Hay Festival


Saturday the 23rd of May saw my first visit to the Hay Festival in Wales. First, we had to battle the carpark that called itself the M1. Where do all the cars come from? Eh? They’re like a creeping tide—there’s a few cars, a few lorries, and the odd motorbike. Then there’s more cars, and more lorries, and car transporter, and before you know it you’re drowning in multi-coloured metal and exhaust fumes. And there’s no lifeguard, you’re on your own, sink or swim. We sunk. For three hours. Until, like crabs scuttling away under rocks, all the vehicles dispersed.

Arriving exhausted, and tetchy, at the festival campsite seven hours later we could do no more than stumble around the tented village and make a feeble attempt to show interest.

Sunday saw a clear sky and two crisp tickets for the Jacqueline Wilson talk. To be honest, having never read her books, I had no real interest in the talk but I accompanied my twelve-year-old daughter. Turns out, she’s a very interesting lady. On her 101st book, the premise of her hour-long chat was that she never gave up. Growing up in an age where women were either housewives or secretaries she had a bigger struggle than say, I do. Especially as her mother said to her, why would anyone want to read your books, Jacqueline?

Fact of the day: Did you know that the 1970’s girls’ magazine Jackie was named after Jacqueline Wilson? She made such an impression in the magazine offices that they honoured her with the name. Apologies to anyone who doesn’t have a clue what I’m talking about!

Sunday evening saw the Yorkshire poet, Simon Armitage, reading. I went alone and managed to get a seat three rows back. He came onto the stage, head down and fiddling with his book. My impression was he was uncomfortable with the glare of a thousand pairs of eyes.

Simon says (put your hands on your head – no, sorry) there’s no inspiration sitting and staring at a study wall. Get out and mix with people, experience life, and daydream. The idea for my book came to me as I walked along the side of a river that shone copper in the sunlight. My novel has a copper river in it but it’s not the basis for the whole book. Edward, his father, Burn, the Ancients, the Collector, and the Copper Queen all sprang from that walk along the river.

When Simon walked the Pennine Way for his book Walking Home, he found that the part of his brain responsible for poetry is also responsible for navigation. He couldn’t navigate and think of poems at the same time. I find that the part of my brain responsible for writing also seems to be connected to my ears. I can’t write if the noise level in the house is above that of an electric toothbrush.

I love the way Simon sees the world. I’m also trying to notice what he does—the people in the shadows, the abandoned and the neglected objects, and the way that light changes a scene.

I’m biased, but do read his work. Try his non-fiction Walking Home or his retold Sir Gwaine and the Green Knight.


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