Tag Archives: Literary Festival

Fighting the Middle-Aged at the Hay Festival

Fighting the Middle-Aged at the Hay Festival

Waking at 4:40 am, the journey from Surrey to Wales is a blur. A noisey rush along empty motorways, some hair-raising buffeting on the Severn bridge, and then  a drawn out, madcap dash down a warren of country roads to reach Hay-on-Wye. While the blue sky made a brief appearance just after leaving England, it is quickly replaced by a playful wind, light rain and some dark, imposing clouds. Just as I’m about the chrottle the SatNav for sending me to the middle on nowhere, Hay-on-Wye appears out of the morning mist and I give the SatNav a reprieve.

Walking around the festival ground an hour before it officially opens, the place is pristinely empty which makes me feel like an imposter. I keep on expecting to get asked for a pass or  to explain what I’m doing, but I’m glad I’m not stopped as I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here so early in the morning. I’m a peeping Tom, getting an eyeful of the naked festival ground before the neat composition of walkways and stalls are dressed with people. A few grisly faces peep out from stalls, trying to work out how to shake off last night’s hangovers. I find a dingey refreshment tent serving coffee. The server looks at me accusingly as I place my order: just because they’re open it doesn’t mean she wants to start serving yet. It’s probably not in her contract, assuming she has one, of course.

Sitting with a strong coffee I notice a few more people traipsing in, bringing with them a hopeful, morning excitement. The emptiness ebbs away, and I’m no longer an imposter, just another punter awaiting the day with anticipation. I finish my coffee, and make my way to the theatre tent to watch journalist Alice Jones interviewing Magnus Mills.

When Alice and Magnus take to the stage I’m initially surprised at Magnus’ height and graceful composure, but the surprise is only momentary before I notice Alice Jones’ legs. She has incredible, long legs, and even though the chill air is eating exposed flesh, she’s brazenly not wearing tights. I suspect the air is scared of her legs, as they look perfect for kicking at things viciously. I pull my attention away from her legs, and listen as Magnus tells the audience about his craft. How he structured his first novel, the Restraint of Beasts, like a fence; how structure and style are more important to him than plot; how writer’s block is just an excuse for not writing; how he never edits his work; and how none of his colleagues read books. My eyes hone in on Alice’s legs again. They’re wonderful.

Leaving Magnus and the legs behind, I walk round the festival. Although busier than before, it still feels like it hasn’t bloomed. Perhaps it’s because it’s a Sunday or perhaps it’s the boisterous wind, but the gaggle of visitors still aren’t thronging with much enthusiasm. It’s as though everyone’s witholding their excitement, and noone is willing to really relish the day. I visit Hay Fever, the area set aside for families, but still I don’t find the ebullience I’m searching for. Maybe it’s just the weather, but I wonder if the Hay festival is perhaps just a mecca for the windswept middle-aged?

I busy myself with more coffee and then step into the bookshop to watch Magnus Mills signing books. I wait patiently in queue with everyone else, clutching an unread copy of Screwtop Thompson for him to sign. People ask for specific messages, sometimes for a birthday present, or for a loved one back home. Magnus looks harried, and I start to wonder if signing books is a highpoint of the day for authors, or a chore they stomache solely for the chance to sell more books. The queue is unending, and while I really want to ask Magnus what he think’s about book signing, I decide against it and leave with my book untouched by his fair hand.

Stepping out into the whipping wind, I realise something extraordinary has happened. The quiet restraint of the festival has disappeared and has been replaced by a noisey buzz of people. Everywhere I look people are squeezing past other people, books clutched in claws and the wind blowing conversations up and down the covered walkways. I struggle for ten minutes to get away from the bookshop and then have to brawl my way into the Oxfam tent for a lecture by V.S. Naipaul. Squeezing into a dark corner of the full tent, I watch the legendary author for all of ten minutes before the soothing spell of his voice sends me to sleep. I dream of Alice’s amazingly long legs and wake just in time to applaud at the end of the lecture. I fight the crowd once more until I finally make it to the festival exit.

Next year I might or might not bring a heavy duty walking stick and some chainmail to fight the crowds, but next year I certainly won’t book tickets for the Sunday brekfast performances. Those early morning starts are not only undignified, but they’re a beastly preparation for a day fighting the crowds at Hay.

Literaryfestivals.co.uk

Literaryfestivals.co.uk

With over 100 literary festivals flooding the UK’s burgeoning festival market, www.literaryfestivals.co.uk is devoted to publicising details about all the UK’s festivals, and is the perfect resource for anyone looking to indulge in their next festival fix.

Of course, if you were to try attending 1/4 of the available festivals you’d have no time for reading, writing, or even breathing, which raises the opportunity for a brand new kind of fictional death: death by literary festival.

Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival 2010

Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival 2010

The dates for the Hampstead and Highgate festival has just been announced as 19 – 21 September, 2010. The festival is one of London’s answers to the increasingly popular literary festival scene, and aims to celebrate North London’s literary heritage, with many of the  event’s authors come from North London.

Appearances from big names will include  Martin Amis,  JeffreyArcher, Steven Berkoff, and Joanna Trollope, and bookings are now being taken online at http://www.hamhighlitfest.com.

Of course, if you’re not a particular fan of Hampstead  but want to mix your London and your literature, then there’s always the London Literary Festival at the Southbank centre, which runs from July 1 -18th July, 2010,  or there’s the Richmond Festival in November 2010.

Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2010

Manchester Children’s Book Festival 2010

As the book festival season settles across the UK, Manchester’s Children’s Book Festival is set to take place from 1st-4th July. Aside from book readings, children’s activities and a chance to meet authors, the festival is challenging as many people as possible to partake in their Readathon by only reading children’s books for the duration of the festival.

So if you’re anywhere near Manchester, be prepared for howls of despair as the populace reaches for their well-thumbed copies of  Harry Potter again, which is well documented as being  more akin to torture than literature. Shouldn’t festival organisers know better?

Oxfam Bookfest 2010

Oxfam Bookfest 2010

From 3rd-17th July Oxfam will be holding a bookfest across all its 700 stores in the UK, which will include a wide variety of book-related activities—from author events through to kids activity days, auctions and competitions.

So if you’re in the UK and need some respite from the hot British summer why not pop into your local Oxfam and engage your bookish and charitable nature.

The Hay Festival of Literature 2010

The Hay Festival of Literature 2010

For some reason my life is always at its busiest during the Hay Festival, and, to prove a point, this year I’ve been so busy as to nearly forget the UK’s crown jewel of Literature festivals.

Nonetheless, the UK’s busiest annual literature event is now in full swing, so if you’re finding yourself without something to do between now and Sunday 6th June 2010, then head to Hay-on-Wye and take in some wine, some writers, and some of the damned finest British weather this side of the Channel.

The Guildford Book Festival 2010

The Guildford Book Festival 2010

As the English Summer warms up and the  mad dogs and Englishmen run riot in anticipation of the sunshine, it seems a touch unmannered to consider the Autumn. However, since the Guildford Book Festival has announced this year’s dates as 14th – 23rd October, it would be unseemly not to, at the very least, mark the festival dates in the diary.

While the programme is yet to be announced, the festival is the pinnacle of the literature calendar of in the English commuter belt of Surrey, and anyone in the South East of England with a literate bone in their body could do far worse than engaging in some festival cheer, once that perennial inkling of happiness, our short summer blessing, has withered and wilted.