words: ANEIRA DAVIES
Nestled in the Welsh hills, close to the English border, is the small town of Hay-On-Wye, the home of the annual Hay Festival Of Literature And The Arts. Originally just a literature festival, it started out in 1988, and has now grown to include talks and performances from musicians, journalists and comedians in many locations around the world, including countries such as Mexico, Spain and Budapest.
This year’s festival, which ran from Thurs 23 May-Sun 2 June, featured acts such as Caitlin Moran, Lee Mack, Cath Kidston, Miranda Hart and Cerys Matthews. But there’s still a wide range of literature for the keen readers who attend, including book signings from most authors after the events.
The festival champions both new and the more established authors, among them three debut novelists chosen by Waterstones; Taiye Selasi, Gavin Extence and Kevin Maher, who offered the audience advice on how to get started in writing novels. They were passionate and enthusiastic about literature, which is exactly what the festival is all about.
I was lucky enough to see a variety of events, among them, Homeland actor Damian Lewis and his wife Helen McCrory reading the poetry of Keats, Shelley and Byron to a crowded venue, as well as Lee Mack’s comedic talk about his life and career so far, where he told us about how he started performing in the playground when he was at school, by impersonating Bobby Ball.
He added, “I was always at new schools, so that’s my first memory of standup. I remember that my first public performance in the playground was standing on the roof and using it as a stage.”
I then watched Dannie Abse talk to Owen Sheers, an event held in celebration of the Welsh poet’s 90th birthday and the launch of his new collection, Speak, Old Parrot. Hearing Dannie talk about his poetic influences was inspiring, as was Owen’s admiration for him.
He said, “It was Dannie reading a poem called In the Theatre that made me want to write. From that point on, he was a poet who was incredibly important in my life.”
Musicians mingle with the crowds at Hay and stars are often spotted browsing in the bookshops or enjoying an event or two themselves, as I noticed when Cerys Matthews asked Dannie Abse a question at his talk. On site there are many shops selling books, vintage clothing and festival keepsakes. There are also a number of coffee shops and places to eat, and always something on offer for everyone. Added to the many cultural talks and events, it is practically guaranteed that everyone will enjoy their day.
The Hay Festival has come a long way from the days when it was held in the town’s main car park and school and, even though it is now held in a field on the outskirts of the town, the festival has brought a lot of income to the area, with thousands of people visiting each May and June. The town itself is worth a visit too, and most of the shops and restaurants join in with the festivities, packed to the brim with festival goers looking for a souvenir. And fringe festival How The Light Gets In, is not to be missed either, with philosophy discussions and music performances taking place at The Globe in the town throughout the same time period.
But above all, the Hay Festival is still interested in its literary roots and is just the right mix of books and culture, in the beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons.