So, last week I had the pleasure of going to the Hay Literature Festival in Hay on Wye (not far from Hereford in mid Wales). It’s probably the fifth or sixth time that I’ve been since first getting the opportunity to read my work there in 2005. And this year it’s 25 years since the festival began, so there were lots of extra things going on to celebrate.
There’s something about the beautiful location, the like-minded people and knowing you are surrounded by art in every form that makes it such a wonderful place to be. Bill Clinton once famously called it ‘The Woodstock of the mind’ and I can only describe the feeling, while wondering round the festival site, as one of complete belonging. It has always been my little haven; a place where I can dream and imagine. Somehow, beneath those white circus-like tents, anything seems possible! Even the rain didn’t dampen my spirits. The crowds still turned out to see famous faces including David Walliams, Terry Pratchett, Jeanette Winterson and Owen Sheers.
I booked tickets to see Joanne Harris on 6th June, having only read chocolat once and a long time ago, because I was curious to know more about her and her writing. I always find it fascinating to hear other writers talk about how they work, where they get ideas from and their journey to success. Joanne was a very eloquent speaker, answering the questions with detail and often using interesting stories from her experience to illustrate her point. I wondered if this had become more natural to her as her popularity had grown over the years or if having previously been a teacher at a boys school, she was used to speaking to large groups of people. She talked in detail about her love of language and said how she was still fascinated by the fact that words could have such an affect on people. ‘It’s voodoo’ was the only way she could describe it. And I had to agree. Words are incredibly powerful, more so in todays society where they appear in so many different forms and mediums. Via email, social media and texting words are also more permanant now. Writing, for me, is about playing around with words and language, and seeing what you come up with. Sometimes, rarely i think, the perfect formation results in something permanant and memorable. And this is what every writer strives for.
One of the best things about Hay, is the vast selection of books shops. From new fiction, to fist editions and specialist literature, everything is available in the town famous for the most books shops in the world. And this is one of the many reasons I visit every year!
Whilst wondering through Pembertons bookshop, I stumbled across a wonderful poetry collection by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, called ‘Not in these shoes’. This is part of the reason I love coming to Hay every year, the discovery of knew and fabulous writers is like finding that last piece of chocolate cake that you had forgotten about! Her use of language and Imagery is beautiful and inspiring. In fact, since I have come back from Hay I have begun to write poetry again.
Also, in the small backroom of a Hay bookshop, I uncovered a hidden treasure. A 1914 edition of Thomas Hardy’s lesser know novel The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid. A Tauchnitz Edition, published overseas for continental circulation, it somehow made its way into the country. The reviews in the rear of the book are quite interesting. Hardy is referred to as ‘the most vigorous of all novelists who have appeared in the last few years’ (Athenaeum) and of occupying a ‘high place….among novelists of our time’ (Saturday Review). I was delighted and overwhelmed to find this book after searching for years for something similar. I also discovered a beautiful folio of Hardy’s most popular novels including, The Return of The Native, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Woodlanders, Tess of the D’Urbervillles, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge. The folio set contains the six books, bound in various colours with illustrations in a box with Hardy’s Wessex novels printed on the side. It also fits perfectly on my bookshelf!
So, despite the typical British summer weather, it was a perfect few days of literary bliss. The only regret I had was not to have stayed for longer. Hay is always a place that I never want to leave, and somehow it calls me back every year…….