Review: Lionel Shriver talking to Rosie Boycott

Lionel Shriver was a must see booking at this year’s Hay Festival and the event did not disappoint.  Shriver was here to talk about her ‘new’ novel ‘The New Republic’ – a book where everything is not as it seems.

First the book isn’t really new it was completed in 1998, written before ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’.  Secondly it’s a comic novel: about terrorism.  Third it is set in the fictional province of Barba, tacked onto the south of Portugal – though the narrative was greatly influenced by the writer’s experiences in living in Northern Ireland, her home for 12 years.   Shriver’s bitter distaste for terrorism came through forcefully.  The novel embodies that distaste “there are two things that terrorists can’t stand – being ignored and being ridiculed.”

As the session drew to a close Rosie Boycott asked Shriver what her text novel would be about “fat” said the author.  Boycott a journalist to the core responded without a beat “is that because of your brother?”.  Shriver was clearly unsettled, revealing that her elder brother had been morbidly obese and died as a result.  “We are meant to be hungry” the author says “being sated is unpleasant.”

Review: Andrew Marr

The weather is cold and Andrew Marr admits to having enjoyed a whisky on his way to the event. Not a problem at Hay, the great Christopher Hitchens liked to have a drink both before and during his eloquent despatches. Marr makes it clear that he is the right side of merry.

A republican turned monarchist, Marr is here to talk about his book The Diamond Queen. He sets up a debate with his 25 year old self. He talks about the “sticky little network of privileged elitists” in the country today but argues that has nothing to do with the Royals. In fact he argues that the British aristocracy have largely sneered at the modern Royal family.

The younger Marr has no idea says the present day Marr, how incredibly hard the Queen and Prince Phillip work. In addition to the interminable public duties she reads reams of government and intelligence documents on a daily basis.

The monarchy is one of the few institutions that unites the country, says Marr, something of great value as we face the difficulties of the next 10 or 20 years.

Peter Oborne, Simon Scharma, Emily Perkins, Kate Williams, Val McDermid and Max Hastings talk to Jon Gower


Peter Oborne won’t answer the question, Simon Scharma thinks he would be happy to be oiled up on a beach and Val McDermid thinks crime writers are amongst the happiest people around. We are in the Barclays Pavilion for the latest panel discussion and another selection of 25 Hay Questions about the way we live now.

The panels in these sessions are too big and the format is too rigid to allow the conversation and ideas to flow as they might. Despite that Peter Oborne brings the afternoon alive with his condemnation of teaching unions. I’m sure Oborne must know that this is half-term and teachers are disproportionately represented at Hay.
It turns ugly and the boos outweigh the claps by some margin, though I suspect that many aren’t actually listening to the politically conservative, socially liberal argument that Oborne makes.

The next time Oborne speaks the severe winds whip up and part of the tent dressing is blown over “is something biblical happening?” he asks.

Eva Gabrielsson talks to Phil Rickman


Eva was Stieg Larsson’s partner for 30 years before his death in 2004. She knows better than anyone how he wrote the Millenium trilogy. She has written a memoir ‘Stieg and Me – Memories of my Life with Stieg Larsson’.

Eva revealed that many of the stories that have become legendary about Larsson are distorted or untrue. He worked hard but he wasn’t a workaholic and he ate well, most of the time.

The books were written concurrently. The entire trilogy was complete before the first ‘Men Who Hate Women’ later retitlled in English ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ was published. As many know, Larsson died nine moths before the first publication. The stories were not fully conceived or planned out before they were written. “If something didn’t fit in one book then it might go into one of the others”.

The first book began with the simple story of a man who receives pressed flowers every year and grew from there.

When Larsson died nothing went to Eva as they were unmarried and he had left no will. Everything went to his family. Eva felt that many people rushed in to exploit Stieg’s memory and legacy. She invoked an ancient Nordic curse and she believes many have suffered as a result of that curse.

There is an incomplete fourth book. Two hundred pages are written and exist on a laptop that belongs to EXPO the anti nazi magazine that Stieg founded. It is set in Canada but as a book that was only a third completed it is unlikely to be completed or published. Using ghostwriters “would be just for business.”

Review: Patricia Hodgson on Press Freedom

Chaired by Rosie Boycott, the larger part of this event was a narrative on the emergence of the press and the major shifts in press freedom culminating in the present media crisis and the Leveson inquiry.  At the start we were warned that as deputy chair of Ofcom Patricia Hodgson was restricted in what she could say about matters currently under investigation.

What we were treated to was a clear history of the relationship between press and state.  We began with the visions of the founding father of the USA Thomas Jefferson.   Hodgson moved on to cite the importance of the work of John Wilkes who produced he radical pamphlet, The North Briton, was a rebel MP who was actually Wilkes was arrested and charged with seditious libel over attacks on George III.  Wilkes was later elected Lord Mayor of London “a good position from which to challenge the prime minister of the day”.  Though as promised Hodgson avoided analysis of the detail of the current furore she did tackle the subject of press regulation directly. “the problem of over mighty barons has been with us since Henry II fell out with Thomas o’Becket”.    Her strong contention is that whatever regulatory system we settle on we must retain a crusading and fearless press.

There was in my opinion insufficient attention to the growing importance of citizen journalism, blogs and social networks as a member of the audience said “We are all journalists now if we have the means to be heard”.