As long-time readers of my blog will know, I love the annual Hay Festival which runs for ten days from the May bank holiday weekend, and I’ve spent the last four days there listening to authors and speakers talking about their books or chosen topic. And this year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the festival, and it was wonderful to be there for this milestone which makes the festival almost as old as I am!
As with previous years, there were (and are – the festival is still ongoing, even though I’ve had to come home before I ended up bankrupting myself) a wide variety of talks covering fiction, science, politics, and economics as well as a number of events for younger readers.
A few festival highlights for me included:
Could Viruses Be Good for You?
Dr Simone Cuff, a research associate at Cardiff University, gave a talk about symbiotic relationships in nature, which take one of three forms:
- Parasitism: one organism – the parasite – benefits, whilst the host is negatively affected (the example used here was the completely gross tongue-eating louse, which is a parasite that swims in through a fish’s gills, cuts off circulation to the fish’s tongue making it fall off and then takes the tongue’s place, thereby gaining nutrients from the food consumed by the fish – Google it, it’s horrifically fascinating!)
- Commensalism: one organism benefits, whilst the other is not affected in any way whatsoever, such as barnacles on a whale
- Mutualism: both organisms benefit e.g. bees and flowers
Historically, viruses have only been studied due to their negative effects, but scientists are now looking at whether some viruses may form a mutually beneficial relationship with the host i.e. us. Dr Cuff shared an example whereby one particular virus helps to make us more resistant to certain types of bacteria.
I found this to be a really interesting talk, and Dr Cuff’s delivery struck a good balance between being informative yet understandable, and was incredibly engaging.
David “novelist not comedian” Mitchell
I absolutely adore David Mitchell’s work, and jumped at the chance to see him for the first time – he attends Hay Festival regularly, but never at a time when I’m there, to the point where I was starting to take it personally.
You may be aware that a few years ago, The Reason I Jump was published. This was written by Naoki Higashida, and describes his own experiences with autism as a boy – I believe that he was thirteen when he wrote it – and was translated into English by K.A. Yoshida (Mitchell’s wife) and David Mitchell himself, who has also penned an introduction.
Mitchell’s talk focused his experiences with his son who also has autism, and described how this prompted them to search out books in order to understand autism more fully, finding little of use, but stumbling across The Reason I Jump, which was by far the most helpful text, written as it is by someone who has experienced it, rather than just studying it, and resulted in them translating it to increase awareness and understanding of autism.
In July, Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight will be published, which was also written by Higashida and translated by Yoshida and Mitchell. Where The Reason I Jump focused on his experiences as a boy, this next book looks at his life as a young man. I love the title, which is from Japanese proverb about perseverance and not giving up.
Chevalier, perhaps best known for her historical fiction, discussed her participation in the Hogarth Shakespeare project, in which eight authors were invited to write a novel based upon one of Shakespeare’s plays. Chevalier chose Othello.
I’m really excited about this – whilst this is the fifth book in the project to be published, it’s the first that is based upon a play that I’m familiar with, having studied it at A-level.
In New Boy, Chevalier brings the story into a 1974 playground, where Osei, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, is starting at his new school in Washington D.C. I love the idea behind this, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this tragic tale translates to such a different setting.
Neil Gaiman attended Hay Festival to discuss his latest book, Norse Mythology, with Stephen Fry, who is himself working on a similar project looking at Greek, rather than Norse, myths (to be published in November).
Both did a reading from their books, and I found this to be incredibly interesting – as I’m sure you’ll have realised, I love mythology and works based upon these old tales, and I’m really excited to read Norse Mythology.
What made this event particularly special was Chris Riddell’s (unexpected, by me at least) attendance on stage as he sat to one side illustrating their conversation and readings, with amusing results. I expect that this is one of those events that you had to be there for to understand what was so funny about it, but I really enjoyed it.
The Book Haul
Of course, no trip to the Hay Festival is complete for me without buying a book or two. I think that I outdid myself this year, and came back with multiple bags full of books!
Here are the books I bought from the talks (note the deliberate phrasing – I picked up one or two other titles as well!)
And yes, that is a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary in there! Whilst not my usual kind of read, I enjoyed Helen Fielding’s talk about the latest instalment, Bridget Jones’s Baby, but having not read any of these novels, I’m starting at the beginning!