There is an incredible atmosphere at the Hay Festival. The main events are held on a field just outside the town. Large marquees are sponsored by the likes of Barclays Bank and the Guardian newspaper. There are quirky side-stalls such as the one selling a Monopoly-like board game based on books and the tombola for original and reproduced artwork. Proceeds support green initiatives. Young people wander around with beehive-shaped backpacks giving samples of honeybeer. There are open meadow areas with people sitting on designer deckchairs and on the grass and guess what – they’re reading. Reading, of course, is a respected activity at this festival. There’s the atmosphere of a rock festival though it’s a little more subdued – and of course the inevitable queue for the ladies’ loo.
I actually attended two events: a reading and interview with Audrey Neffenegger who wrote The Time Traveller’s Wife and Andrea Levy who wrote Small Islands. They were both extremely interesting though totally different from each other. Both good speakers in their own way. Speakers and presenters at Hay are awarded a long-stemmed rose. You can spot them as you wander around the town afterwards. We walked straight past Levy later in the afternoon.
I was fascinated that Neffenegger is part writer, part artist and part college professor. Sounds familiar somehow. Even the best of us have to juggle. She did give us a tip for a book we really need: Time Travel for Writers. Need to google that.
Levy was a performer. She read with a fabulous Caribbean accent. She sets out to portray amongst other things the ordinary day to day life of the 300 years of slavery. She talked of a distinction between voice and accent.
We also visited the Rainforest Rescue stand which was interesting and supported by Sky Arts and the World Wildlife Fund, so there’s a connection with Gentle Footprints and our launch on Friday.
We took some time afterwards to visit the town of Hay itself. You can see that the locals are milking the festival. One family were offering cream teas in their garden. A house for sale is having its Open House in exactly this week. Many people are holding garage sales. But who can blame them? If the world invades their space at festival time… why not? In a way, it’s a form of hospitality.
We took the time out to investigate the Swan where we’re having our meet-and-greet before the main event on Friday. It was crowded but delightful. The evening menu seemed very reasonable and they didn’t seem to have inflated prices at the time of the main festival. That too is a form of hospitality.
We dined at the cheaper of the local hostelries, The Wheel Wright, recommended by our landlady. There was actually more choice there and it was cheaper. The people were very friendly if a little noisy.