John Crace and John Sutherland

Crace and Sutherland, a.k.a ‘The Two Johnnies’ ponder the question, “what of today’s literature will still be being read in 100 years time?” This enjoyable session featured the thoughts of the ‘Superprof’ Sutherland and the hilarious ‘Digested Reads’ of Crace.

Sutherland’s book, ‘How to be Well Read’ takes 500 novels; his own recommendations, as well as his pastiche on Victorian writing, proving, according to him, that just because he has a Phd in Literature doesn’t mean he can write. The questions “why do books survive from long ago?” and “what would be the Howard’s End of the 21st century?” were pondered, and we were treated to Crace’s version of Wolf Hall hoping that Hilary Mantel would get the joke as it underwent the ‘Cracian Digestion Process’. He attributes her presence in his version to her strong authorial voice in the novel.

Finally we heard the Digested Read version of Pippa Middleton’s party tips, hilarious for both audience and reader. Not sure if this one will be in Sutherland’s book. I suspect not…

David & Hilary Crystal

The linguists have teamed up to write a geographical journey of the English Language around Great Britain. Entertaining as always, they narrated their way through extracts of their latest book, Wordsmiths and Warriors. David identifies how, if you were to draw a circle around any location in England, you will discover some surprising things about the history of our language. From the very beginnings when the Danes invaded England and were defeated by King Alfred, to an actual memorial to dialect writers in Rochdale, they have uncovered a wealth of information about the history of the English Language.

Chris Tarrant – Dad’s War: Father, Soldier, Hero

It was a much quieter, humble and more reflective Chris Tarrant being interviewed and very sensitively by Paul Blezard. He suffered a stroke last year, rather terrifyingly during a long haul flight but has fully recovered.

His book about his father is a touching and poignant tribute to a much loved man, who, Tarrant discovered whilst researching for a programme for Channel 5, turns out to be a bit of a war hero, to his family’s surprise. Like many men who fought in WWII, his father hardly ever spoke about his experiences, even to his own wife.

It was the burglary of his Dad’s house, the day before his funeral that uncovered letters in a previously locked desk drawer. The discovery of these letters led Tarrant to five men who were still living and had known his father. Until then, he had never known he had been at Dunkirk, much less the actual details of his experiences there. One of them, Dougie, told him ‘I liked your Dad, but he was bloody mad!’

Tarrant spoke with enormous warmth and pride about his father, of the man he knew, and of the war hero he later discovered.

Margaret Drabble – The Pure Gold Baby

Peter Florence welcomed back to Hay the woman who was the first ever novelist they invited in 1988.  This time she was here  to talk about her novel The Pure Gold Baby. Margaret Drabble admitted to finding it difficult to find the right narrative voice for the novel about a young single mother of a severely mentally handicapped child. It is a novel of themes rather than characters, focussing on how time passes as we get older, how we become more reflective. It deals with the paradox of a child never growing up, always needing its mother. The young mother in the story will never be free from her role. Drabble admits that her writing process has slowed down as she’s got older. She finds she is less inhibited than she was as  an a young writer, asking herself “is it worth doing?”. Peter Florence asked her about the first sentence of the book, and what ‘prolepsis’ means – she explained that it is a literary device meaning a kind of ‘poetic foreshadowing’. She felt that her publisher and editor would hate it, but at this stage in her career she felt that she could get away with it! The novel is based on the situation of a good friend of hers, but she didn’t tell her she had written it until she had finished the book.  Luckily the friend approved and only made a few factual corrections to the manuscript. Drabble favours fiction over fact, as “it allows you to generalise, fiction frees you to make speculations, make theories about how things develop”. She had always been haunted about her friends situation, but also wondered if she had the right to write about someone who could never read what she’d written.

Hay Festival from the perspective of an eleven year old

Those of you who followed the blog last year may remember I was ill, so relied on Pete and Max to help me out. Max enjoyed it so much he’s put together a snapshot of recent events he has attended:

!Hey, Hay! Max’s shout out!
(Not in any order)
So far…

I have been to see Liz Pichon (the author of Tom Gates). She was EXCELLENT as she showed us how to draw ‘Tom Gates style’
Also Liz showed us two short videos of Tom Gates that I have never seen before and they were brilliant!
Here’s her new book (I read it and loved it – would recommend!)

The next thing that I loved was Geeks, Gadgets and Gizmos which was basically three men who love sci-fi and gadgets and write books about it (I bought one by Steve Feasey called Mutant City).

After this I went to see Marcus Sedgwick who gave a really great talk about his book which is all about a girl whose father goes missing and she and her little brother go to find him. That story line might seem simple but the odd and interesting thing is that the main character is blind (I think that that’s a really good idea and I’ve never seen it before!)
But as well as talking about his book he told us that he feels he’s getting followed by the number 354. For example, he once got in a cab and the phone number was 354. Then after getting out of the cab he went into his hotel room and his door number was 354. He has used this number in his book as much as he can, things like if you times 354 by another number in the book you get the number of words in the book, the book ends on page 354, the word dad is said 354 times and so on (it took him ages he said he’s never doing it again and that also his editors hate him!). The book is called She is Not Invisible.

Finally, and the event I loved the most was Charlie Higson (yes he is the one from The Fast Show!) and not surprisingly he gave a really funny talk about his new book that is definitely for at least over 11 year olds as it’s about a disease that only over 14 year olds can get (classic zombie disease) and it just leaves the kids to fend for themselves. I’m reading it and it’s really good!! The book series is called The Enemy.

Thanks for reading!


Toni Morrison talks to Peter Florence

Toni Morrison

She arrived on stage, this grand dame of literature, smiling and waving to a rapturous reception. ‘Now I know why I came back’ she laughed.

I’ve never read her novels, despite her being such an important writer, but was pleased to find out that Peter Florence was talking to her about one of her early novels, Beloved – coincidentally the one I bought just the other day. She began writing this in the early eighties, after being made redundant, an act that set her free to write seriously. She confessed to feeling a jittery kind of nervous feeling at the time, something she realised was pure happiness ‘a new state for me’ she said.

Morrison tells a fantastic story, she captured the audience in the palm of her hand whilst telling us how she was inspired to write Beloved after reading newspaper cuttings about the story of Margaret Garner, a young mother who having escaped slavery was arrested for killing one of her children (and attempting to kill her other two) rather than return to the slave plantation.

Peter Florence asked how the slave stories came to her, and she admitted this was rather problematic – books written by former slaves pleaded to the absolutionists rather than actually speaking out in protest. She was told stories, or snippets of them by her grandfather, and her mother who passed them down from older members of the family, but they were metaphorical in nature, almost in code.

It was shocking to hear about the existence of ‘the bit’ – a cruel device designed to control and silence female slaves – something she identifies as both personal and intimate, but restraining and controlling at the same time “it’s hard to find the right language to describe it”, she confessed.  She explained that it does not seem that there are any of the ‘bits’ left in America, they all seem to have been destroyed.

Morrison tells us that the actual sound of language is very important to her, sound and colours manipulate and seduce the reader – it is just as important to hear as well as read words. This reader is adding all of her novels to her ‘must read’ list.

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 Castle Tour

If you’ve got time this week, amongst the plethora of literary events, try and take an hour one morning to do a tour of Hay Castle, as I did in a very peaceful and sunny Hay on Wye today. Our tour today was led by Mark Baker, the author of Lost Houses in Wales who is doing a PhD in Architectual History at Cardiff University.

He took us around the fascinating grounds and interior of the 400 year old castle and it’s adjacent Jacobean house. Little of the original castle remains, but with Mark’s help we were able to map out where the walls, gardens and staircases once were. It has endured several fires in it’s history, two of them in the twentieth century, and it was recently announced that a £4.5 million heritage fund lottery grant had been secured for the continuing restoration of the building.

Richard Booth has already ploughed £2 million into the place, and so it is fantastic news that the future of the castle is safe in the hands of the castle trust. As Mark pointed out, there are around 3000 historical buildings ‘at risk’ in Wales, so it is very reassuring that there exists a public will to save this very important building in Hay on Wye.
Tours cost £4 – tickets from the Hay Festival box office. They start at 9am and 10am each morning for the rest of the week, meet outside the front of the castle where you will be met by one of the Hay Festival volunteer stewards.

Wet weather parking

The Macmillan Car Park adjacent to the festival site will be open from 8.30am on Monday 26 May. It’s muddy, so wellies are advised.

Parking in Clyro

The hard standing car park at Baskerville Hall Hotel in Clyro will also open at 8.30am. There will be extra shuttle buses running from Clyro to the festival site via Glasbury, avoiding the congestion in town. Journey time is approximately 15 minutes.

Baskerville Hall Hotel is on the A438 at Clyro, HR3 5LE, 150 yards west of the Texaco garage. The shuttle bus stop is by the main gate by the road.

Travel time

In case of traffic congestion, please allow an extra hour to reach the festival site in good time for your event(s)

All events will start 15 minutes later an advertised today!

Thanks to Hay Festival website for the above information.