Judy Blume

A confession first (as I think Judy* would want, given that all her heroines are confessing everything, all the time): I spent most of this talk just staring at Judy in adoration and so didn’t take as many notes as I usually do.

I was sat in the front row, practically on Judy’s lap** and it seemed only right that I should at least look like I was paying her all the attention she deserves.  But here are my starry eyed memories of what she said:

First: excellent Judy trivia, in case you ever happen to be doing a Judy Blume pub quiz: her mum and Philip Roth’s mum went to high school together.

Second: the good stuff, the books.  She believes there’s far too much hysteria and fear about what children read: books are actually a really safe way to learn about life.  Children know what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, and if they get to something they don’t understand, they simply read over it.  (I am a case in point about this: does anyone remember that Deenie had a ‘special place?’ I didn’t.  But another young reader decided that her special place would be under her rib cage…)  Or they’ll ask questions.  Or they’ll just put the book down.  Whatever, they can cope with it.

Third: the bad stuff – censorship.  She said that the 70′s were a great time to be writing: they were much freer, there were lots of young readers and publishers were more willing to take a chance.  It wasn’t until Reagan was elected that censorship hit.  At first, Judy thought, well this is America, we don’t ban books, we’re all about freedom of speech.  She was alarmed and even scared to find out how wrong she was: she said it was a very isolating time, since her publishers got scared too.  Interestingly, her most banned book is not Forever, but Deenie because – apparently, in the eyes of people who freak out about this sort of stuff – masturbation is WAY WORSE than sex.

Forever, by the way, was written for her daughter who had been reading too many books where girls had sex and ALL SORTS OF TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPENED TO THEM, and she, not unreasonably asked, ‘couldn’t there be a book with two nice kids where they do it and nobody has to die?’  Forever is about taking responsibility for your own actions, she said, but not about being punished.

Later on, I got to chat to her quite a bit in the signing queue (as I was shamelessly asking her to sign four books because, if I haven’t made this clear yet, I’m sort of a fan) and asked about the Tiger Eyes film.  Did you know there was a Tiger Eyes film?  No?  That’s because it didn’t have a UK release.  But if you go to the Tiger Eyes facebook page and like it, she is hopeful that it might come out over here on DVD.  PLEASE DO IT, DO IT FOR JUDY (and me, because I really want to see it).

Basically, thanks Judy for this talk and for saving every teenage girl I know and just for being SO AWESOME.

*note that we are already on first name terms.

** it is possible that I was first in the queue for this event, in the manner of a teenage girl camping out for Harry Styles (or indeed a Hay Festival goer wanting to see Benedict Cumberbatch).

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Siri Hustvedt: Living, Thinking, Looking

‘I’m not interested in confession for confession’s sake’ said Siri Hustvedt, about her most recent book of essays. It starts with living, she said, as you can’t do much thinking or looking if you aren’t actually living.

Her series of essays, modelled on Montaigne, are an attempt to chase after various ideas and explore different concepts: ‘the essay is a way to explore what you think,’ she said. Hustvedt thinks about everything under the sun with depth and insight that most of us can only dream of. Some of what she thinks about is illness, as a sufferer of chronic migraine and other symptoms, and about the ways in which personalities adapt to and accommodate those challenges. She also has strongly-held views on art and artists – discussed in the ‘looking’ section of the book. And she argues strongly for more interaction between different disciplines: she comes from a background in literature but believes that speaks to philosophy, psychology, neurology…..there’s too much specialisation and not enough conversation, in her view.

She doesn’t like to say ‘I am this, or that’ because she has a sense that we are constantly moving; but neverthess, she is endlessly interesting and certainly worth a read. Rosie Goldsmith, the chair, called this book ‘a personal guide to being human’ and you could do a lot worse than having Siri Hustvedt as your personal guide.

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Sunday 1.06.14

 I refuse to believe is over until I’ve finished reading all the books I bought there!
 My new goal in life is to be Judi Dench.
 The man I greeted with “Hello Derek” at the Hay Festival was the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. Career in politics down the pan…
 Haha shit. RT Lee Child says Russell Crowe was ‘too fat and too Australian’ to play Jack Reacher
 ‘Empathy opens the door of our moral concern, then laws and rights wedge it open’. Roman Krznaric
 A little bit sunburnt, a little bit tired after gloriously hot weekend at . And how splendid it was to dance
 So we’re watching Dame Judi Dench & Benedict Cumberbatch springs on stage for spot of joint Shakespeare. Best BOGOF ever
 I briefly met Judy Blume today at MOST exciting. A wise, witty and warm woman.
 Just back from spending time at Hay festival, last show of festival was excellent, real laugh out load fun!
 Back in London after fab Hay Festival. Fully expect to go upstairs and find Benedict Cumberbatch hiding in the wardrobe
 P.S. your loos were glorious. They veritably sparkled, even on the last day!
 Blatantly going to have a literature hangover tomorrow. Might need to buy a new notebook… :)
 I was too overexcited to be seeing the writer-subject of my dissertation speak to actually note down anything she said! Adichie
 One of many great things Dame Judi Dench said was to use sadness & grief “like petrol” to fuel your drive to succeed & thrive

Bob Stanley and Mark Ellen

Bob Stanley and Mark Ellen talk about…Pop Music.

You know you’re in for a treat when there’s a record deck on stage and vinyl propped up against the table.

Bob is a journalist and one third of Saint Etienne.  He has written an 800 page book Yeah Yeah Yeah:The Story of Modern Pop. Mark is a journalist and TV presenter (Live Aid, Old Grey Whistle Test) and was the bass player in Tony Blair’s first band. He’s just published a book Rock Stars Stole my Life! A Big Bad Love Affair with Music.

We were treated to I’m in Love by Fats Domino, which got two ladies in the front row bopping, Hey Bulldog by The Beatles, All Day and All of the Night by the Kinks, Amateur Hour by Sparks and a Captain Beefheart track which I didn’t catch. You can’t beat the sound of the needle hitting vinyl.

Some great stories were told about Lady Gaga (she definitely is a woman), Van Morrison (two types of people, those who like Van Morrison and those who have met him), Mick Jagger (has laughter lines, but nothing can be that funny) and Paul McCartney visiting a pub in Harrold.

Great entertainment, and a really upbeat way to end our Hay.

Patrick Barkham

Badgerlands. The twilight world of Britain’s most enigmatic animal.

Patrick Barkham spoke eloquently and even-handedly about the Badger. His grandmother, Jane Ratcliffe, was obsessed with badgers. She was a fervent campaigner for protection and also ran a rescue centre.

Whilst fairgrounds displayed “a monster badger which terrorised the district with its destruction of sheep & cattle” and badger baiting was (and still is) around, it took a banker writing Wind in the Willows for attitudes to begin to change and for the Brock, a Middle English slang name for badger, to get a fairer press.

In the course of research for the book, Patrick ate badger. A road kill chef created a stir fry with hoisin sauce from Asda – “Dense, chewy and unpleasantly strong.”  It repeated on Patrick all the way home from Bournemouth.

The polarisation over the cull was an issue for the country and society. Whilst it’s clear that the costs to cull Badgers were far higher than vaccination, and the target to cull 70% of Badgers wasn’t met, there isn’t a simple answer. There is a vaccination for cattle, but it is only 60% effective and vaccinated cattle can’t be exported to the EU.

 

The last weekend…

The last few days of the festival are always a little bit sad, with their ‘end of the party’ atmosphere. We’ve packed a fair bit in before we return to normality including three novelists who couldn’t be more different.  Ian McEwan,  returns to Hay to do his research with the audience, treating us to extracts from his new novel The Children Act, tackling the serious subjects of religion and family life.  Asked how much of him appears in his novels he replies ‘my fingerprints are all over all of my characters’.  The delightful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her new novel, Americana, which explores the sense of self, truth and identity of a Nigerian living in America. The interview was deliciously flirty one, Ted Hodkinson is obviously an avid fan.

Helen Fielding revealed quite a bit of the Bridget Jones within, dropping her microphone pack twice and admitting she got Ibsen and Chekov confused, much to her embarrassment.  Her new novel, Mad about the Boy (spoiler alert) has killed off the lovely Darcy and finds Bridget five years down the line trying to rebuild her life.  The same themes come up, as Fielding reminds us that our characters do not really change over the years, despite the fact we have new roles as wives, mothers and so on – our childish and playful natures never really leave us.

For me, it was a week enriched by tales from the two world wars, my favourite novelists and poets, the discovery of new authors, getting to love red mud, the art of dressing in layers and meeting lots of lovely people in the queues and at the events – 2015 has been booked!

Musings of a Hay Festival volunteer steward

Hay Literary Festival 2014

Osvaldo Ardiles was introduced as being famous not only for football, but for being in a chart topping record. “I’m not singing”, he responded.

Two women brought tickets for Cherie Booth’s talk on her mothers career, and asked a steward if they could sit in the front row. “Are you big fans?” “No, we are going to stand up and walk out in protest as soon as she starts her talk”. And they did. I’ll bet she lost sleep over that.

Parking in muddy fields has been a challenge. I inadvertently splashed a child with mud in the @carparkathay. His dad wasn’t happy with me.

Queues started for Benedict Cumberbatch three hours before the event start time.

Queues for Bear Grylls were so large, they had to be directed onto the muddy grass. You would expect that someone keen to see the great explorer would not get too upset about some mud on their shoes.

Patrick Barkham on Badgers: “it isn’t a black & white issue”

Highlights for me:
Tapas black rice at Ibérica;
Sunday lunch @ The Groucho Hay;
The Bulls Head;
Lava bread & cockles at The Swan;
Meeting up with old friends;
Talking to so many nice people.

What have I learnt:
Bubble bum gas. It’s what comes out when you are tickled;
Handed a microphone, it helps if you talk into it;
How Suggs got his name;
Pippa Middleton’s bum has a tweetbot;
Geoff Hurst was on £60 a week in 1966;
People don’t read the information they are sent with their tickets or in the programme.

See you all again on Friday 22 May 2015!