This May bank holiday weekend marked the start of the 31st Hay Festival. I’ve been to the festival for six years in a row now, and fully intend to make it seven come next May.
I arrived on Friday, already knowing that the weather forecast contained rather more rain that is strictly ideal for three nights of camping, got the tent up, and headed across to the festival site for a look round. I don’t actually mind camping in the rain once I’ve satisfied myself that my tent is still watertight (it is), and once in the festival site it’s easy to avoid the weather as there are raised walkways (so you’re not constantly battling the mud) which are all covered, with plenty of options for getting tea, coffee, or something a little stronger if that’s your thing.
The talks at Hay cover a broad range of topics – fiction (for young and old alike), science, politics, economics, comedy… I could go on. I attended a number of talks including:
- Robert Webb talks to Sarfraz Manzoor – HOW NOT TO BE A BOY
- OLGA TOKARCZUK in conversation with Gaby Wood – THE WINNER OF THE 2018 MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE
- Kayo Chingonyi talks to Dai Smith – THE 2018 INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE
- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Lina Meruane talk to Rosie Goldsmith – FICTIONS: NEW LIFE
- Roddy Doyle talks to Stephanie Merritt – FICTIONS: SMILE
- Simon Mayo talks to Georgina Godwin – FICTIONS: MAD BLOOD STIRRING
- Gaby Wood, Philippe Sands, Elif Shafak, Juan Gabriel Vasquez – THE GOLDEN MAN BOOKER PRIZE
- Ian McEwan talks to Stig Abell – THE DEBORAH ROGERS FOUNDATION CONVERSATION
- Stephanie Merritt talks to Olivia Cole – FICTIONS: GOTHIC
- David Baddiel – MY FAMILY: NOT THE SITCOM
- Fiona Sampson – IN SEARCH OF MARY SHELLEY: THE GIRL WHO WROTE FRANKENSTEIN
- Edith Hall, Shazia Mirza, Allison Pearson, Elif Shafak, Sharlene Teo, Gabrielle Walker – #VOTE100BOOKS
- Allison Pearson talks to Stephanie Merritt – FICTIONS: HOW HARD CAN IT BE?
- Frances Hardinge talks to Georgina Godwin – A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS
- Margaret Atwood – THE HANDMAID’S TALE
As you can see, there is quite a mix even in the events I went to, despite my predilection for fiction. I enjoyed all of these events, but to pull out a few highlights:
I will never get tired of hearing Margaret Atwood speak, and whilst she has written many novels since The Handmaid’s Tale, I really enjoyed hearing her discuss its relevance today, the TV adaptation, the influences of the time at which she wrote the novel… there was so much packed into this one-hour conversation. And she made quite the entrance, followed by handmaids who sat either side of the stage during the talk. Absolutely wonderful, and I highly recommend going to see her if you get the opportunity.
The Golden Man Booker Prize
To celebrate 50 years of one of the leading literary awards, five former winners – one from each decade – have been selected by a panel of judges, and the public can vote for their favourite until 25 June, and the winner will be announced on 8th July. I really enjoyed the discussion around the five selected titles, and it will be interesting to see if the public vote goes the same way as the panel and Hay audience did in selecting the best of them (both the panel and the audience were torn between the same two titles).
The five nominated titles are: In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul; Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
I’m really looking forward to reading Mad Blood Stirring, Mayo’s first novel for adults, and I was delighted when he was announced as a speaker at this year’s festival. This was an engaging talk, and it was fascinating to hear about the inspiration behind the novel, and the elements that were inspired by real events and individuals that he wanted to explore through this novel.
Of course, no trip to Hay would be complete without adding a title or two to the TBR, and this year was no exception:
This is actually an extremely modest haul for me for the Hay Festival – I’m very proud of myself for showing such restraint! 😀