Saturday, June 02, 2007

reflections on Hay

Well, a few days after leaving the Hay Festival I have calmed down somewhat. Being there made me so agitated that I couldn't wait to leave.I was bitterly disappointed. Having read the program, I had worked myself up into great excitement about what I thought would be a truly literary event - a place for and by book-lovers, with publishers and books surrounding us and writers new and more experienced chatting with eager audiences. I imagined that in between the sessions I had booked for, I would find a quite corner to sit with my laptop and work on my own fiction, interrupted only by some friendly fellow book-lovers who wanted to chat about what we'd just seen and heard.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG.

What I found was a hideous artificial "city" of tents with barely a book in sight. Instead of stalls manned by small presses showing their wares, I found fudge, Penguin tea towels, and very expensive organic crisps. Books? Only in one tent and only those written by authors actually appearing at the Festival. The tents were draughty, seats uncomfortable, and much time was spent queuing (as the British love to do) to get in to the bloody events. As for the people, 80,000 people were attending over 10 days. That should have been warning enough. And they seemed to all be middle-class Londoners concerned more with celeb-spotting than with literature. Everyone was rather snooty, no-one talked to you or even looked you in the eye. The session I went to with three young novelists was embarassingly poorly-attending; people flocked to see celeb historian Simon Schama, but were uninterested in today's fresh new voices.

While I applaud the "green" focus on much of the festival, with a stall given over to SolarAid, a worthy environmental charity, it seemed at odds with the enormous pressure to "head over to the bookshop after the event, buy the latest hardback book by the author you've just heard, and get it signed". Recycled paper? Nope.

And what of the delightful little town of Hay-on-Wye with its 40 second-hand bookshops? Swamped by invading hordes, covering every inch of the little pavements, queuing outside cafes. But not buying books, it seems, according to the locals. Our hostess in the B&B we stayed in (the higlight of the trip - check it out - Ty Mynydd) said that the Festival used to be held in the local school and there was a lovely atmosphere. Now it's a separate "festival tent city" on the outskirts, bringing in its own traffic lights and using surrounding fields for parking (for a fee).

Ah well. High expectations, and they were all dashed. I was dying to leave. I'd had a lovely time at other Lit Fests such as Cheltenham and Bath, and assumed this would be the same, but alas, no. No more Hay for me. Next year, perhaps the Port Eliot Lit Fest or Small Wonder, the short story festival in Sussex. Or maybe I'll just stay home and read a book. Or, better still, write one.


Frances said...

Sounds awful, Tania! Much like the Posy cartoons of Hay, but not so funny.


tafka PP said...

I look forward to hearing more over some fudge ;-)

Clare Dudman said...

I keep saying I should go to Hay - but from your description think maybe I should have taken the plunge years ago when it was still small and sweet.

Dowdy said...

Wow, it does indeed sound hellish.

If you are ever tempted, you should come over to Galway at the end of April and visit the Cúirt Literary Festival - lots of readings by wonderful writers both famous and obscure, and every night the writers all go back to the festival club which is held in a pub in town.

There is a great atmosphere both at the events and in the pub afterwards, with literary conversations filling the air until the wee hours. You would be very welcome to join us Tania!

TitaniaWrites said...

Frances - now that you mention the Posy cartoons, I see I should have taken heed before I went!
TafkaPP - we can still have fudge :)
Clare - "small and sweet" certainly isn't what I'd call it.

Dowdy - thank you so much, that sounds lovely. I was just in ireland for the week, and am definitely coming back. Will keep Cúirt Literary Festival in mind!