BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 108

Hay Festival: Needs More Variety?

If Mum and I have learnt anything over the last few days, it was that we were overzealous when we booked tickets back in April. It was fortunate that we left Wednesday free, because we had ended up with four events on both Tuesday and Thursday. It wasn’t the talks that exhausted us, it was the hours in between. We had very little to do except drink expensive tea in the foodhall which, with the constant pounding of feet on the raised floorboards, can be a little like trying to perform surgery in a particularly rickety minibus. If we came again, we would put our different interests aside and choose no more than two events per day. Nevertheless, we’ve had a lot of fun since my last blog.

The highlights of Tuesday were Gillian Clarke and Anne Enright’s separate events. It was another incredibly hot day but Clarke delivered a fantastic introduction and celebration of the work of Welsh poet Alun Lewis. She called poetry ‘vitamins for the soul’ and her delicate, respectful reading really proved this to be the case. We left feeling refreshed, and Mum bought a copy of Lewis’ collected poems from the festival bookshop. Anne Enright’s event was similarly engaging. It was an absolute pleasure to hear her read from her new book, The Green Road. It was more of a performance: she brought her characters to life through her voice. In fact, Enright was so entertaining that rather than ask a question, one audience member requested another reading. Having studied and devoured The Gathering, I was very excited to be in her company and listen to her explore her work and influences.

After Wednesday’s break, we faced twelve hours on the site. They were all my mother’s choices so she only has herself to blame. We started off listening to artists Clare Woods and Helen Sear as they discussed the use of the English/Welsh border in their work. We then saw John Sergeant. I almost fell asleep and as such can’t tell you a great deal about what he said. Shortly after, however, we saw Pam Ayres who was absolutely brilliant. I knew of Ayres, but I’d never properly watched or read any of her work. Mum and I have attended quite a few stuffy talks (ones I haven’t mentioned because they were too dire to hold in my long-term memory), and Ayres’ wit and observational humour poetry was a delight. It was something I’d attended for Mum’s sake, but it was immensely enjoyable. We braved the queue afterwards so Mum could get her book signed, and Pam was lovely to meet.

Something I’ve noticed with these events is that they’re spoiled if the speaker plugs their book too much. We’ve seen a few which despite their interesting titles and description in the programme involved the presenter standing at the lectern and reading solely from their book or even telling us what they plan on doing with the money when we buy a copy. What made Anne Enright and Beth Shapiro stand-out highlights was that the book was either the foundation of the presentation or used as something dynamic, more of a prop than a screen between the audience and the author. After reading Gwen Davies’ [link:https://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=1012editorial blog] on How The Light Gets In festival, I’m beginning to hope that the presence of a fringe will encourage Hay Festival to select their events with more care. It is beginning to seem as though it needs more variety (again, some graphic novel discussions would be very welcome) rather than events that are nothing more than an hour of obnoxious book-plugging.

In the final few days of the festival, I will be seeing some fantastic people including Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Sarah Hall and Helen MacDonald. Check back in a few days for my final blog, in which I hope I will leave inspired but probably also exhausted.

Alice Vernon blogs for New Welsh Review


       


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