is essential to be on the yes side:  people respond instinctively toto positivity, apparently. Although not quite enough to win Scotland independence.)
.
Finally, one of my all-time favourite trivia facts was revealed by the clever elves behind BBC’s wonderful game show QI:  Noah’s ark didn’t actually contain two of all animals, but had seven of all clean (i.e. kosher) animals, and just two of the rest.
.
If facts like that don’t make you want to join me next year, I am truly astonished that you made it to the end of this blog!
.
IMG_6095
.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 1, 2015 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

36. Books Bought & Read, July 2012…

36. Books Bought & Read, July 2012…

Books Bought, July 2012

A Short History Of Wine,Rod Phillips

Westminster,” Malcolm Day

Shakespeare’s London,” Malcolm Day

Priceless,” Robert.K.Wittman

The Wicked Wit Of Winston Churchill,” ed. Dominique Enwright 

Suddenly, A Knock At The Door,” Etgar Keret

Alice In Wonderland/Alice’s Adventures Through The Looking Glass,” Lewis Carroll

Tim The Tiny Horse At Large,” Harry Hill

Take The Cannoli,” Sarah Vowell

Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Gorgeous Georgians,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Measly Middle Ages,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Barmy British Empire,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Cut-Throat Celts,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Smashing Saxons,” fishTerry Deary & Martin Brown

If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One,” Stewart Lee

Only Revolutions,” Mark.Z.Danielowski

Mr.Gum: 8 book box set,” Andy Stanton

There’s Probably No God: an atheist’s guide to christmas,” ed.Adriane Sherin

Breakfast At The Wolseley,” A.A.Gill

 

Books Read, July 2012

Grantland No.2,” ed. McSweeney’s

Taking Chances,” John Haigh

The Football Men,” Simon Kuper

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” Nathan Englander

Boris’s London,” Boris Johnson

Westminster,” Malcolm Day

Shakespeare’s London,” Malcolm Day

A Short History of Wine,” Rod Phillips

Proust and the Squid,” Maryanne Wolf

Suddenly, A Knock At The Door,” Etgar Keret

Take The Cannoli,” Sarah Vowell

Tim The Tiny Horse At Large,” Harry Hill

If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One,” Stewart Lee

The Wicked Wit Of Winston Churchill,” ed. Dominique Enwright 

Breakfast At The Wolseley,” A.A.Gill

Horrible Histories: Gorgeous Georgians,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Measly Middle Ages,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Barmy British Empire,” Terry Deary & Martin Brown

Jerusalem,” Guy Delisle

 

Twenty books bought, nineteen read: at this rate, I’ll never catch up on all of the books I have to read, but it’s even worse than it first appears: one of those listed is a box-set of my favourite ‘kids’ book series, Mr.Gum, consisting of eight books, meaning this was really a 27-book month. Although I’ve already read three of them, and the same goes for the Alice books, which I couldn’t resist as I found them in a gorgeous edition, (I think this is the third Alice I now own).

So, we’ll call it a score draw for the month.

The most interesting feature of this month’s reading was probably that I had managed to get so many reviews written for some of the books in this blog: the Keret, the Vowell and the Wolf on short stories, American essays and the science of reading were all featured in recent posts, and one quarter of the quartet of comedy books I blogged a while ago was a tome by Stewart Lee, who I finally got around to seeing live in London, and subsequently picked up a signed book I hadn’t read for my best friend, who is a big fan of his. Seemed rude not to read it first, just to make sure he would enjoy it…

I discovered another fount of kids’ history books which I picked up, although I think I know all I need to about London history for my tours now, so I only actually read two of them. I topped them up with Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s amusing book on some of the figures who have made the capital what it is, (a copy picked up in Hay which, being signed, was not allowed to leave the hallowed confines of My Bedroom).

I think I’ll save the quotes for the next blog: for now, just know that I struggled through the wine history for far longer than I like to be reading a book for, (especially a book as dry, ironically, as this one); flew through the Grantland and short stories of Englander and Keret; finished off a soon-to-be blogged trio of football books with the excellent ‘Football Men’; and regressed with two comic books, the one a surreal tale of a sugar-lump sized horse by English comedian Harry Hill, and the other a fascinating look at the complications behind life as an ex-pat in Jerusalem by the world-roving Quebecois graphic novelist Guy Delisle. In case you were looking for something good to read this week…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 28, 2012 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

24. Hay-on-Wye sandwich

24. Hay-on-Wye sandwich

Preview of the 2012 Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival

Exactly a decade of years ago, I had the fortune to be between countries for the summer and managed to land the most perfect pair of jobs in Oxford: working in a homemade ice-cream shop during the days, and serving cocktails in a restaurant in the evenings. However, the moment my good friend Jess invited me to come and help out with a little project, I quit both jobs and the City of Spires and jumped on a train to the Welsh border fast enough to leave Wile.E.Coyote dust marks in my wake.

Jess was interning at the 2002 Hay-on-Wye literature festival, a festival of books, authors and thought which has been running since 1988 and has exploded from a tiny local event to a worldwide phenomena: there are offshoot festivals in eight different countries now, from Kenya to Colombia, and authors are joined by politicians, Presidents, comedians, actors, musicians, Nobel laureates and around 85,000 visitors for the Welsh edition alone.

Arriving early to hang out at the festival back in 2002, (which had expanded to be taking place largely in the local primary school, rather than the smaller fire station, apparently), I was luckily enough to offer my services as a jack-of-all-trades, planting flowers around the grounds and helping to set up the on-site bookshop, as well as discovering the joys of being a steward: a bright orange vest, the chance to interact with the visitors, and free entry to any event I wanted to attend. My suitcase on leaving was stuffed full of books, most of them signed by the likes of Paolo Coehlo and Philip Pullman.

Somehow, it took me nine years until I made it back there, and how things had changed: a new sponsor, (from the left-wing Guardian newspaper to the right-wing Telegraph, aka The Torygraph), a new purpose-built site, and a lot more seriousness (and security!) meant that showing up a few days before the festival started and wandering around the site offering my services led to security escorting me off the premises, rather than a chance to help run things. Still, I got accepted to be a steward again, and even landed a job showing people how to use iBooks, which not only subsidised my week of book binging but also allowed me to wander around with a brand new iPad 2 for the duration of the festival, (although promises that I would be able to keep it after the job had finished proved…what’s a polite word for lies? non-forthcoming, perhaps…)

After almost a decade absence, I was determined to make it back-to-back visits, and from Thursday May 31st I will return to the place reputed to have the highest bookshop to resident ratio in the world, (one bookshop for every 36 residents, since you ask, although I’m not sure if the fact that it only has 1,900 people living there makes its 30+ bookshops less impressive, or more: the town also boasts a ‘King,’ but that’s another matter).

Highlights for me this year? There are always unknown, unexpected highlights, (last year including the movie premier of the amazing youtube clip compilation ‘Life in a Day,’ the appearances of Her Maj Camille Barker-Powles, and the less-than royal mastermind of wikileaks Julian Assange), but there are several appearances already circled in my Hay 2012 program vigorously enough to almost go through the paper:

STEPHEN FRY! After years of begging Jess to book him for me to see at Hay, she has come through this year. I may already have paid too much to see him at the Royal Albert Hall this year, and waited an hour afterwards in the freezing London cold to get my copy of ‘The Liar‘ signed, but this would surely be a highlight of anyone’s festival.

-SALMAN RUSHDIE! I have no idea if he is still under the fatwa, but I can safely say he’s not in hiding anymore, (unless he is presuming that Muslim extremists either don’t read The Daily Telegraph or refuse to visit Eastern Wales for some reason). ‘Midnight’s Children‘ remains in my Top 10 of all-time favourite books, (although anyone who knows me will realise that my Top 10’s can often consist of dozens of items!), and having read the majority of his back catalogue, I can’t wait to meet the wordsmith.

-IAN MCEWAN! One thing I remember about the first festival I attended was how Ian McEwan was there every day, even when he wasn’t giving a talk, and he was held up as a prime example of how relaxed an atmosphere Hay creates, a place where even writers go to relax. I didn’t know his work at the time, but ten years later I’ve rarely read a work by him which I haven’t enjoyed, (although I’ve found his more recent work a little too self-referential than his more enjoyable, varied earlier novels…why are so many of his books about writers?!?).

TERRY PRATCHETT!!! This is a biggie. Upon recently picking up one of the more recent Discworld novels, I was disappointed that it wasn’t the literary masterpiece I’d found it when I was twelve, but he was still a major part of my childhood reading life, as well as collaborating with Neil Gaiman on the excellent ‘Good Omens‘. It also promises to be emotionally and intellectually fascinating, as I’m certain Alzheimer’s and his decision to carry out assisted suicide will be a major part of his talk. Is it bad that my main question is whether or not he will be well enough to sign books?

Other encircled authors range; from A.A.Gill to War Horse author Michael Morpurgo; bad-boy Martin Amis to good-boy Michael Frayn; Louis de Bernieres to Wild Swan Jung Chan; Curious Dog Mark Haddon to DNA Nobel laureate James Watson; and too many more to mention, from Mayors to musicians, (did anyone else know that Harry Belafonte was still alive?!). The comic element will be provided by two of my favourites, Bill Bailey and Jack Dee, amongst others.

Who wants to join me?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 27, 2012 in BOOKS

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,