Sunday 2 June 2019

Making Hay, by Sophia Bennett

Last week I had the wonderful experience of being invited to speak at Hay. It's my third visit, and each one is special in its own way. 

This time, the specialness started as we pulled up at our B&B, where we were met by the curious chickens. They came to check us out every time. Not sure we passed the first inspection. 

 This, I kid you not, was our bath.

But it wasn't just about the creature comforts. There were also books to be discussed, in a big tent (actually lots of big tents), in a field (probably lots of fields - but hard to tell, under the tents) in a village on the border between England and Wales, and most definitely heaven. 

Talking of which, the first talk I went to was by Ben Lewis, talking to Kirsty Lang, and was all about Jesus. Or rather, Leonardo da Vinci's painting of him in the Salvator Mundi. Or WAS it Da Vinci? That's what Ben's book is about. By the end we all agreed that nobody really knows, but it's probably about 20% da Vinci. Great hand, though. A hand by the hand of the master, probably. Great talk.

And the following day (after we'd tried out the bath), we were back in a big tent with Kirsty again, who was talking to Horatio Clare this time about a walk he did in Germany, in the footsteps of JS Bach. If you ever get the chance to listen to Horatio, do. (He's on Radio 3, so not hard to find.) He has a voice for broadcasting, a beautiful turn of phrase, innate hope about the natural world, and always something interesting to say. As an audience, we were gripped. Afterwards, Horatio signed for nearly two hours. (I bought 2 copies of 'Something of His Art'. Check out the gorgeous cover on the link.)

And then there was the Artists' Room, where we were treated like royalty. I didn't spot any actual royalty (although it's been known), but did see Michael Gove, Jeanette Winterson, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (who kindly signed my copy of 'The Lost Words' for me and let me fangirl) and many other Famous Faces. My husband and I had a lovely long chat with Candy Gourlay, who's produced all sorts of content from Hay this year - so if you want to know the full story, follow her on Twitter, her website and wherever else you can find her!

And then it was time to watch Frank Cottrell-Boyce in conversation with Lauren Child. I love to hear about writers and illustrators' artistic process. Lauren said that often a book will take her years to write, putting it away when she gets stuck and coming back to it later when the ideas flow again. She's lost count of how many she's done, so it's obviously working for her. It was fascinating to hear about the way she does collage too - so painstaking. You'd think perhaps it's all digitised now, but it isn't. A lot of the patterns she uses come from the insides of Australian envelopes. So now you know.

I was going to be speaking in the same tent as Frank and Lauren, and it was big! Lots of people! This was my view from halfway back in the audience. I assumed there would be about 20 people for mine, but actually it was pretty full too. Which shows that 1) Hay audiences have great taste and want to know about women in the art world and 2) the great Hay festival organisers are brilliant at getting people enthused. Hooray! (These are my books in the bookshop by the way.)

The sun shone. Not all the time, but enough. Make Hay and all that ...

And then it was time for my event with Claire Armitstead from the Guardian. She was a brilliant, gentle, thoughtful, (prepared!), funny chair. She let me do my thing, talking about some of my favourite artists from 'The Bigger Picture: Women Who Changed the Art World' and what I find fascinating about their lives and work. Claire ended with the quiz from the back of the book - asking the audience some hand-picked questions, which they could now cheerfully answer! Candy was in the audience and took these pictures. Thanks Candy! (My husband was there too but he was too busy cheering - very loudly and embarrassingly - to take a photo.) 

Here he is afterwards. Still cheery. 

And then it was party time. Again, no pictures from husband, so resorting to a selfie to give the general idea.

And this is what it looked like when we got there. I say 'we' - I was sharing the B&B with Jessie Burton, as you do, and we went together. She was LOVELY, and obligingly signed my copy of 'The Restless Girls' after breakfast the next day. If you want a feminist fairytale for older girls, with magnificent illustrations by Angela Barrett, then this is the one. It is odd but nice to share toast and marmalade with your literary heroes. At Hay, that's the sort of thing that happens.

 Home time. Such a beautiful view from the Second Severn Crossing. And a memento: the very last 2017 30th anniversary Hay mug, by Emma Bridgewater, with a fantastic image of Hay by her husband, Matthew Rice. Guess what I'm drinking my tea out of as I write ... 

1 comment:

Penny Dolan said...

What an absolutely lovely account of your time at Hay, Sophia! Thank you very much for such a happy peek into your time there - and without the famous Hay rain.