BLOG Hayley Dolby

NWR Issue 113

Hay Festival – Winter Weekend

Hay-on-Wye hosted its seventeenth Winter Weekend festival from 25 to 27 November. The Swan Hotel was visited by a variety of writers, historians, comedians, musicians and even an astrophysicist, with the food festival and the vintage fair being held nearby in town. The shops and inns ‘reported roaring trade’ as they embraced visitors from across Britain.

We arrived an hour early for my first event of the day, a talk by Polly Morland on her newest book Metamorphosis, so we browsed some of the many second-hand book shops that Hay is famous for before heading to the Swan Hotel.

Our decision to arrive early proved to be a smart one, as while walking towards the hotel we saw a flood of cars attempting to access the carpark behind. Unfortunately, we should have also picked up our tickets early. The Hay Festival headquarters were packed. As I waited for the man in front of me to pick up all eight of his tickets, I had a quick look at the stacks of books, chocolate and toiletries surrounding me. I spied a copy of Metamorphosis but restrained myself from thumbing through it as I waited, deciding that it would probably be bad form.

After collecting my tickets, I was hustled into the ballroom fifteen minutes early by an enthusiastic usher. After helping me find a seat amidst the sheer mass of people already waiting for Morland to begin, she hurried off to find any more stragglers.

Metamorphosis is essentially a discussion of human transformation. Morland attempts to unravel how and why people, us, we, change. To begin her talk she described one of the biggest changes in her life, the decision to transition from making documentary films for a living to writing books. She believes that her work now, more than ever, is built around conversations, ones that involve a lot of personal questions on her part and a lot of disclosure from her subjects. Morland manages to gain extraordinary insights into who we are and why we live as we do, simply by sitting down with her subjects and talking. Sometimes there’s a glass of wine or two involved, and often there are tears, frequently laughter, and always wisdom from peoples’ accounts of their own changes. Morland’s motivations for her work are clear, ‘a sense that there’s a more subtle and authentic insight in ordinary people’s accounts of their experiences than can be found in big, weighty, textbooks’.

My next event, described as ‘one of the weekend’s most moving sessions’, was Aberfan 50, hosted by the poet Owen Sheers and the author Louise Walsh. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1966 Aberfan disaster, Sheers’ produced the poem-film Aberfan: The Green Hollow. The piece is based on interviews with survivors, parents, and those who aided in the rescue attempts, and it uses creative staging, dialogue, and music to explore the identity of the village before and after the tragedy (the film is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer, if you wish to learn more). Louise Walsh also commemorated the disaster in her novel, Black River, which focuses on press intrusion and the insensitive nature of coverage in the months following the disaster. As the talk ended, one audience member was brought to tears as he told the story of his own father’s inability to speak about his experiences on that day. The atmosphere in the room was a far cry from the jovial, upbeat nature of the previous event. The air was thick with the sense of loss still surrounding the events of 21 October 1966.

Hayley Dolby is an undergraduate at Cardiff University undertaking a work placement with New Welsh Review.


previous blog: Polaris
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