We have just had our annual dose of The Hay Festival in Wales. Our sixth year in a row. Always guaranteed to surprise, delight and challenge – you get to see a huge range of talks on virtually every subject you could hope for, given by some of the most thought-provoking, intelligent people on the planet. We always manage to cram in as many talks as we can – around six a day as they are all about an hour long, so you have to be prepared to deal with a wealth of stimulation and feel exhausted by the end of it all, going home with a head full to bursting with ideas. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and the fact that it’s far away from London and urban life helps the absorption of all those fine thoughts.
Our Team Hay 2018
We arrived on Sunday and went immediately in to see Ian McKewan, talking to Stig Bell about his writing and reading. “On Chesil Beach” has been made into a recent film (which I didn’t much love) and he also announced the winner of the 2018 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award. His advice on writing was “always turn up at your desk however you feel, as it’s always a surprise”. Sometimes for him the nugget of a book can start with just a phrase or a thought. For example, the starting point for “Nutshell” was the line “a man is upside down in a woman” that seemed to have come out of nowhere and clearly related to a foetus. He went on to write a whole book about an unborn Hamlet.
Then onto essentially a Brexit talk called “The Scramble for Europe” with Simon Schama, Helen Mountield and Maurice Gourdault-Montagne talking to Katya Adler. They all seemed hopeful that Brexit is not a done deal and Simon called for a second referendum on the basis that we didn’t know what we were voting for two years ago. He noted that there is no heroic voice in defence of liberal democracy in the UK and we need a grass roots voice. Whilst Macron is doing it, he can’t do it alone. It was agreed that Ireland may be the downfall in the negotiations, but they also discussed the alarm felt by Poland’s new judiciary laws and other members who are feeling the strain:-
I then went to a talk by Simon Armitage, the current Oxford Professor of Poetry talking about Bob Dylan and the connections and contradictions between the art of song-writing and the art of poetry but I barely understood a word – not sure why, but just didn’t really relate.
Then Goldie, talking to Gemma Cairney. This man represents the art of reinvention in so many ways. He is erudite and fascinating and when he describes culture as “doing what it says on the tin, it adapts to it’s environment”, he could be talking about himself. Formerly a Drum and Bass DJ but plays no instruments. He’s written a memoir of an extraordinary life, involving abuse, graffiti, breakdancing, gold teeth, guns, car crashes, hot yoga, absent fatherhood and reality TV. He and Gemma had a great rapport and we all came out feeling uplifted. He has found a grace and a space that works for him. He lives in Thailand with his wife and child now and does yoga and sculpture every day. He told us to go away and write a proper handwritten letter to someone you love – a surprising suggestion from one so seemingly streetwise and tough. He likes to “embrace his feminism,” he told us, just two days before he made headlines after being charged with aggression towards a bouncer at Glastonbury last year. “No man is an island, no woman is an island” he notes, reminding us that we are “already gone man, already in the past, so don’t waste it. Live in the moment – what we do today creates tomorrow”.
We then went of to find a lovely place for dinner and an early bed.
The next morning bright and early we were back in our seats for various talks. I went to a talk on The Internet: This is for Everyone? Really? A challenging and somewhat scary talk by Jamie Bartlett and Damian Tambini, moderated by Matt Stadlen. Essentially The People Vs Tech and how the internet is killing democracy. Essentially it was agreed that consumer power is the most important driver of change and that we must rise up and demand what we want. It’s all happened far too quickly and we have done it without thinking or putting any sort of structure in place. How do we take back control?
A splendid panel of women all discussed the 100 books by women that have inspired readers over the past century. A wonderful list (which they distributed so I can send to anyone who wants it):-
Edith Hall is brilliant. She’s written a book called Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life and his deepest belief was that we can all be happy in a meaningful and sustained way. A great talk.
Then we saw Tony Parsons talking to Dylan Jones about his new book “Girl of Fire”. He’s managed to reinvent himself as a crime writer after his success of “Man and Boy”
The next one we all loved – William Sieghart and his Poetry Pharmacy. He read out poems for different emotions and during the Q & A managed to find a lot of relevant ones to fit the specific audience requests. There was a lot of poetry at Hay this year – it’s definitely becoming more mainstream which is a good thing – sure Grime rap has helped bring it forward:-
We then went to see Rachel Parris who was hilarious. A young comedian who can sing and dance and really was great, we laughed throughout. I hadn’t heard of her, but I will look out for her now.
The final day we came in to see Maggie O’Farrel talking to Cathy Rentzenbrink about her new memoir “I Am, I Am, I Am” all about her 17 brushes with death – which seem far more than a normal amount of near death experiences. It was a great talk and then we rushed to get our books signed – which is one of the great pleasures to be able to meet the authors:-
Just as it is bumping into the authors during your short breaks – here is Peter Florence the man who started the event being interviewed in the grounds:-
Whilst others just enjoyed the brief sunshine – and a teeny weeny bit of music!
This was followed by a rather more heavy event on The Armistice Gala to celebrate the centenary of the Armistice of 1918. They had a number of well known poets – including Margaret Atwood who read out poems from their homelands (Germany, France, Russia, India etc) and then responded with a poem of their own. Truly magnificent. Margaret Atwood recited the one famous Canadian poem “On Flanders Fields” with closed eyes:-
Promotions were interesting for her talk on the Handmaids Tale in the area – especially when they wandered through the restaurant:-
Our final talk was to listen to Salman Rushdie talking to Tishani Doshi, a great poet, about his latest tome, described as a cross between The Great Gatsby, Bonfire of the Vanities and The Godfather – which basically suggests that it’s not going to end well. Named “The Golden House” it is a loosely veiled look at Trumpian America all about identity, freedom of speech, literature, love and death. He’s a brilliant storyteller and it made for a very interesting talk. Did you know, for example that he came up with the term “Naughty But Nice”….to do with cream buns, but he said it could just as well sum up his career:-
Then the tired little teddybears went home to their families and to get some much needed sleep!
Thank you Hay – our Hay Fever remains undiminished and we are already looking forward to next year.