Withdrawal Symptoms

It’s Monday and all of the excitement of the Hay Festival is a memory. I didn’t write any blogs for the final few events that I attended but thought that it might be interesting to some of you if I give a quick summary before I sign off for good.

On the 29th May I joined a packed audience to listen to the talented dynamic acoustic folk/rock singer/guitarist Frank Turner. Being of a certain age, his performance transported me to my past, to the days of Dylan, the Doors and the many other anti-establishment protest artists of that era. I was surrounded by fans of Frank who were able to sing every word and I think that it is fair to say that the evening performance gave us all a real treat of an extraordinary talent.

Debborah Moggach is a prolific writer who is able to position her stories in locations that are not familiar to her because she understands her characters so well that they can drive the story rather than the place. A luxurious flat is a luxurious flat, wherever it is. She finds smug marrieds hard to tolerate, an opinion that made the front page of the paper on the following day.

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian born campaigner for the rights of women, spoke passionately about confronting oppressive regimes throughout the world. She pointed out that women’s liberties and rights are compromised in many western cultures in addition to the better known areas of the Middle East and northern Africa. Divulging some of her most intimate experiences gave weight to the evidence of the suppression that women encounter on a daily basis. Her book ‘Headscarves and Hymens:Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution’ is a plea to confront the toxic mix of culture and religion that affects the daily lives of the women in those areas.

I finished off my Hay experience this year with a delightful session from the Call the Midwife team. Virginai Nicholson lead the discussion where the screenwriter, producer and star (Jenny Agutter) gave insight to the research and story development for the series. As an ex-midwife, this series intrigues me and it can move me to tears as I remember some of my own experiences delivering babies. The attention to detail is remarkable even to ensuring they have the correct size of fake umbilical cord for the size of the baby.

Now I have returned to my home, inspired to return to my second novel, and thankful for the opportunity to experience the wonderful Hay Festival.

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An Afternoon with Pam Ayres

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From the moment that Pam Ayres walked onto the Tata stage, she captivated her audience with humour, wit, facial expressions and a perfect sense of timing. Her introductory piece was a poem about the arrival of a letter from the pension office and it was the start of a series of hilarious poetry and stories which had the audience in an uproar, I have seen Pam Ayres on television but her impeccable delivery of her material and the twinkle in her eye can only be appreciated in a live show.

What was unexpected for me, was the sensitivity with which she described things such as the departure of her son for university and the arrival of her grandson into her family.

Most people know that her husband features in some of her material (not always in a positive way) and I think that he must have a forgiving nature as they have had a long marriage.

This session was one of my highlights of Hay Festival this year because I laughed so hard that my stomach ached for hours afterwards and it is wonderful to witness a true craftswoman practice her art.

Victoria Hislop Interviewed by Georgina Godwin

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Victoria Hislop made her mark as a novelist with her story of a leper colony, ‘The Island’, in 2005 and is now promoting her fourth novel ‘The Sunrise’ at the Hay Festival. She disarmed the audience immediately when she expressed her surprise at the turnout in the Telegraph Tent as the Archers were at the BBC stage next door. In addition to her novels, Victoria is an experienced travel journalist, short story writer and has been involved in the development of the Greek television adaptation of ‘The Island’. She has also taken up a role as an ambassador for Lepra.

‘The Sunrise’ takes place in northern Cyprus in 1974 during the Turkish coup which divided Cyprus into 2 zones, the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot areas. The Sunrise in the title is a luxurious, almost vulgar, hotel situated in a seaside resort frequented by the jet-setters of the pre-separation era. The plot is a love story between two families, one Greek and the other Turkish, who are caught up in the conflict and end up taking shelter in the Sunrise hotel.

Victoria Hislop is a feminist (with a small ‘f’ she says) and loves to write about the impact of men’s decisions to go to war on the women caught up in the conflict. She has an in-depth knowledge of Greece and her people and her love of the country is obvious to the observer as she describes her travels there.

Victoria discussed the importance of music as she writes and states that she has one of the largest collections of Greek music of anyone in Britain. The woman herself has a gentle demeanour however expresses a wonderful sense of humour, intelligence and wit which made the session a pleasure to attend.

Alan Bennett, Nicholas Hytner, and The Lady in a Van

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Alan Bennett was joined on the Hay stage by Nicholas Hytner, known for his work in the National Theatre, to preview and discuss their new film ‘The Lady in the Van’. The story is based on Alan’s memoirs of his relationship with Mrs. Shepherd, a homeless lady who lived in a van, moved onto his drive for three months and ended up staying there for 15 years. The memoirs became a successful play starring Maggie Smith and once again, she takes the lead in the film production.

The audience was treated to several clips of the film and judging by the roars of laughter, I think that anyone who goes to the cinema to see this film will not be disappointed. The film script was written once Maggie Smith agreed to take part in the film and she appears to embrace the role so wholeheartedly that you forget she is an actress playing a role. The film is narrated from two viewpoints of Alan Bennett, as the man who offers compassion to the woman and as the writer who observes and records the story.

The presentation was filled with humorous moments as both Alan Bennett and Nicholas Hytner described the reactions of the neighbours in the street of Camden where they filmed, how layers of filth were created, a weekend when two homeless men took up residency in the ‘prop’ van so that it had to be sanitized and refilled with sterile filth, and the determination of Mrs. Shepherd to form her own political party.

However, the main message of the evening was about humanity. Mr. Bennett observed this poor homeless woman being tormented on the street and that interfered with his creativity as a writer and so, he issued that invitation to move onto his drive. When he speaks about her, Alan Bennett uses words of respect and he was able to see beyond the dirty clothes and offensive smells. I discussed this presentation with a woman in the queue at the bookshop and she echoed my description of the sense of humanity that marked the presentation.

At the end of the hour Alan Bennett was presented with the Hay Festival Medal for Drama and the audience rose to their feet. He responded with a humorous story and left me wishing that the man who is Alan Bennett was a friend of mine.

Hannah Rothschild – An Insight into the World of Art

Rosie Boycott spoke with Hannah Rothschild about the mysteries of the art world, a subject that drives the plot of her new novel ‘The Improbability of Love’.

As the newly appointed chair of the National Gallery, and as a member of a family renowned for their art collections, Hannah Rothschild has an insight into this strange world where the value of a piece stems from desire to own, bearing no relation to the amount of work entailed to produce it.

In her novel, Hannah Rothschild uses different viewpoints, including a talking painting. She says that her work in making films has helped her to picture scenes when writing this novel and, as a child trailing behind her father as he viewed artworks, she often had a strong desire to hear the paintings speak and tell their stories.

One of her main aims in her new role at the National Gallery is to ensure that admission remains open to all and she is against the introduction of entry fees to galleries for this reason. A member of the audience raised the question of how to ensure that the young develop interest in the arts and Hannah Rothschild is keen to ensure that future generations learn the sociology behind the great paintings and artworks.

Greg Jenner – The History of Our Morning Activities

Greg Jenner, a historical consultant for the Horrible Histories, gave an entertaining presentation ‘A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life’, charting the history of our everyday morning routine. 

From the question of how to dispose of the elimination of our body waste to the development of the toothbrush Greg delivered a précis of what the reader can expect to find in his new book. Photos of the ancient beds and pillows made me thankful for the million or so springs in my mattress and the desire of our Victorian ancestors for privacy means that I do not have to share my morning ablutions with the entire community. At one time, a shower or bath could prove fatal as the heater blew the poor unsuspecting victim into pieces. Arsenic seems to have fallen in and out of favour over the years and I am certain that the unhappy wife could have used this to her advantage whilst seeming to care for her husband’s skin, teeth, etc.

Greg’s book charts the history relating to a day’s activities of the human being, including timekeeping, personal care, sourcing food, etc. Our sophisticated modern society has not necessarily progressed beyond that of the ancient civilizations. I wish that Greg had been around in my days of learning history when dates mattered more than understanding the sociology of the period.

10:00 am Laughter Is The Best Medicine

Tipping the family members out of their beds in order to attend Helen Lederer’s early session, was worth every grumble when she rewarded us with an entertaining hour of comic indulgence. The miseries hanging over from the late night before disappeared as this talented performer took to the stage, treating the audience to a ten minute display of her stand-up comic talent. By the end of her introduction, she had won the hearts of most of the audience.

Helen is at Hay to promote her first novel ‘Losing It’, a tale of a middle-aged woman’s participation in a paid trial to lose weight. As she loses weight, she hopes to save her house. The heroine has tried all kinds of faddy approaches to her weight-loss, some based on real-life experiences and Helen made us giggle as she read a passage about the All White Clinic for colonic irrigation. Helen states that she writes in a new genre of ‘mid-lit’. Her type of comedy is about recognition & making it feel as though she & her audience are ‘as one’.

The serious dilemma of working as a woman in comedy (a male dominated industry) has encouraged her to promote the new ‘Comedy Women in Print’ award (CWIP). Behind the funny exterior, lurks a clever, observant mind.

Intelligent comedy reading for the middle aged – I look forward to reading her novel.