Last Saturday, my husband and I had our second day trip to this year’s Hay Festival of Literature. It was a fantastic day packed with diverse talks, famous faces, sunshine and ice cream! You can read my blog post from my previous trip to Hay here.
The first event we went to was probably the best event we’ve seen in the 8 years we’ve been going. It was called ‘Letters Live’ and was a celebration of two collections of letters published by Canongate; To The Letter by Simon Garfield and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. Each author gave a brief description of a letter from their collection which was then read out by a famous person including: Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey (Molly in Sherlock), Rob Brydon, AC Grayling, Ian McEwan and Rob Brydon.
It was fantastic! The letters were touching and funny and brilliantly acted. I particularly enjoyed Cumberbatch and Brealey reading letters between Chris and Bessie, two lovers separated during WWII. Also Brealey’s reading of Virginia Woolf’s suicide note and Cumberbatch’s performance of a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a school teacher who had burned his books were perfect. There’s a blog with some clips here, watch them, they’re fabulous, Cumberbatch is mesmerising! Also very amusing was seeing his squealing fans as he made his way through the crowds on the way out.
Next we went to see Siri Husvedt in conversation with Stephanie Merritt. I’ve not actually read any of her books, despite having owned What I Loved for ages, but it was a very interesting discussion. She’s clearly a very intelligent woman who knows heaps about psychology and art. She had some very pertinent observations on the way female artists and authors are overlooked.
Following that, we went to see three of the creators of TV programme QI, John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin, talking about some of the most interesting facts they’ve encountered while doing research for the programme. It was very funny, I was amazed at their ability to recall details about facts and I’m trying to remember some examples now and failing. Except for John Lloyd’s favourite fact which is that everybody expected the Spanish Inquisition because they had to give 30 days notice!
Next we went to see American authors Lorrie Moore and Joshua Ferris being interviewed. Unfortunately they were being interviewed by the same man that had done a dire job of moderating Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie on my previous trip. He asks far too specific questions which don’t engender conversation between the authors. Lorrie Moore seemed particularly non-plussed by him and gave some very curt answers and eventually someone in the audience shouted out that he should open it up to questions from the audience as his questions were falling so flat. In addition, each of the authors did a reading at the beginning of the event and he let Lorrie Moore go on for waaaay too long. I felt bad for Ferris as they barely had any time to talk to him and he seemed very funny. I bought a couple of his books to read.
Our next event was Ian McEwan in conversation with a much more professional interviewer about his forthcoming book The Children Act which will be published in September. This showed how much McEwan must love Hay – to come and talk about a book which doesn’t even come out more another three months. The book is about a judge so they had a very interesting conversation about judicial ethics particularly when it comes to decisions about medical treatment of children.
Our final event of this year’s festival was a celebration of Dylan Thomas’s poetry. There was a introduction by Peter Florence the creator of the festival and then readings of Thomas’s works by actors Jonathan Pryce, Rob Brydon, Tom Hollander and Lisa Dwan and singer Cerys Matthews who also performed one of Thomas’s poems to music. I’m not a big poetry fan, but I really enjoyed this event, there’s something special about hearing it performed aloud particularly by such high class actors. Cerys Matthews’ performance also took Mike and me back to our university days when her band Catatonia was all the rage.