So on Saturday I drove to Hay-on-Wye to visit the Hay Festival for the very first time. I wasn’t really sure exactly what to expect. I’ve been to music festivals, sure. But an outdoor book festival? I couldn’t really picture it.
The first thing that struck me was the shear size and scale of the thing. On the stretch of road between the town of Hay-on-Wye and the Hay Festival site I passed a lot of people walking: all ages, dressed in the usual festival gear – everything from wellies to flip-flops, dresses to jeans to shorts, wet weather jackets and sunglasses. When I arrived at the parking, the first charity car park I tried was already full, but the guy on the gate looked at my little car and said he thought they could squeeze it in – luckily they did.
Then it was across the road and into the festival. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many book lovers all crammed into one space before! There was loads to see, not just all the fabulous events, but also the huge bookstore, the BBC radio broadcasts, the various eating places and bars, and also (if you’d brought the kids) a host of children’s play areas.
The first event I went along to was Letters Live in the Tata Tent. This event, in association with The Reading Agency and World Book Night, was a celebration of literary correspondence inspired by To The Letter by Simon Garfield and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher. The letters were read on stage by Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealy, Ian McEwan, Rob Brydon, Antony Grayling, Lisa Dwan and others (with James Rhodes reading a letter by Chopin and then playing a piece of his music on the keyboard set up on stage). It was a fantastic event with the letters, and their performers, both inspiring laughter and reflection at the emotion conveyed in each one and the wonder of the art of letter writing. The highlight of the event for me was the series of letters read by Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealy – the love letters of Chris and Betty whose relationship bloomed by correspondence while Chris was posted during the war (and later a POW).
Next I caught up with my friend Steph Roundsmith, who runs the KidsReadWriteReview scheme (http://www.kidsreadwritereview.co.uk/), and Kjartan Poskitt, the fabulous author of many children’s books including the Agatha Parrot series, the Murderous Maths series and his newest series – Borgon the Axeboy (see http://www.kjartan.co.uk/), who’d just finished his event and signing. We (slowly) inched our way through the crowds to the green room where we sat on the very comfortable sofas and chatted over a hot chocolate.
After that, I had time for a little mooch about. One of the things I loved was the Hollow Ash Shepherd’s Huts. These beautiful spaces are just perfect for using as a writing room in the garden. Hollow Ash also offer glamping holidays in a couple of huts situated in a beautiful part of Hereford. Check them out here http://www.hollowash.co.uk
Then it was dinner – potato wedges and hummus did the job – before heading to the Never Go Back – Lee Child talks to Sarah Crompton event. The tent was packed, and Sarah Crompton did at great job of questioning Lee about his route to becoming an author, where the inspiration (and name of Reacher) came from, and what happens in the latest book of the series – Never Go Back. Of course, there were also questions about the film, and Tom Cruise. And a question from the audience about why Reacher has had less sex in recent books – the answer? In Never Go Back there’s plenty! I’ve heard Lee speak a few times before, and he was as witty and entertaining as ever.
And then it was over. As I drove out of the festival site and headed home I reflected that the Hay Festival is a fun place to visit, and that perhaps next year I’d come along for more than one day.