Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet over the past week, I’ve been away. One of the places I went was YALC, Malorie Blackman’s first YA lit con, in Earls Court this weekend. This is my haul of (mostly) free books from the convention. I’ll do a blog post telling you more about the convention when I get the chance.
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.
Last Saturday my husband and I drove down to Hay-on-Wye for our annual trip to the wonderful Hay Festival.
In my experience at Hay the weather is either absolutely beautiful with the sun shining and people sunning themselves in deckchairs or there is torrential rain, huge muddy puddles and posh people wandering round in floral patterned wellies which they only get out for festivals. There is no middle ground. On this occasion, it was the later. We got drenched walking from the car to the festival site. Happily we’ve been before so we knew to wear wellies and quick drying clothes!
The rain doesn’t spoil a day at Hay; in fact there’s something quite enchanting about sitting in a tent trying to listen to a literary superstar while the rain hammers down and wind shakes the canvas around you.
This year we met up with our friends Olly and Mary. Mary was working in one of the sponsor tents so Olly had accompanied her for a couple of days. I was very jealous because they got free tickets to some of the events! It lovely to see them both although we had such a packed day of talks that I feel likely we barely had a chance to catch up with them properly.
Our first event was Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman. I picked this because I wanted to see Harkaway. I heard him on the radio when his first novel was released a few years ago and found him very funny and had been meaning to read one his books ever since. He was talking about his new novel Tigerman, happily I had received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and had just finished reading it the evening before. Read my review here. Rahman is a debut novelist, I had never heard of him before, in fact I was expecting him to be a woman! The connection between the authors’ work was quite tenuous both have background plot themes of the financial crisis and Afghanistan, although I wouldn’t say these are integral elements of Tigerman.
The event would have been more entertaining if it had just been Harkaway, his responses to questions were quick and witty whereas Rahman was a bit ponderous and meandering in his responses. Even so, it was an interesting event. Afterwards I bought a couple of Harkaway’s novels and had them signed at the bookstore. He was wearing a marvelous tiger striped tie to ‘tie-in’ with his book’s title.
Next up we went to see Cassandra Clare in conversation with her co-author and friend Sarah Rees Brennan. My poor 37 year old husband having to sit through that! I felt so sorry for him surrounded by teenage girls while two authors gossiped about how hot the characters in their books are; I really should have booked him an alternative event! However, I was quite happy.
I enjoyed listening to Cassandra and Sarah read sections from an unpublished story in the Bane Chronicles and seeing their excitement about the final installment of the Mortal Instruments series which is published today. It’s a shame there was a delay on the publishing which meant that there weren’t copies available to buy at Hay. This didn’t stop a million girls queuing to get Clare to sign her other books. The queue was so long that I went to my next event and came back to the bookshop over and hour later and they were still queuing around the corner of the tent. It was crazy! But it’s nice that Clare takes the time to talk to all the girls individually and make it worth the wait.
Next we went to see Stephen Fry interviewing Tony Fadell, one of the inventors of the iPod. This was definitely the highlight of the day! It was really fascinating. Fry is really interested in and knowledgeable about technology so they had an engrossing and revealing conversation.
After that I went to see Louisa Young and Kamila Shamsie. Both have written novels set during World War I. Young’s The Heroes’ Welcome is a sequel to ‘My Dear I Wanted to Tell You’ which I read and enjoyed; and Shamsie’s previous novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize, so I was interested in listening to both of them. I thought the atmosphere was a bit flat at this event, maybe these authors were a bit tired of being on the press tour or they don’t really know each other, but there wasn’t much chemistry between them. Since the Telegraph started sponsoring Hay, there have been more of these events where they pair authors up and it’s a bit like watching a tennis match as they take it in turns to answer questions. These events often don’t work as well as when the focus is on a single author; Hay was definitely better when it was sponsored by The Guardian!
Our final event was a second chance to see Stephen Fry. This time he was giving a talk about Shakespeare. I was expecting him to talk about his experiences acting on Broadway in Shakespeare’s plays; however he actually gave a lecture on love in Shakespeare’s poems and plays. He has some surprising a controversial viewpoints. For example, he is convinced that Shakespeare was gay and is certain that it was definitely Shakespeare who wrote the plays (not the Earl of Oxford or Marlowe or any of the other people that conspiracy theorists suggest).
He also said that Shakespeare knew that he would still be being read all these years later and that that does not mean he was arrogant, he was just that good. I didn’t agree with that assertion on any level, but it made me think.
A fun day out at Hay. Not quite as exciting as some previous years, but we’re going again next Saturday and I’m really looking forward to that and particularly to seeing Tom Hollander, Rob Brydon and Benedict Cumberbatch. Hopefully we’ll get to see the other side of Hay and the sun will be shining! Check back next week to hear about it in part two of my blog.
It’s just over a week until the Hay Festival starts and I’m so excited!
It’s the most wonderful literary festival located in a small town in Wales which is surrounded by rolling green hills and where every other shop is a book shop. Plus, there is never any shortage of fascinating authors to listen to. I always come away with piles of signed books I’ll probably never get around to reading!
We go every year and in the past we’ve had the joy of seeing and meeting some amazing authors including:
- Malorie Blackman – she is absolutely the loveliest person you will ever meet and so inspiring.
- Patrick Ness – also really lovely person, he was really chuffed to sign a ‘well read book’.
- John Irving – one of my absolute favourite authors.
- Sebastian Faulks – amazing speaker with no notes whatsoever!
- Cassandra Clare – really interesting on the subject of turning her books into a movie.
- Simon Mayo – fantastic talking to children!
- Mark Haddon – very different.
- David Mitchell
- Audrey Niffenegger
- Lionel Shriver
- David Peace
Plus some great comedians and cultural figures like Tim Minchin, Mark Watson, Michael Vaughan and Rob Lowe.
I love that these brilliant and intelligent people make the effort to come to little old Hay-on-Wye in the middle of nowhere to talk to book lovers from rural areas!
This year I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Stephen Fry talking about Shakespeare; Benedict Cumberbatch reading letters; Cassandra Clare signing copies of the last in the Mortal Instruments series before it goes on sale; and Ian McEwan and Joshua Ferris talking about their latest books. Can’t wait!
I’ll be sure to blog and let you know what exciting things we see!