“Imagine the world” is an exceptionally good strapline for the Hay Literary Festival. If I could abandon my real life for the full 10 days it is on, I would happily go and sit and absorb all the words both read and spoken during that time, because the sadness is that you can’t fit everyone in that you want to see. It’s like being a child in a sweet shop having to make decisions. In fact, I would even go so far to say that I would happily abandon even more of my mundane real life and travel round the world visiting all the Hay Festivals this year. Perhaps I should make that my next year’s project.
It is an extraordinary event. Wonderful to see young and old, the country and the city, right and left, all relishing the magic that comes from listening to some of the world’s most passionate advocators for change – brought together under various different tents, but ultimately in one wonderful space. We spent our time (and of course, spending simply time is a luxury in itself) being dauntingly admiring of the level of intelligence of the speakers – listening to them made us all want to run back home and change the world. It is a wonderful oasis of timelessness. Books and authors abound and whatever you are interested in you can learn about. More to the point, areas you hadn’t thought you were interested in before open up during the talks and suddenly I’m with Lynsey Addaria on one of her daring photographic assignments, or thinking of ways to help Sandi Toksvig set up her new political party, or crying with Stephen Fry. It is honestly an extraordinary place to be if you want to feel uplifted and revived.
Back in my real life with my children, it does not go quite so well. Post the Hay Festival I defy anyone to not believe that it is now their destiny to impart huge gold nuggets of information to everybody and anybody (as exuberantly as possible). I am ready to change the world. Starting with my children. We all went out for dinner – the perfect opportunity to tell them all about the alien families that sit about on the grass actually reading books together – I can’t get my children to read books, let alone with me…
So I am all excited and start the conversation trying to sound clever and engaging like all the people I’ve just been listening to – all of whom gesticulate wildly to get their points across – almost like their love of words is so great that they literally burst out of every pore. Here I give a brief summary of all of my children lumped together in one voice:-
Them: So where’ve you been again?
Me: “The Hay Festival – it was amazing – you would love it – you should all come next year
Them: “The Hay Festival? Cool!! Who was playing?”
Me: It’s a literary festival – about books and authors and stories
Them: “Books??… You’re kidding me…you went to a festival about reading – are you sure it’s not Reading? The Reading Festival, in Reading?”
Me: Nope it’s all about books
Me: Although we did see Texas and they were BRILLIANT
Them: Who’s Texas?
Me: Anyway, Stephen Fry read this incredible letter written by Armistead Maupin in 1977
Them: Vague look in their eyes, losing them – try to get them back, realise they have no clue who Armistead Maupin is although not relevant to the story
Me: I direct my conversation now to my daughter’s boyfriend who is too polite to be snorting like the others and talk to him about the Magna Carta and Oxfam and how you can fit the worlds richest people into a double decker bus (obviously using statistics I won’t bore you with as can’t quite remember, but you know the score)…
Them: Mum, nobody’s listening … can we order our starters – I’m starving…
Me: Wondering how I failed to produce children who don’t want to skip around the festival with me in order to develop a deeper understanding of humanity after every talk – where did I go wrong? It’s not as if I’m trying to get them to a craft fair…
ANYWAY – enough about my horrible children who don’t understand.
I am still feeling hugely uplifted by the whole event and don’t care that they aren’t interested, but make mental note to book that trip to dig wells ASAP. This year was better than ever because I was invited to be part of the press team which meant I had a pass and could sit on the front row for everything with my friends. Brilliant. Nothing Better. Peter Florence, director of the event is an absolute genius. He has managed to get exactly the right sort of atmosphere of relaxed intelligence and we loved every minute. It was our 4th year there and it was better than ever. For a start it didn’t rain (much) and there was no mud. So all good.
Here are some of our highlights:-
Jamie Byng, Head of Canongate books who seems to have the best ideas for producing books and introduced the Letters Live event taken from the wonderful Letters of Note:-
Stephen Fry reading “Dear Mama” (see separate post)
BUT LOOK WHO SENT ME A THANK YOU TWEET FOR WRITING ABOUT IT – SO EXCITED!!
Colm Toibin reading an unbelievably rude memo much to the delight of the children in the audience:-
Kelvin Jones sang several songs – beautiful:-
Sandi Toksvig having to avoid the lectern as she couldn’t see over the top of it:-
The whole Live Letters team:-
Kazuo Ishiguro talking to Martha Kearney about his new book called “The Buried Giant”. It’s his first novel in a decade – about lost memories, love, revenge and war…and evidently he confesses to there being ogres in it:-
Lynsey Addario talks to Rosie Boycott about her life as a frontline photographer. Her new book is called “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”. Her talk starts with the television footage announcing that she and three other journalists had been taken hostage in Libya. She was incredibly interesting to listen to, telling us about her hairdresser parents who taught her not to be judgmental. Her footage and opinions about the Iraq war, The Taliban, the countless dead in Darfur…the violence against women in the Congo, the way, as a woman she was able to gain trust and therefore access into areas not seen before owing to the deep segregation of men and women in many of the war torn zones she travelled to. Since having her child, she doesn’t put herself directly into the firing line anymore. She is now concentrating on the issue of maternal mortality and focusing on how to educate and ultimately affect policy:-
Nick Stern was brilliant and as a result I bought a book I wouldn’t otherwise have dreamt of reading called “Why Are We Waiting” The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change. Scary stuff. The science warns of the dangers of neglect, but he is encouraging about how the rapid growth in technology and economic situation means that the time is ripe to make the differences we need for the generations to come. Pointing strongly to a moral imperative for action:-
Will Hutton talked about creating a better society for all – currently we have an unequal society that we need to change. He believes that modern capitalism is not working for the masses and has many things he wants to generate people power for – including saving the BBC and London housing from foreigners:-
Our day look – getting into the spirit of the event, even if we look ridiculous – we asked a woman to take our photo and then when we offered to do one for her in return, she said “no thanks, I’m just going to take one of my children in there”…
Our slightly better night look (probably because it’s very dark) – here we are at the uber cool Groucho pop up in the castle for dinner – the bar upstairs had Jude Law and his posse for the night so happy days:-
Anyway, there were so many more events we attended – literally running from one to the next. Two of them deserve their own blog posts – I’ve already done the Stephen Fry one, so that just leaves Sandi Toksvig and then Texas to follow….