Meera Syal Talks to Sarfraz Manzoor

Meera Syal

Meera Syal is in Hay to talk about her third novel and her first book in 16 years, ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’.  She just didn’t have a book that she wanted to write during that time and until she was watching a  documentary about surrogacy in India. It was as if one of her favourite books, Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ had crossed the line from fiction into fact.

The surrogacy industry in India is now worth $4.5 billion a year, and often poor girls from rural areas carry babies for wealthy foreign couples.

In Meera’s new novel, Shyama, at 48 (in the first draft she was 44) has fallen for a younger man, Toby, and they want a child. She already has a 19 year-old daughter and has been told that she can’t have another child. Her friend Priya tells her about ART – Assisted Reproductive Technology. At the same time in a rural village in India, young Mala is trapped in an oppressive marriage and needs money to escape from her situation..

Manzoor says asks whether the novel about a relationship between two people is also about the relationship between England and India and Syal agrees. This isn’t too far from call centres,”effectively we’ve outsourced fertility”.  The West has rich infertile women and the East has poor fertile women and trade has stepped in.

The discussion covered issues of culture and diversity and how Meera had played with these issues in a mischievous and irreverent way in her work. “There’s a  difference between Bernard Manning telling a Jewish joke and Woody Allen telling a Jewish joke.”  The subject of age is also at the fore in this discussion and particularly in the impact it has on women. “However much botox you have your ovaries are still the age your ovaries are.”

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The Unthanks: Live with Magpie


“It hits you in your soul rather than your head. I love them” says Adrian Edmondson. On Wednesday night The Unthanks did just that with an astounding set in the Telegraph tent.  From the very first song, Hawthorn, they were mesmerising.  Both Rachel and Becky Unthank have pure haunting, soulful voices which blended with the exquisite trumpet playing of Victoria Rule of The Amadè Players.

The music is sweet but also dark. “You had the choice tonight between the misery of Jack Dee, or the deep, deep misery of The Unthanks” said pianist and the group’s manager Adrian McNally, “you people need to take a long hard look at yourselves.” The songs are powerful and the exceptional voices are coupled with fine musicianship including Niopha Keegan on violin and backing vocals with Chris Price on bass.

The new album ‘Mount the Air’ is available now – you can order it here.

Neil Gaiman: In Conversation with Claire Armitstead

Neil Gaiman 2

Before she begins Claire Armitstead receives rapturous applause from half the audience when she mentions that she is the Books Editor for “the opposition”, The Guardian. She then mentions that one of the stewards on the way asked the if they were here for the ‘Neil Gaiman’ event. Levelling and so very Hay Festival.

Gaiman talked about his personal and professional relationship with the late Terry Pratchett.  They collaborated when Neil was just 27. Gaiman’s first novel Good Omens was a collaborative effort with Pratchett and he described how they each wrote sections and shared them with each other over the phone.

He shares his favourite memory of Pratchett. “I was in a taxi on my way to a book signing and my phone rang.” Terry, suffering from Alzheimer’s, was writing an autobiography and he had a lapse of memory that he thought Neil might help with.  In the US in 1990 during the promotional tour for ‘Good Omens’ after a memorable and chaotic radio interview the two of them were signing a ‘They Might be Giants” song on the street.”Were we on 39th or 40th St?” said Terry.

“Terry was somebody who used anger..it was something that drove him” said Gaiman. People who say he was a sweet man had never met the real Terry Pratchett.

Gaiman also talks about his new book of short stories ‘Trigger Warning’ and reads from July. It is one of twelve stories in the collection entitled ‘A Calendar of Tales” created after Blackberry invited Gaiman to request ideas from fans via Twitter and then create stories around the replies.

Levison Wood – Walking the Nile

 Levison Wood  was an Officer in the Parachute Regiment. He is the first person to walk the entire length of the river Nile, taking a year beginning in December 2013. He has written a book detailing the expedition called ‘Walking the Nile’.

He had a companion called Boston, an African  former rebel soldier, and the expedition was filmed for a documentary series on Channel 4.

He begins by scotching myths of elegance on the banks of the Nile portrayed by Agatha Christie and others. He underlines this with an image of a Nile cruise boat rusting on a sand bank.  The recent history of Nile cruising is all but over with the political and military instability in the region. 

This was a gruelling venture through searing heat, inhospitable land and war zones.
In clips from the TV series we see Levison wrestling with tribesmen, rescuing a baby monkey from a bush fire and avoiding land mines in South Sudan. Having seen him pummelled by the feet of his nomadic companions on one leg of the trip, I’d recommend that you never ask a Bedouin for a massage.

William Fotheringham on Bernard Hinault and French Cycling

Bernard Hinault, known as ‘the Badger, was a man of few words, a hard man, a man of granite a kind of Clint Eastwood on two wheels.

Will Fotheringham, the UK’s leading cycling journalist, has done much to convey the grit required to be be a competitive road cyclist. He was also ghost writer of Bradley Wiggins autobiography ‘My Time’. In a new book he has written about one of cycling’s hardest ever hard men, Hinault.

Bernard Hinault won the Tour de France five times. He is one of only six cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours, and the last French cyclist to win Tour in 1985.

He was an angry young man with a record in cycling second only to Eddie Merckx. In the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in 1977 Hinault, in the yellow jersey, was heading for victory. But he crashed in the mountain descent. He climbed up from the roadside, licked his wounds and and got back on his bike, going on to win the race in Grenoble.

Fotheringham’s book ‘Bernard Hinault and the Fall and Rise of French Cycling’ also contemplates the future and the emergence of tough and talented young French riders.

Maajid Nawaz Talks to Oliver Bullough

20150526_195335Maajid Nawaz begins with a shocking tale from his home town of Southend. At the age of 15 he was about to take a racist beating from supporters of Combat 18. A local, Maajid  believes was called Matt, attempted to step in and was stabbed multiple times by the skinhead thugs.

In a later episode his friend fooled the thugs into believing he had a bomb in a rucksack. They backed off and it taught Nawaz the power of fear. It was his first real step to radicalisation.

At 16 he joined the Islamist Jihadist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The student Nawaz was expelled for his political activities. He later went to SOAS but travelled extensively in Pakistan and Denmark creating and building Jihadist groups. At 24, he was in Egypt when 9/11 happened. He was arrested and subjected to inhumane treatment, although he escaped the levels of torture that many fellow inmates experienced. He was there for four years. Whilst in jail he came to the conclusion that Islamic Jihad was essentially a fascist ideology overlaid over Islam. He left Egypt and prison as a liberal committed to human rights.

Maajid founded Quilliam, a London-based think tank that focuses on Islamism as the cause of Muslim terrorism. It lobbies governments in order to demonstrate how Islamist ideology is incompatible with Islam.

In 2009 he joined the Liberal Democrats, because he believed and wanted to show that the democratic system could embrace even those who has sought to oppose and undermine it.

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