Hay festival diary: Friday

Friday: 7 AM.  Weather outlook: grim.  Bedraggled magpies dripped under inadequate shelter of garden bench.  On the festival site, tented venues set for lift-off, banks of stage lights swayed alarmingly.  Meteorological sound effects drowned out miked-up celebrity speakers.  Having booked six events that day, I was thankful for the excellent shuttle bus service (£1 all day) which made possible two restorative sessions at The Granary.

Sue Townsend: her latest book, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year; how loss of sight has changed her writing process; mourning her forced separation from the printed page; some of her all-time favourite books: Madame Bovary, Lucky Jim, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre.

Victoria Hislop: her latest book, Threads; her long-term love affair with Greece; how the TV dramatisation of The Island has made her the nation’s darling; Greek politics, its current ecomonic plight and her optimism for the country’s recovery; learning the language and her intention to use vernacular research for her next novel.

Ben Okri began with his reading of Begin With a Leap from Wild, his first poetry collection in thirteen years.  He talked about his childhood in Peckham, return to Nigeria and the devastating effect of civil war on his family.  Conversation then centred around The Time of New Dreams, his series of essays: the relationship between reader and writer; poets as readers and listeners; how stories define nations; perception versus reality; the relationship between Form and Content.  Wise words and much food for thought.  Okri finished with two poems honouring his late parents, My Mother Sleeps and Oh Lion, Roam No More.

Philip Gross discussed, and read extensively from, his latest collection, Deep Field, which focuses on his late father’s loss of language through aphasia.  The relationship between words and silence, use of white space, line breaks, obvious use of shape on the page: all reflect islands of words left between lost language (Estonian, English, German, Russian).  On his occasional use of set form, he commented that its containment serves to make writing more honest: the essence of Ben Okra’s thinking on the subject (IMHO).

Gillian Clarke: National Poet of Wales and oh, what a voice!  Superb reading with just the right amount of comment/explanation:  I was utterly transported to the Ice world of her forthcoming collection, borne out of the harsh winter of 2010-11.  Her only agenda: to write ‘love songs to the planet’ (praise rather than protest, in keeping with the Welsh poetic tradition).  Her viewpoints: language is what makes us human (cf: Philip Gross); all poetry must have music in it (oh, without doubt, hers does).  She ended with A Miracle on St David’s Day, Nant Mill (her mother’s childhood home, now a visitor centre) and 1955 (from Jubilee Lines).  For an hour, I forgot how cold I was.

I0 PM: glad of an hour of hearty laughs at the end of a long day in unseasonable weather conditions: Dylan Moran in the Barclay’s pavilion – packed out, standing room only.

The car was weather-sick, too.  With no mobile signal, I was mightily relieved it started just before I exhausted battery power.  Drove the four miles bedwards, to sleep, purchance to thaw out.

All in all, though, a wonderful three days, a much-needed break to recharge my batteries (if not said automobile’s).  Would I go again?  You bet!

Hay festival diary: Thursday

Slept well (is unusual for me, first night in strange bed).  Smell of breakfast cooking on the Aga.  Leisurely meal in fine company in the form of my hostess.  Conversation included teaching, reading, the teaching of reading, life in Belgian Congo (hers) and South Africa (mine), poetry, personal favourites (hers and mine), music, Anglo Saxon literature, the Anglican church, Hymns Ancient & Modern V English Hymnal.

10.30 AM: parked in Hay (a snip at £2.50 all day) to gentle rain.  A free day in prospect, looking forward to losing myself in this town of books.  First stop: fringe festival box office, having discovered that Luke Wright was performing that evening.

The Poetry Bookshop: where to start?  2 hours later and already flagging, left with several purchases, including John Gallas’ Flying Carpets Over Filbert Street, Selima Hill’s Trembling Hearts in the Bodies of Dogs, Mimi Khalvati’s Mirrorwork, Stevie Smith’s and Michael Longley’s Selected Poems, English PEN’s A Letter to Some Man.

Richard Booth’s Bookshop: like the way new, used and collectible are displayed alongside each other. More purchases (failing to be circumspect): Sharon Old’s One Secret Thing, Pascale Petit’s The Huntress, Peter Levi’s The Noise Made by Poems.

Richard Booth’s Bookshop

Lengthy sojourn at The Granary, my eating place of choice for the duration.  After antipasti, scone and lots of tea, felt sufficiently restored to venture as far as the next bookshop…

8.30 PM saw me comfy in plush armchair inside The Ring (a yurt) at the fringe festival site,  listening to George Formby’s If You Don’t Want the Goods, Don’t Maul ‘Em, prior to Luke Wright’s show.  Slick delivery, excellent rapport with the audience, lots of laughs.  Poems included Jean Claude Gendarme, The Paunch, Barry versus The Blonde and, in a change of mood, The Ballad of Raoul Moat.  Wright finished with ‘a poem about tits’ – his dream woman – ‘like Supernanny, but northern and drunker’ (his words), Bloody Hell, it’s Barbara.

Earl Grey nightcap at The Granary (open till 10 during the festival), then back to B & B for much-needed night’s sleep.

Hay festival diary: Wednesday in retrospect

Thursday, 8 AM: woke to slight disappointment that my first night in this C17 building proved uneventful.  The night before, I’d perused my bedroom’s modest bookshelf (in a house full of books) and attempted re-drafting recent writing, but the pull to sleep was greater.  After all, it had been a long day…

Almost a 3-hour car journey, half of it on East-West motorways, the rest at 40 mph on Roman Road (far from straight).  Arrived in Hay just in time to collect booked tickets from the festival box office before listening to Joanne Harris.  I love her brand of mystique with a hint of magic and am looking forward to reading her latest book, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé.

Alex Valentine‘s evening concert at the Sound Castle was all I expected, and more, and I relaxed into the festival groove at last.  I first saw Alex on The Book Show from Hay, two years ago, and promptly purchased two CDs: Tardis Heart and Local History.  He performed some of my favourites, including Sunshine and the gorgeous 45 Celsius.  Needless to say, I came away with 2 more CDs: A is for… and Lost Songs (playing as I type).

10 PM: Nocturne at St Mary’s church.  Atmosphere: heady mix of incense and beeswax.  30 minutes of music and reflection on the work of George Herbert.


Hay festival diary: arrival

A sharp bend off the Bredwardine road out of Hay-on-Wye.  Single-track lane, no passing place, potholed tarmac.  A hamlet in a dell.  Stream crossed via dubious bridge to arrive at B & B accomodation: farmhouse, circa 1600.

In the yard, I’m greeted vociferously by a large but friendly gun dog.  Door open, but no sign of my hostess, despite calling out and ringing the bell on the hall table.  The dog pads upstairs.  I venture into the kitchen, deserted but for a cat which leaves its stool to wander off in same direction as dog.  From here, into a small sitting room with a lean-to conservatory looking out onto patio and garden.

I’m back in the yard when my hostess appears and greets me on the (correct) assumption that I am her expected guest.  She insists on carrying my holdall up to my room: beamed walls, ancient floorboards that sag either side of what must be the joist for the room below.

This house reeks of buried stories.  What will it share as I rest in its bones?