Hay’s Winter Weekend is a cosy flip-side to the hectic summer centrepiece of the Hay Literature Festival, as the cold, long nights draw in. Jake Andrews chats to Peter Florence, the festival’s founder, about what to expect.
If you had to convince a complete newcomer to attend the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, how would you do it?
We’d invite them up for the weekend to hang out in the inns and cafes of Hay, browse the bookshops and boutiques, walk by the river, gaze at the stars, dance a little, laugh a lot and share some amazing stories. Then we’d send them the programme.
Tell us a bit about Hay-On-Wye. What is it about that town and the community that makes it suitable for a festival of this type?
Hay is the ‘town of books’. We’re home to the world’s best bookshops, cafes, markets and B&Bs, plus riverside walks and the Brecon Beacons National Park. Hay loves to throw a party at any time of year, but at the turn of the season it’s particularly special. As the nights draw in, what could be better than hunkering down with some of the world’s most interesting writers and thinkers for some candle-lit conversation and storytelling?
Hay Festivals are happening globally each year; how do the festivals differ in the different countries?
From Peru to Spain, Cartagena to Dallas, the uniting thread to our events is our passion to bring writers and readers together, to exchange ideas and debate. Besides that, no one festival is the same. Context plays a huge part. A conversation about gender equality will take a very different flavour in Mexico than it has in Wales, for example. Each is magical. Last year, in Colombia, one of the interviewers turned to a British writer and said: “You know, Hay is so big now, you even have one in the UK.”
What’s your main motivation for starting Hay? Is there something specific you look forward to at each one?
Curiosity. One thing keeps leading to another and the discoveries keep showing the world to be more and more wonderful. Over the years, the joys have unfolded and revealed themselves at different moments, and the motivation and belief in what we’re doing has grown. There’s the moment when one of our young stewards returned as an award-winning writer. Or when our local economic impact was estimated at £25m a year. Our spring festival in Wales begins with two free school days. Thousands of pupils join us on site from across Wales to meet their favourite writers. They are the most beautiful, and noisiest, days of the festival. We’re lucky to do this for a living.
If you could recommend one place in Wales to a first-time visitor that’s not on the tourist maps, where would it be and why?
There’s a secret garden in Hay where you can travel through space and time, imagine what the world is like from other people’s point of view, and meet the love of your life. Only festival-goers find the way in. Come.
Various venues, Hay-on-Wye, Thu 22-Sun 25 Nov. Tickets: prices vary per event. Info: 01497 822629 / www.hayfestival.com