Sunday, 5 June 2011
Making Hay (While the Sun Shines)
Although my blog name suggests I have three main passions (if one can count coffee as a passion?), there is a fourth love that doesn't appear - books. Now that I've graduated from the wonders of children's stories, with a brief skid over the surface of teen novels, before arriving at the 'classics' and literary fiction terminal, everything I've read has led on to a deep appreciation of writing.
Luckily, I got to indulge myself in all things literary-related at Hay Festival of Literature and Arts last week. From meeting beloved childhood authors, to watching debates, with the odd bit of vintage shopping alongside, it was a truly enjoyable (and inspiring) weekend. There is something about the DNA of this small Welsh town that means it would have to take more than cell replication to copy the atmosphere during festival season. Although the weather was inevitably foul, alternating between lowering skies and stroppy downpours, with only the slightest hint of sunshine, it was true that (excuse the saying) nothing was going to rain on this parade.
I was lucky enough to see several writers on the days we were there – alongside listening to Polly Toynbee (Guardian columnist and author in her own right) who chaired a fascinating debate on ‘The End of Ideas’ as part of HowTheLightGetsIn program. It was while sitting there, on the end of a row of mismatched benches; hemmed in on all sides by raised seating areas covered in cushions and interesting looking people; while listening to Peter Hacker talk eloquently about the UK’s education system that I felt I had arrived. It’s a clichéd expression, but by this point I was feeling very ‘at home’. The debate itself was so interesting I will be devoting a whole post to it at some point in the future, when I have more thinking time and less exam-related scientific facts and historical dates clogging up my brain.
The first ‘author’ event I attended was the delicious combination of David Almond and Patrick Ness. I implore everyone to read Ness’s ‘A Monster Calls’, which led to uncontrollable sobbing when I finished it. It’s the perfectly heartbreaking but utterly real story of a boy who has to face his mother’s terminal illness – with a little help from the mythological Green Man.
Together, Ness and Almond talked extensively about what it means to write, why stories are so important, and the process behind their respective books. I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that stories help us to make sense of the ways of this strange world we live in, and should therefore be an integral part of life. That’s why I felt so saddened by all the recent stories about the closure of libraries across the UK.
I felt a similar sense of awe when I saw the great Geraldine McCaughrean two days later. On my childhood bookshelf, alongside Roald Dahl, Margaret Mahy and Eva Ibbotsen, there was Ms McCaughrean. She is the author of such titles as ‘Peter Pan in Scarlet’ and ‘The White Darkness’. One of the best things about festivals such as Hay is the chance to spend a minute or two (okay, maybe thirty seconds if it’s a long queue) talking to the authors whose words you have read and cherished. McCaughrean seemed genuinely pleased to hear that both my mum and I valued her absolutely incredible use of description and imagery in her work – which is often rare in today’s book market. I loved hearing her describe how she heard words and phrases, as one might “hear music”.
Finally, the author we got up extremely early to see, Owen Sheers. His novel ‘Resistance’ is one of those books where you’re not sure whether to race through the pages at a speed of a hundred knots to find out what will happen, or to eke out the chapters slowly in order to fully enjoy the writing and story. Set in an alternative World War II, where the German army are occupying Britain, it details the events in a very remote Welsh valley. I read it while recovering from surgery; and hearing Sheers talk about the characters and plot took me straight back to days full of snow falling outside the house, while I lay in front of a continually burning fire. ‘Resistance’ is a must read on all accounts, and is being released as a film in autumn.
Although I have talked about individual authors, it was the overall feel of Hay that made it so magical. This is a town in which shelves of second hand photography books housed in a castle can rub shoulders with a circus and a shop selling everything from war medals to velvet hats. The crowds were drawn together by a mutual love of thoughts, ideas and the written word. Oh, and talking once more of my blog title, I did have some excellent mocha coffees – thanks to the wonderfully named ‘Bean and Gone’ Coffee Co.
If you want to see pictures of what I wore on my first day at Hay, you can see Jill’s post here. In a moment of serendipity, we ran into each other on a street corner – but you can read the whole story on her blog.
This outfit has a very tenuous link with Hay festival, as I wore the long cardigan (a birthday present) on my second day there. Unfortunately, this was the day when it was very rainy indeed, meaning that said cardigan spent much of the day being held up to avoid being dragged in puddles. Here I layered it over shorts and a grey top – both charity shopped (along with the bag) – all kept in place with a second hand belt. My legs do not have some strange disease I may add, but the brown floral tights that looked great in the flesh did not translate well in front of the lens. The beautiful Office shoes were a birthday present too, along with the vintage sunglasses. The hat and faux-pearls were my great-grandma’s.
The blog has been eerily quiet of late, as a result not only of exams, but also a delightful camping trip – full of roasting marshmallows and jumping in the cold, welsh sea. I have only two more weeks of school left, and then I can blog to my heart’s content.