Front Row asks the question “Do we publish too many books?” In front of a live audience,the panel discuss some of the pressing issues that face the publsihing industry today: has the emergence of digital books diluted the quality and undermined the value of books? Is self publishing a route to new and exciting authors or a path to derivative mediocrity? With Philip Jones editor of The Bookseller, Crystal Mahey-Morgan of Zed Books, Alexandra Pringle, group editor in chief of Bloomsbury and Ali Sparks author of 41 books for children.
On the final day of the 2015 Hay Festival, Alex Salmond the former leader of the SNP and newly elected Westminster MP talks to Helena Kennedy QC the barrister, broadcaster, and Labour member of the House of Lords. Salmond is here to discuss the inside story of the campaign for Scottish independence, in his diary, ‘The Dream Shall Never Die: 100 Days That Changed Scotland Forever’.
Kennedy asks how he became a campaigning Scottish Nationalist. At St Andrews university he had girlfriend who was secretary of the Labour Club and they used to fight about politics. One day she said; “if you feel like that go and join the bloody SNP” and he did the very next day. In those days you couldn’t join on a website. Salmond hitchhiked to Dundee to join the party, only to be given an address in St Andrews where he had just come from.
Salmond managed to get the referendum phrased with ‘Yes’ for leaving the UK and he acknowledges that this was in his favour. He also managed to get Cameron to agree to his agenda on the timing. How did he persuade Cameron asks Kennedy. “Well, he’s not very bright, you see.”
In the Scottish referendum people got drawn into the political process and it made them better people says Salmond, 98% of the population registered to vote. He tells a story of people registering to vote for the first time since they opposed the poll tax. “Hundreds of thousands of people who had never given a stuff about politics or politicians were determined to exercise their democratic franchise. That’s what happened to lots of people in the referendum campaign and that’s what dictated the result of the general election campaign in Scotland.
One of the downsides of leaving Hay is realising all the good stuff you are missing. Last year I had to leave before Toni Morrison, this year before my favourite author David Mitchell. Although I saw him in Oxford last year, it would have been marvellous to be at his talk, particularly because Crispin Hershey, one of my favourite characters in ‘The Bone Clocks’, has a memorable trip to Hay.
So it was a thrill this morning to see this tweet as I was doing the accounts:
@CrispinHershey: Okay you win, Publicity Girl: Hershey is Tweeting his way into Modern World. Happy now?
What followed was total joy, as Hershey’s tweets were by degrees contemptuous, deluded, arrogant and hysterically funny, perfectly capturing his character. Mitchell added to the fun by tweeting that he was sitting opposite Hershey, which resulted in a typically self-aggrandising comment from his fictional creation. And much to my delight, Hershey favourited my tweet that I’d rather see the writer Holly Sykes (the heroine of the‘The Bone Clocks’) which made my morning.
I might not be at Hay anymore, and I have missed out on seeing my favourite author in the flesh, but interacting with his alter-ego on social media has been quite a consolation prize. It certainly beat doing the accounts.
David Mitchell was on The Starlight Stage last night, along with Tiffany Murray, reading from his next book ‘ Slade House’ which itself emerged from an excellent twitter story.
If you’ve been following the Hay Festival on social media but can’t get there, you van still enjoy the experience live on the BBC iPlayer. BBC Arts Online has been broadcasting selected live streams of some of the events at this year’s festival as they did for the first time last year. The on-line broadcasts can be watched on the BBC Arts site where they’ll remain for 30 days. Here’s tonight’s schedule:
At 7pm this evening Dan & Peter Snow discuss the Battle of Waterloo and tell the story of Napoleon’s 100 Days Campaign, from his Elba escape to his Waterloo defeat. Then at 8.30pm Neil Gaiman talks to Claire Armitstead. The prolific creator of books, comics, films and songs talks about his work and pays tribute to his friend Terry Pratchett, who died in March.
@Hullbhoy Over my dead body. “Hull may not exist in 100 years.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/11633092/Will-Hull-still-exist-in-100-years-Planners-warn-east-coast-residents-may-need-to-move.html …
@JonathanMeres Chuffed to have @TheUnthanks as my walk on music today at
#HayFestival but gutted that I missed the opportunity to see them last night #Doh
Our fifth Hay has come to an end and I am struggling with my re-entry to normal life, as I do every year. I wistfully look to Twitter and Facebook, see I’ve missed Alan Bennett and long to be back. I’ll get over it by tomorrow, but tonight I’m feeling bereft.
Each time we come to Hay, I have a worry it won’t quite meet expectations. Each time I leave thinking I needn’t have worried. This year was no exception. As usual, we camped at the fabulous Wye Meadow campsite, opposite the festival site. Run by four siblings, it has excellent facilities, and a warm welcome. We’re gutted that the Brown family who’ve looked after us so well are giving it up next year, but are hoping someone well else will take it on. After last year’s mudfest, I’m glad their last year has been sunny.
I went to some great talks and loved blogging about them. Sitting in the press room was a fascinating experience as I watched the real journalists rushing in and out to events. Boy they work hard – onsite for hours running from one talk to another, chasing interviews and then filing copy. I found it a challenge taking notes, writing up, self editing and grappling with wifi to get my articles out and I was only posting once or twice a day. They were writing several, often having to mug up on writers they knew nothing about. Extremely impressive.
I always come with my three kids, who are total bookworms. They love Hay because everyone reads and authors are huge celebrities. Beth had to go early because she’s doing GCSEs but she enjoyed Sarah J Maas, Simon Singh, and discovering a spooky antique shop in Hay-on-Wye. Claire had wondered whether it would be so good this year, and then discovered a whole load of new authors she can’t wait to read. Jonathan found a new favourite writer – Frank Cottrell-Boyce – enjoyed writing his first blog about the talk and was thrilled when Cottrell-Boyce retweeted it. It was fun camping with our friends Zoe and Mati, hearing about each other’s events, chatting over hot chocolate, watching the sunset, and the stars rise above us on a cold clear night.
For once (and despite David Mitchell predicting it in ‘The Bone Clocks’) it didn’t rain. It was a little chilly on occasion, but a revelation to be able to sit in the courtyards enjoying the sunshine. Simon Armitage walked passed me at the entrance. Simon Armitage! (Only a poet could make me swoon). I met Simon Singh, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Non Pratt, Louise O’Neill who were all lovely. I didn’t manage to interview Jessie Burton, but really enjoyed my conversation with Chris Woods, whose insights into war reporting were fascinating.
I’ve been following Making Hay for a while now, so I’ve really appreciated having the chance to blog this year, and enjoyed the reviews of my fellow bloggers. I highly recommend it as a way of catching up on the experience. And if you’re heading to Hay yourself, it looks like the weather’s holding, and there are still plenty of goodies to come. Hope you have a blast.
See you next year.
By Virginia and Jonathan
I didn’t get to any more events, but Jonathan had one last gig – Frank Cottrell Boyce. Given that the children’s programme is one of the main reasons we come (and has meant the kids have seen some fabulous author over the years) I thought it was time to hear from a 12 year old.
So over to you Jonathan:
He started off by asking what happened on our first day of primary school. He asked a few people – one hurt their head, one fell in a water fountain – but his experience was by far the worst. The weekend before he started he’d been introduced to Dr Who and the Daleks. Boyce was wearing a bow tie(which was unusual) and he didn’t want to go in as people were laughing at him. His teacher was an Irish nun with a long wimple and a dress that went down to her feet. It was a dark blue and she was stretching out her arm to reach him and his first thought was ‘Oh my God, there’s a small blue Irish Dalek coming after me!”
He then read from his latest (and in my opinion greatest) book ‘The Astounding Broccoli Boy’. It was very funny. He read one chapter in which two boys, who have turned green, manage to get out of the hospital thanks to a window cleaner’s cot. And in a stunning turn of events the main character, Rory Rooney, drives a bin lorry through the centre of London.
After that he went to some questions. After several, he was asked if he was going to write a sequel to one of his books ‘Cosmic’ . He said he would like to, and as an afterthought read the first few paragraphs from ‘Cosmic’. ‘Cosmic’ is about a twelve year old boy called Liam Digby who is very tall, so tall that some people even think he’s a grown up. After telling a few fibs he ends up being shown in assembly as the new head of media studies. And all sorts of trouble occurs.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, is in my opinion, one of the funniest authors ever, and this was the best talk I’ve seen this year at the Hay Festival.
I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that John Boyne’s book ‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’ is an international bestseller and an award winning film, I’ve not seen either. On the other hand, my three kids have seen both as it’s a set Year 7 text. They’ve all raved about it, and I’ve been meaning to get round to the book, so the fact John Boyne was speaking at Hay provided the perfect opportunity.
I’m still only about a quarter of the way through, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of John Boyne’s conversation with Hay Festival founder, Peter Florence. They began with a discussion of how important historical accuracy was to a novel that was also intended to be a fable. Boyne described how he wanted to write a historical story, without referring directly to the violence of the holocaust but in such a way that the truth is uncovered for the reader. He explained that geographical authenticity was less important to him than what happened to people. An example of this being that Bruno’s house would have actually been inside the fence, rather than on the outside. However, for narrative purposes, it is important a fence separates him from Shmuel.
The conversation moved on to the character of Bruno, who Florence described as naive, and Boyne felt was just innocent – someone who had no reason not to know what was going and had not yet thought through the issues. This has drawn some criticism – as some feel it is improbable that Bruno, aged 9, could be quite so ignorant. Boyne himself wondered out loud if he and his editor had got that right. His intent was to show the story unfolding through the eyes of a child who didn’t understand what he was seeing, that allows the audience to question and be his conscience. This allows Boyne to use narrative hints (such as Bruno’s description of Auschwitz as ‘Out-With’, the question of what sort of people don’t have baths?) so the reader is ahead of Bruno and knows what is going to happen. But should Bruno have in fact been more aware?
I think Boyne is right and the critics are unfair. Our parents are our first heroes. Bruno is from a loving family so it seems highly plausible to me that he would find it impossible to believe that his father is anything other than good. Secondly, the reality of the Holocaust was that many grown-ups didn’t see what was happening on their doorstep (or didn’t want to see it). Why is it so unlikely that a child fails to understand the truth, when so many grown ups were so ignorant? Thirdly, children believe what they are told, and if your father tells you other people are ‘non-persons’ who are you to argue? Finally, whilst we all like to think only bad people take part in these terrible historical events, the machinery of state killing is only possible because ordinary people participate in it unquestioningly. (A thought that reminded of my interview with Chris Woods earlier. It strikes me today’s US and UK drones programmes are full of good ordinary people who involved in a system that is killing people, because they believe they are doing the right thing for their countries).
Boyne also noted that whilst Bruno is basically a good person, he is capable of great selfishness. He often talks at Shmuel and is focussed on his own problems, rather than listening to his friend. When he takes food he eats some of it. When he betrays Shmuel he is sorry but also worries about being lonely. Again this seems very plausible – given that Bruno is a privileged child with loving parents and servants, it is entirely believable that his first thoughts are often about himself.
Although the book is about the horrors of the Holocaust, for Boyne it is ultimately about friendship.
The most important line in the book comes when Bruno and Shmuel are holding hands and say they are best friends for life. As dark and sad and honest as the book’s ending is, it does have this moment of beauty. Their friendship is stronger than the horror; it is they who they are cannot be beaten.
This is my last talk at Hay and it was a great one to go out on. It left me with lots to ponder and a wonderful book to take away.
I was intending to go to Chris Wood’s talk tonight as my husband Chris Cole (a drones researcher and campaigner) speaks highly of him and has raved about his new book ‘Sudden Justice’. So I was very grateful that Chris Wood agreed to meet me this morning for what proved a fascinating discussion about war reporting, drones, and what next for America.
Woods was a journalist for the BBC, who has reported most of the major conflicts of the last 25 years. He became interested in drone warfare in 2010, when working in Pakistan, after an official told him they couldn’t use an airbase to help flood relief because the US had appropriated it for their drones programme. He began to investigate and when he left the BBC for the Bureau for Investigative Journalism he set up a team to report on US drone strikes.
When he moved on from the Bureau, Woods decided to write the book in order get a wider sense of the story. The result is a holistic modern history of armed drones, that examines the effect on civilians, shows the way the battlefield has changed and the people who operate drone warfare. Late into the research, he was given an endorsement from the airforce book support programme which got him in the front door and gave him access to former senior officials in the military, government and intelligence services in the US, UK and military. As a result his book shows both sides of the story and allows the reader to form their own judgements of the ethics and appropriateness of this way of waging war.
The author’s interviews resulted in surprising conversations. Dick Armitage, a hawk in Bush’s government, supported the idea of targetted killings as he believed the US was justified in their actions. It was only when he visited Pakistan in 2009 that he realised the extent of killings and how the programme has spread so far that the CIA can’t always say who they’ve killed, a revelation that filled him with horror. Cameron Munter, former US ambassador to Pakistan stated that he should have had authority in the region, and yet the CIA effectively ran the show.
Much of Wood’s research has uncovered how the ‘war on terror’ has been a ‘tit-for-tat’ affair. Extraordinary rendition, began under Clinton, and resulted in alleged militants from Bosnia and Albania being taken to Egypt where they were tortured. One of these militants was the brother of the Al Qaeda no 2 El Zawaihari who ordered an attack on the US in Tanzania in revenge. In response, Osama bin Laden was put on the kill list. 9/11 soon followed, with the first US targetted drone strike happening a month later.
Woods also had access to ordinary drone operators, describing their tedious days, waiting for the CIA to tell them what to do, and working in a hierarchal structure that is both demoralising and disempowering. One interviewee’s description of how seeing a dog killed led to huge negative comments when an excerpt of the book was published in The Guardian. Woods felt this was unfair because he saw it as a moment when her humanity was able to express itself. He was glad that she still appreciated being quoted, and being given a voice in a situation where she felt powerless.
What is clear from Wood’s work, is that if Clinton and Bush began dronewarfare, with Bush being the ‘occasional assassin’, it is Obama who has institutionalised it. Drone killing is now part of US foreign policy alongside, diplomacy and trade. The difficult thing once you start such a programme, is how to turn it off. The next US president will have that choice, but is likely to feel compelled by the strategic imperatives to continue.
Woods has recently been on a book tour in the US where the drone programme is the support of 60% of the population. As he arrived the big story was that a drone had killed an US civilian, and yet the question was not about whether the strike was legal, but whether it was effective. Woods argues that this is because the media and government have a firewall in place that prevents proper reporting of the issues. With ‘remote reporting’ from journalists in Washington,who don’t see the impact on the ground, ‘remote warfare’ is distanced even further. He is encouraged by TV series such as ‘Homeland’ and the recent Ethan Hawkes film (which uses one of Woods true news stories as a plot line) which are beginning to air the issues for people, but even so, many Americans don’t know what is going on.
If America is to choose a different path, its citizens need to truly understand what is being done in their name. Which is why ‘Sudden Justice’ is such an important book as it allows a light to be shown on a killing programme that for too long has operated in the darkness. So if you’re at Hay looking for a thought provoking talk, I highly recommend you going to his event and buy a copy of ‘Sudden Justice’. You won’t regret it.
Chris Woods will be in conversation with Chris Hunter and Nik Gowing at the Llwfan Cymru – Wales stage at 8.30pm tonight.
Being a writer, I’ve been closely following the stellar rise of Jessie Burton, author of the 2014 sensation ‘The Miniaturist’. I follow Jessie, her agent Juliet Mushens and editor Francesca Main on twitter, so it’s been exciting to watch the story from the description of her submission letter to Mushens, the auction that followed, and publication that led to the book being on bestseller lists across the world.
And whilst it’s easy to get snarky about another writer’s success (read David Mitchell’s ‘The Bone Clocks’ for an excellent example of writerly envy), it’s impossible not to enjoy Burton’s. Not only is it a book worthy of the plaudits, but the author comes across as a genuinely lovely person who appreciates the wonderful and ‘discombobulating’ experience she has been having.
In this session with Georgia Godwin, she discussed both the busy promotional schedule of the last year, which has led to headline articles, personal interest in some countries, intellectual in others, but also some of the background to the book. She talked about how seeing the real miniature doll’s house in Amsterdam inspired her to explore a seventeenth century society that was both similar and different from ours. How wealthy women could walk the streets openly with their husbands, and could be members of guilds, and yet also had to fight the reactionary forces that pushed them back to the hearth.
She also talked about the complexity of her characters, how Nella is struggling to make sense of her world, and combative with her new family and how Marian’s kindness is buried in years of repression. And how the characters keep secrets from each other, sometimes because of the moralistic society they live in and sometimes for protection. How none of the characters can be fully known and some things are left half open.
I was also fascinated with her relaying how food becomes a status symbol in the book. Having sugar and spice meant people being able to show they were wealthy enough to flavour their food. Burton also noted that they would paint meals much in the same way people instagram them now.
This was a great interview, Burton is warm, self deprecating and an intelligent and thoughtful writer. I could have listened to her for hours. As a reader, I can confirm she writes beautifully. The Miniaturist isn’t my usual reading fare, but she drew me into the mysteries and secrets of her characters and describes the world so well, I really enjoyed it. As an aspiring writer her extraordinary rise to the top of the charts fills me with hope, not because I expect the same, but because it shows it is possible to be taken from the slushpile. And I love the fact she is so dumbstruck but the whole thing and was so excited by the size of her audience she took a selfie with us.
Her next book ‘Belonging’ will cover the Spanish Civil War and another set of secrets. It should be out next year – I’m already looking forward to it.