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!

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