Author Jim Saunders on Hay – Past, Present and Future

Jim Saunders, author of  Hay – Landscape, Literature and the Town of Books will share his knowledge of Hay-on-Wye’s history, and then leads a discussion on the past, present and future of the town on Friday 5th September at  6pm at Booth’s Book Shop, 44 Lion Street, Hay on Wye.  Jim Saunders is a writer and photographer based in Knighton, Powys and a former Offa’s Dyke Path Officer. Jim’s nature photographs also illustrate numerous books and magazines.

His book is a portrait of Hay, its setting and its people in words and photographs. Images are interspersed with an exploration of the town’s history and its stories and characters – amongst them Francis Kilvert, Alfred Watkins, Hay poisoner Herbert Armstrong, the Baskerville/Conan Doyle connection, Owain Glyndŵr, Richard Booth, and of course the Hay Festival.

For more information about the talk or to RSVP contact sarahdvies@serenbooks.com

Google Hangout with Dan Tyte

Dan Tyte was a panelist at the last Hay Festival . He was born and raised in Cardiff, Wales. He studied English Literature at the University of Liverpool before becoming a PR man. I’ll be talking to live next week on Google Hangouts about his debut novel ‘Half Plus Seven’ which was published by Parthian Books in April 2014. It has been described by the Editor of NME as “a lethal cocktail of Bukowski and Mad Men, finished with a twist of dry Welsh wit.”

You can sign up to watch the broadcast on Wednesday 27th August at 7pm.  Just click here to register and you’ll get a reminder

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).

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.