I’m fresh from Hay. A grand time was had. And pretty eclectic, too. It’s rare to cover the ground I did over three consecutive days. On Friday evening, T. S. Eliot prizewinner Philip Gross introduced his new poetry collection, Deep Field. A marvellous and affecting read which I recently reviewed. Gross is a spellbinding reader of his work, managing to negotiate that oh-so-tricky balance between intimacy and distance that always makes for the great reading with apparent ease. He also happens to be one of those poets who can speak compellingly about his art. The wind lashed the tent (for Hay was assailed by Aeolus), but all ears were tuned to one of the UK’s finest poets at the height of his powers.
Next morning, I woke to birdsong at dawn. I can sleep through the clamour of a London early morn with no bother – but the trill of a bird ? No. I lay there for several hours before breakfast, my mind racing with questions. At 9am I was on the Starlight Stage to discuss life, laughs and Quick Read Finger Food with Helen Lederer. What a terrific person she is. I was religious about Naked Video as a teen. And I loved Helen’s performance as the ‘Girl at the Bar’. So I was approaching our chat with a serious comedy crush. Helen is gracious, warm and talks frankly about starting out in comedy, about being a woman in comedy and about the iconic shows she’s been involved in. She’s working on exciting projects ranging from a novel to a new sitcom. She had us in stitches throughout the session, and her gift reminds me that my not-so-secret lost dream to work in comedy would have come to nought. It’s fair to say that she probably ranks among my favourite interviewees at Hay over the years. Isn’t it nice when heroes and heroines really are fabulous?
Then my family were off into the countryside. We drove through the Golden Valley (a spot beloved of C. S. Lewis, and one of the loveliest places in the UK) and watched as the sun emerged from the clouds and lit the green to, yes, gold. Here and there along the route were pretty houses set among wild flowers. Marvellous. By the time we reached Ross I was looking in estate agents’ windows. Of course, I would miss my London, but…
And then to the final event on Sunday evening. Vested interest. John Harrison’s Forgotten Footprints, an exciting and brilliantly written record of the triumphs and horrors of the men who have slipped from the history books – the unknown and undersung who all played their part in the discovery and understanding of the mysterious and captivating last continent: Antarctica. I’ve worked with John as editor, but it’s the first time I’ve seen him read and talk about his work. And he was splendid. A large and engaged crowd, too. One proud editor (soon in hospitality with a glass of cava). It was a lovely way to end one of my favourite ever Hays. John’s also on tour over the coming months, here’s the itinerary.
I must give a shout out to my kind host Malcolm at the picturesque Kingfisher House in Hay. He looked after us very well and does a smashing cooked breakfast. He also told us to drive up Hay Bluff on our way back to London and check out the haunting Llanthony Priory. We are very glad we did – thanks, Malcolm. You can book a room in Kingfisher House by visiting the website. It’s a great base from which to enjoy Hay but also to explore the Wye Valley.