At the end of May, I spent a Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday at Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye. Despite my love for books, I’d not been before, and it was quite an experience! It’s huuuuge compared to other Literature Festivals, and much busier. There were possibly too many people… But understandable with the number and renown of the authors who were speaking. It is very well organised – parking was actually really good (always something I worry about!) and it was all under cover, which was invaluable on the first day with storms and torrential rain. We went to six events over two days, which were all excellent, so here’s a bit of a wrap up of the trip!
Our first talk was with Ian McEwan, author of Atonement and On Chesil Beach, speaking to Stig Abell, who is editor of the Times Literary Supplement. McEwan is really personable and entertaining, and it was amazing to hear him talk about his writing processes, his opinion on some of his own work, and adapting books for film.
Following the first event, we went to hear Emily Wilson talk on her new translation of the Odyssey. It was actually more of a lecture, but I found it really interesting, especially in relation to my MA studies. Wilson is a really passionate academic and her talk covered themes in the Odyssey, the differing benefits and aims of translation itself, and aspects of the oral tradition from which we know ‘Homer’. Dubbed a ‘feminist’ translation, Wilson also spoke about how she had brought into her translation the perspectives of the often-silenced women in the narrative. A fascinating talk from an outstanding writer.
The final talk of Sunday was a last minute addition, which was a conversation with Kathy Burke and Nina Stibbe. This centred around the new collection of short stories which Burke has edited, which has been funded by donations and all profits will be going to support those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire of last year. Burke and Stibbe are both excellent, engaging speakers, and throughout the mental as well of physical after effects of the tragedy were stressed. The book itself is a fantastic idea, and having already read it through, I can confirm that it is an emotional, heartfelt collection of really well-written stories, some of which are truly stand-out amazing. Buy the book, whether it be for the stories or for helping to support.
[Of course Kathy Burke had her eyes closed in this picture…]
On the Monday, we attended three more events. First was a really inspirational panel, in relation to the #Vote100Books initiative. This brought together 100 key books by women from the past 100 years. On the panel were Edith Hall, Shazia Mirza, Allison Pearson, Elif Shafak, Sharlene Teo, and Gabrielle Walker. All fantastic and well-spoken women, the discussion centred around what was on the list, author favourites, and what they thought might have been missed. A great panel and event overall.
Next was Edith Hall in her own event, to talk about her new book Aristotle’s Way. She looks into how and why we should follow Aritotle’s teachings in modern times, which as a Classics student I was bound to find interesting! Hall was a really entertaining speaker and the event was really enjoyable, and I’m definitely now looking forward to reading the book.
Our final talk was a slight departure from the other events which we attended. The last event was with Frances Hardinge, who is a children’s and YA author. I had only heard good things, so I booked the talk and ordered her latest book, A Skinful of Shadows, which I did manage to read before heading to the festival. It was one of the most unique and gripping stories which I had read in a while, and I can see people of all ages absolutely loving it. I lent it to my mum before we went, and she really enjoyed it too. The talk itself was aimed at slightly younger readers, and honestly 10/12 years ago I would have adored the event. However, I queued to meet Hardinge afterwards and get my book signed, and she was so so lovely. She even drew a goose under her signature!
I had such a fantastic time at Hay – I would highly recommend that every book lover try to get to the festival at least once! They also have brilliant events for children, and plenty else going on alongside the talks themselves. Might have to book my accommodation for next year….!