Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulkes

In this centenary year of the First World War, Sebastian Faulks finds it ironic and fitting that his novel Birdsong has come of age. It’s hard to believe it’s been 21 years since it’s publication.  Faulks began thinking about writing the novel around the 70th anniversary of the armistice, and found there to be much less to draw upon in the way of other fiction at the time.  He confessed that he wrote it at a time that the events of the First World War seemed to have fallen out of public thought and memory.

He then read from the chapters of Birdsong, ‘July 1st 1916’, which was set at what would later be called the battle of the Somme. His comprehensive research included examining documents at the Imperial War Museum and accompanying WW1 veterans to French battlefields.  It was humbling to hear how one of them recounted to Faulks how he’d witnessed his best friend blown to pieces, then how he collected up as many pieces as he could find of him and buried them, next to a tree with a simple wooden cross. They found, on that poignant and enlightening trip that someone had located the makeshift grave, and given the soldier a proper burial, complete with gravestone.

One of the questions Faulks kept asking himself, was “why did they keep on doing it?”  One answer may have been that their reality existed alongside their comrades in the trenches, rather than being at home where they found it impossible to talk about, nor live a normal life.

One audience member thanked him for “bringing to life to what happened” in a way that doesn’t happen dry history books.  Faulks concluded that one reason for why so little fiction existed after the war that explored the subject, was that the few writers that had been there perhaps found it too raw and far too early to talk about it.

Ray Davies

I was suffering from a bit of what is known as ‘Hay Fatigue’ by 7pm last night when we went to see Ray Davies being interviewed by Dylan Jones. If you want a good seat it’s always advisable to (a) get in the right queue and (b) arrive early – neither of which I managed!

Sitting right at the back, we strained at times to listen to his stories.  I know from past experience that Davies has plenty to tell, his dry laconic wit lacing the tales to entertain us, as he takes us through the swinging sixties.  The Kinks were banned in places in America for their bad behaviour and their drummer tried to kill his brother on stage one night.  Davies confessed that The Kinks never really took themselves that seriously, joking that whilst the other groups and singers were riding down Route 66 that The Kinks were going down the M1.  His new book of memoirs called Americana, recounts their times in the States.

Hay Festival Live on BBC Arts

BBC Arts Online is broadcasting live streams of some of the headline events at the festival as part of the BBC’s new partnership with the Hay Festival.

Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, says: “This is the strongest commitment to Hay Festival we’ve made. Our coverage this year will demonstrate our ambition to join up arts on the BBC like never before – across television, radio and digital. By doing so we can give the public access to the greatest writers, performers and thinkers in a way that no one else can.”

The remaining live on-line broadcasts can be watched on the BBC Arts site. Here’s the schedule:

27 May 2014 28 May 2014 29 May 2014
14.30 Sebastian Faulks

17.35 Toni Morrison

17.30 Lynda La Plante 21.00 Cerys Matthews
30 May 2014 31 May 2014 1 Jun 2014
13.00 Michael Morpurgo 19.00 Arianna Huffington

20.30 The Poetry of Dylan Thomas

14.30 Richard Eyre

Hay Festival Tweets of the Day – Monday 26.05.14

 It was fun interviewing PJ O’Rourke just now at . The final question was about Ukip. PJ was clear that he didn’t care for ‘em.
 If that was you in the Tata tent tonight you have got the groove!
 Packing my bag for the Hay festival. Books, hay fever tablets, tickets. In that order.
 Greg Proops absolutely smashed it tonight! One of the most ridiculously intelligent yet hilarious humans on this planet.
 I think I’ve seen enough children under the age of 5 in Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets to last me a while…
 Thing I learned from Ray Davies event at – there’s a Gregorian chant influence in “You Really Got Me.”
 Great weekend at the Hay Festival, my brain feels enormous and enriched and I will definitely be back next year!
 Lynn Barber brilliant at . The interviewer she most admires? “Me”


PJ O’Rourke – The Baby Boom


PJ O’Rourke was in Hay to give the Annual Hamlin lecture on the subject of, his own generation, the Baby Boomers. The American satirist rips into the generation that took down both the Berlin Wall and their own knickers. It’s the generation that tuned in, turned on and dropped out of the capitalist system and only to drop in again in time to cause a global financial crisis.

Fellow boomer David Aaronovitch was there to pose the post interview questions and moderate the audience interventions.  The final questioner wanted to know what PJ thought of the rise of UKIP in the UK.  Suffice to say he’s not a fan.

Here’s an extract from PJ O’Rourke’s book and the inspiration for his lecture; ”The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again)’

Board games and card games were for rainy days, and if it looked like the rain was never going to stop, we’d get out Monopoly. Despairing of its page upon page of rules, we’d make our own. This is how both Wall Street investment strategy and Washington economic policy were invented by our generation. We also invented selling ”Get Out of Jail Free” cards to the highest bidder.

The 1960s was an era of big thoughts. And yet, amazingly, each of those thoughts could fit on a T-shirt.

Chloe lived in exotic Massapequa, Long Island. I came east by motorcycle with the idea of Chloe riding pillion to a ”Woodstock Music and Arts Fair,” which, according to a poster in a record shop back in Yellow Springs, Ohio, was ”An Aquarian Exposition” featuring ”Three Days of Peace and Music.” I pictured something on the order of a wind-chime sale with evening hootnannies and maybe a surprise guest appearance by Mimi Farina.

There are some things the Baby Boom has done that we’re not proud of. We used up all the weird. It has always been the special prerogative of youth to look and act strange, to alarm and surprise their elders with peculiar dress and manners. Cicero mentioned it. ”O tempora! O mores!” So did my mom, although in English. But the Baby Boom exhausted the available supply of peculiar. Weird clothes, we wore them. Weird beards, we grew them. Weird words and phrases, we said them. Weird attitudes, we had them. Thus when it came time for the next generation to alarm and surprise us with their peculiarities they were compelled to pierce their extremities and permanently ink their exposed flesh. That must have hurt. We apologize.

We got jobs. We made money. We spent it on cocaine. Then we made money with junk bonds for leveraged buyouts. Until the LBO market collapsed and the Savings and Loan crisis happened and some of us such aichael Milken had to go to jail. Then we made money in the bubble. Hope you’re not still waiting for the Webvan grocery delivery or the chew toy you ordered from Then we made money with sub-prime mortgage lending securitization and collateralized debt obligations. Sorry about the foreclosure. One thing about moving the family back to Mom’s house, she may be getting a little dotty but she still makes a great meatloaf. Now we’ll make money with category-killer smartphone apps.