Hey Hay!


I’ve stolen that title from our family Hay Festival WhatsApp group (that’s us above). Looking through the messages now back at home, they read like some kind of frenetic found poem…

Where is everybody?
We are just listening to a cool 103 year old woman.
Same place
We have a table
We are in the queue
We are too
We have seats by us
Love Laura Bates
We are in and have seats by us
Enough for 8?
It’s now at the Wales stage
We can see you
That’s what I just walked out of
Armed police for ours
Where is everybody?
I’m sampling cheese near the tata tent
I’m hiding from the crowds


And so on…. It was my first time at the Hay Festival. I think it was always something I’ve thought about often a bit like the moon shining, ‘oh, look at that’, and suddenly I’m there, walking on…


… the muddiest field you can imagine!

But bad weather at Hay seems to be a bit like a badge of honour, and besides it was the talks we had come for. So here are just four of my highlights…

Sarah Corbett and Craftivism: Shouty protests can be easy to ignore, but to ask questions and listen to the answers is more effective. She works with psychology – what will be the best way to get this particular person to change their mind. And I loved how with a protest involving embroidered handkerchiefs given to each of the M&S board in an effort to get them to introduce the living wage, she asked the craftivists (the people embroidering) questions to mull over as they worked. Book brought.


Laura Bates with Owen Sheers: To be honest, my husband had come for Owen Sheers and Welsh poetry. ‘Who’s she?’ he whispered, but by the end he’d become a fervent fan of the woman who started #everydaysexism too. Again, she works not exactly with gentleness, but certainly with understanding and humour. The first question was from a father (please don’t say you’re here only because of your daughter, we all silently whispered) but he had two sons. What could he do? LB suggested pointing out things like the odd fact that celebrity magazines are signposted for women, political and economic magazines for men, and making a joke of it. Making the noticing the norm. Book brought.

Diana Coyle: For one glorious moment, the whole audience understood everything about the GDP, it’s failings and what might take its place. The fact that takings from illegal drug dealing and prostitution are included in our GDP, but not informal care or work in the home is something I came away wanting to find out more about. And also why our politicians aren’t braver, but just tinker round the edges.  That’s the power of a good teacher. Book brought.

Elif Shafak: Pure joy to listen to her talk about culture, poetry and religions. To see her listen so intently to the questions and actually answer what people had asked. Two books brought.

I was also lucky enough to sit in on two Writers at Work sessions, a scheme at the Hay Festival run by the amazing Tiffany Murray. Ian McEwan and Roddy Doyle spent an hour answering questions from the 15 or so writers, about anything and everything. It was so generous and inspiring. Among the points to take away from these sessions – Roddy Doyle saying he doesn’t write about issues but about characters who may or may not be confronting these issues, and Ian McEwan saying how Atonement started as a science fiction short story, set 200 years in the future. Then when that wasn’t working, he thought that the ‘girl in the library’ may have a sister…


Then there was Benjamin Zephanah (soft focus photo partly from the fact he didn’t stop moving and also some cider may have been involved)… Many books already bought.

And that’s of course the heart of it – books. It was seeing everyone reading – sharing lines they loved, pressing books on one another, small children shaking because they were in a queue to see their favourite author (heck, adults same), learning new things, possibilities and ideas from books, or just sitting in some corner, completely on their own as the crowds whirled round them, transported into a new different world.


I can’t wait for next year!


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