Hay Festival 2015

My first (real) blog post is dedicated to this year’s Hay Festival.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Hay Festival is a 10 day long literary and arts festival held annually in Hay-on-Wye and has been running for almost 30 years.  This is the third year that I’ve been, and I have every intention of going again next year, and for many years to come.

Location

Hay-on-Wye is a wonderful little town situated on the border of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is the self-declared town of books.  This moniker is well deserved, for it seems as though every other shop you pass is a book shop, or at least sells books alongside their other items.  My favourites include Richard Booth’s, The Addyman Annexe and Broad Street Book Centre.

There are multiple B&Bs which make it ideal for a weekend getaway, although good luck with reserving a room for the festival – they tend to be booked up at least a year in advance.  That said, you may chance upon a last-minute cancellation.  I don’t even try to get a hotel, and for the last two years I’ve booked a pitch at Wye Meadow Camping, which at least has the benefit of being situated directly across the road from the main festival site.  There are also warm showers, which is a massive win as far as I’m concerned.

Hay-on-Wye has several pubs serving decent beer (if you’re into that sort of thing) as well as the usual wines and spirits.  There are also a number of restaurants serving a range of food from tapas to the obligatory Indian.

All in all, Hay is great place to escape to at any time of year.

The Festival

The Hay Festival is run in May each year, starting on the weekend of the spring bank holiday.  The first day is dedicated to school programs, with a wider range of events launching on the Friday (which still includes several for children).  I’ve only made it to the first weekend so far, but needless to say that the Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days.

The festival has largely the same layout each year (based upon the year’s I’ve attended, at least) and includes several event venues, the festival book shop and a food court.  The festival book shop stocks books by the attending authors, and is where the signings take place after the events have been held.

Events are usually priced at around £8, although this does vary.  Entrance into the festival site itself is free, and you can wander around even if you’re not attending any of the talks.

The Talks

Hay Festival offers a wide variety of events each year, covering topics such as science, politics and economics as well as hosting numerous authors.  The evenings often provide live music and comedy events.

I attended several talks this year, and have picked out some the highlights below:

How to Clone a Mammoth – Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary molecular biologist, discussed the feasibility of cloning species which are now extinct.  If, like me, you’ve dreamed of owning a pet dodo since reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, you may have to wait a while yet.  Shapiro delivered her talk in a highly engaging way, and made the complex science easily accessible.

Melissa Harrison and Laline Paull – Melissa Harrison and Laline Paull gave a talk on their novels At Hawthorn Time and The Bees, respectively.

I read The Bees earlier this year, and absolutely loved it.  It’s a highly original piece, set as it is in a somewhat dystopian beehive.  It is Paull’s debut novel, although she has worked as a screenwriter and has written for the theatre prior to producing her novel.  The book has also been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the winner of which will be announced on 3 June.

I haven’t read At Hawthorn Time yet, although I enjoyed Harrison’s debut, Clay, which I read last year.  Clay was selected for Amazon’s Rising Stars program in 2013, and follows the overlapping lives of four characters linked by a tiny patch of parkland in the middle of a city.  It’s beautifully written, and I’m looking forward to reading Harrison’s latest offering.

No Such Thing as a Fish – The QI Elves recorded their weekly podcast, No Such Thing as a Fish, at this year’s Hay Festival.  This podcast sees four elves sharing the favourite fact that they’ve come across that week, and descends into general chatter.  This was both fascinating and hilarious, and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of the elves that are so often mentioned, yet never seen, on QI.

Conclusion

I’d recommend the Hay Festival to anyone – it offers talks on a broad range of topics, and I think that most people could find something to interest them in the program.  It’s suitable for all age groups, and has several events for children throughout the week, coinciding as it does with half term.

Maybe I’ll see you there one year!

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