Hay Festival 2017

This year marks 30 years of the Hay Festival, a literary event that takes place in the picturesque town of Hay-on-wye in Wales. The festival has drawn a range of big names in the past, including Nobel Prize winners, scientists and politicians, as well as musicians and authors. The Hay Festival promotes diversity, cultural change and progressive thinking, which has led to its success as one of the UK’s top literary events.

This year’s event took place from May 25th-June 4th and I attended a variety of talks, which were equally enlightening and entertaining. I was lucky enough to receive VIP tickets from Anne of @addymanbooks to see Tom Daly, who was discussing his new recipe book Tom’s Daily Plan. My companion for the day was  @bee_andmy_barefoot_tribe and off we went on our exciting road trip. Once we arrived, we popped in to see Anne at the Addyman Annexe to pick up our tickets before heading off down to the main site. We indulged in a coffee and a quick look around before it was time for Tom’s talk. We had arranged to meet Anne in the artists’ area, where we spotted Stephen Fry casually sitting on a couch chatting with his companions! Once we met Anne and her friends, we received some delicious Prosecco before Graham Norton sat down at the table next to us with a jacket potato! It was quite an exciting start to the evening!

Soon we were escorted to our front row seats and became engrossed in Tom Daly, who proved to be an excellent and eloquent speaker. He discussed his love of food and how he took a cookery course during his teenage years. As an Olympian athlete, Tom clearly has the correct criteria to promote healthy eating and his recipe book is full of easy and fuss free recipes. He acknowledged his sweet tooth and is realistic about food habits, admitting to his love of cheesecake and cookies. He includes a range of desserts in his book and creates a healthy twist on some old favourites. He also addressed the issue of affordability and availability during his talk and stated that all of the ingredients for his recipes can be bought at any local shop rather than an expensive health food store. While I enjoy the latest craze for clean eating, I will admit that price can be a factor when it comes to some of the recipes in the healthy living recipe books that I currently own, so it was refreshing to hear that Tom recognised the need for recipes that don’t alienate a large proportion of the public.

As well as discussing food and fitness, Tom spoke at length about mindfulness and meditation. He highlighted the need for quality time for rest and relaxation and the importance of time management and achieving goals. He also gave an honest account about his struggles and disappointments during the 2012 Olympics and his ambitions for the next Olympic Games. He spoke openly about the death of his father and the contentment of being a newly wed was obvious on his face whenever he mentioned his husband Lance. He also took questions from the crowd, which consisted mainly of children who were looking for advice on juggling school and sport, as well as questioning him about the Olympics and his future plans. It was wonderful to hear so many intelligent questions from children of such a young age and Tom answered them all with careful and considerable thought. I enjoyed the talk so much more than I expected to and he came across as such a mature man considering he is only twenty-three years old. I went to get my book signed afterwards and Tom was so friendly and enthusiastic with everyone in the queue and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Afterwards, we strolled back to town and looked for somewhere to eat. We ended up at a pop up version of Herefordshire’s A Rule Of Tum and shared a juicy beef burger, falafel burger and a portion of chips for a very reasonable price. We were ravenous by that point and devoured our meal, which was delicious and a lovely way to end the evening.

I returned to Hay-on-wye the following weekend and had a reunion with @dannii.elle.reads who I met at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up a few months ago. Hay-on-wye is the kind of town where you don’t even need to arrange a place or time to meet up because you know you will just bump into each other, which is precisely what we did at the @haycastletrust. It was great to catch up again with Dannii as well as getting to meet her lovely family. Naturally, much of our conversation was book related and we also discussed our upcoming Mystery Meet weekend in London, which looks set to be another great Bookstagram Meet Up.

Afterwards, I went to see director Roger Michell, who was discussing his version of Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel. He was quite humble regarding film adaptations and admitted that the best adaptation will always be the one in the reader’s own imagination. He referred to the aspect of the unreliable narrator in the novel and how he emphasised this in the film. He also spoke about DuMaurier’s influence and inspiration while making the film and praised her body of work, describing her as ahead of her time regarding feminism and sexuality. He suggested that much of this was to do with DuMaurier’s own struggles with her sexuality and highlighted that perhaps the character of Rachel appears as a threat to the men in the novel simply because of her independence. I was lucky enough to meet the director after his talk as he was signing copies of DuMaurier’s book. I recently read the novel, which had me guessing until the very last page. I have since seen the film and I must admit that I much prefer the book.

In between events, I became drawn to a crowd gathered in one of the coffee shops on the site. It emerged that the live screening of the Bernie Sanders talk was taking place and so I stood with a coffee and became just as enthralled as the people around me. The talk was hosted by Welsh actor Michael Sheen and the topics of discussion had many people voicing and cheering their agreement. I could have stood there for hours listening to such an absorbing debate, but I managed to tear myself away for the next event.

World renowned violinist and child prodigy Min Kym was the next speaker on my itinerary and she did not disappoint. I received a copy of Min Kym’s memoir Gone at the @bookstagramhay Meet Up and I had happened to be reading it when I discovered that Min Kym was going to be speaking at the Hay Festival, so I just had to get a ticket. Gone is a fantastic book that tells of the theft of Kym’s violin at a train station café in London and how her life crumbles as a result. It is a story of loss and betrayal, but also hope and self-discovery.

Kym spoke in-depth about how much her life was affected by the theft of her beloved violin, a rare 1696 Stradivarius. The loss of her instrument left her feeling bereft and she described it as being akin to a death. While this may sound extreme, such strong emotions become clear upon reading Kym’s book. Kym’s violin becomes alive through her style of writing and feels like another character in the story. I enjoy classical music, but I would not claim to have an extensive range of knowledge in this genre. However, I learned so much about music from this book, which is informative without just reeling off facts and figures.

Kym read an extract from her book as well as treating us to some live performances, which were truly incredible. One performance moved me to tears, which I honestly did not expect. Kym became a completely different person when she performed, becoming immersed in the music as she played. Before her talk, I had expected a meek and mild character because of certain events in the book, but instead I discovered a bright and bubbly personality. I was lucky enough to meet Kym afterwards and get my book signed.

The evening ended with another catch up back at Addyman Books with Anne and I must extend a huge thanks to Anne for the Tom Daly tickets. It was the perfect start to a brilliant couple of weekends at the festival and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Bookstagram Hay-on-wye Meet Up 2017

Recently, I attended the first Hay-on-wye Bookstagram Meet Up, which took place from 31st March-2nd April. This fantastic event was an idea conceived by Anne from Addyman Books and Ruth from Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which came into fruition with the aid of  Bookstagrammer Siobhan from @thehalycondaysofsummer. With Bookstagrammers visiting from all over the world, this event looked set to be the biggest Bookstagram meet up ever.

I turned up on the Friday evening for the welcome reception at Richard Booth’s Bookshop, nervously not knowing what to expect. I was given a warm welcome from Ruth, who ushered me over to a group of Bookstagrammers. I tried to mask my sudden shyness while I took in the flurry of new faces. I was quickly put at ease as I recognised Jude from @mybookbath and soon I realised how many bookstagrammers I knew already. If I remember correctly, the group included Kimberlee @reading.wanderwoman, Charlotte @what.i.read, Annie @2manybeautifulbooks, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Micol @literaryjourney, Elke @meetpenguingirl and Gemma @gemkarita. The initial introductions became an amusing routine over the rest of the weekend as usernames were deemed necessary rather than actual names. The repeated suggestions of name tags for next year might prove to be ideal advice!

In between mingling, I listened to a book talk that evening at Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Author and journalist Oliver Balch gave a speech on Hay-on-wye and his experiences that inspired him to write his book Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders. Once the book talk was over, I joined a group of bookstagrammers for tapas. This group included Charlotte @pagesandplays, Dannii @dannii.elle.reads, Kerstin @lostinphrases, Charlotte @theroamingreader, Jack @that.english.guy.who.reads and Charlie @thebookboy. We discussed our top five books and I recall Harry Potter featuring on all of our lists!

Afterwards, we headed to The Old Electric Shop for a literary-themed cocktail evening. As I was driving, I could only indulge in the non-alcoholic cocktails, but they were still pretty tasty! Here, I introduced myself to Rima from @pardonmywritings, who was instantly warm and friendly. The first evening proved a success and was a brilliant indication of what was yet to come over the weekend.

On Saturday, I returned for a bookplate and printmaking demonstration by John Watson @johnwatsonprintmaker, which was held at The Globe At Hay. This was quite an interesting event as John hosted a demonstration of linocut printmaking and bookplate creation and we all received a special keepsake of the event. Here, I was delighted to meet the lovely Beth @beth.bonini, who gave me a huge hug and was even friendlier in person. Afterwards, I headed into town with Dannii and we watched a book themed fancy dress parade, which ended with a town gathering at the Honesty Bookshop in the Castle grounds. We took in the rest of the celebrations, which was marking the 40th Anniversary of Independence and included a ceremonial raising of the Hay Town flag.

We then returned to The Globe At Hay for the next event, which was a panel discussion chaired by Siobhan. The panel featured @pardonmywritings, @mybookbath, @literaryjourney and @what.i.read. These lovely ladies discussed how they began their Bookstagram accounts and gave insights into how they run their accounts, as well as providing some useful Bookstagram tips.

Just before the panel began, I had the excitement of meeting Elle from @theartfulelle. Elle was the first person who I became friendly with on Bookstagram and we greeted each other like old friends with a massive hug. Elle gifted me with a beautiful Boddington edition of Wuthering Heights, which is my favourite book. I will treasure this book, now proudly displayed on my bookshelves. I’m so grateful to Elle and it is heartwarming that people can be so kind and generous. After the panel discussion, I joined Elle, Emma @mistyangelofsky and Clare @literarianlife for tea and cake and we had a lovely afternoon gossiping about all things Bookstagram.

Later that evening, I bumped into Jude, Micol and Anne and we headed back to Addyman Books for after hours book browsing. I also popped over to Anne’s Murder and Mayhem bookshop, where I got to properly introduce myself to Agatha Christie fan Sahiba from @dumbwitnesses. Fittingly, I bumped into Sahiba by the Agatha Christie shelves as she was struggling to contain a bunch of Christies in her arms!

Many of us then headed back to The Old Electric Shop, where I got to have a great chat with Kelly @contraryreader, whose son Charley was instantly recognisable in his adorable Sherlock Holmes costume. Book lover Charley is often featured on the @addymanbooks account and it’s lovely to see someone so young showing such a healthy interest in books, as well as having such great reading taste!

In between catching up with Jude, Micol and Annie again at The Old Electric Shop, we were lucky enough to receive amazing goodie bags full of books from Siobhan. Inside mine was a beautiful edition of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Vintage Books, 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams from Serpent’s Tail, The Pirate Who Does Not Know The Value Of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky from Nyrbooks and Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh from Penguin Books. As well as these books, I had also received more free books earlier in the day at The Globe At Hay and some gorgeous @obviousstate goodies. Needless to say, I also couldn’t resist a bit of book buying, so I came home with bulging bags of books!

On Sunday, I returned to Hay-on-wye for the Booksellers Breakfast, which was provided by local chef Hugh Sawyer at The Globe At Hay. Hugh is the founder of the sustainable food company Off Grid Gourmet and, last summer, my friends and I had a private dinner cooked by Hugh. It was a very generous birthday treat from my friends and we had a delicious dinner in a beautiful countryside setting. As a result, I was eagerly anticipating this breakfast and I can safely say it did not disappoint, with a feast of food on offer. I took the opportunity to say hello to Hugh and he did tell me that he recognised me, although I’m sure he was just being polite!

As well as getting to meet Hanneke @hannekehermes, the breakfast was a lovely opportunity to catch up with everyone else again before the inevitable goodbyes. Once breakfast was over, I joined Kimberlee, Sahiba and Rima for an afternoon of book browsing and, as it was such a warm sunny day, we even got to sit and indulge in an ice cream. We also had a private tour behind the scenes of Addyman Books from Anne, who showed us her own incredible book collection, as well as sharing some insightful stories and anecdotes. Anne has such a vast wealth of knowledge, particularly when it comes to politics, current affairs and, of course, books. I could listen to Anne all day and I was lucky enough to receive an offer to come back and stay over for a night above the bookshop, so I’m already looking forward to this opportunity. Waking up surrounded by books is every book lover’s dream turned reality!

By the time the evening came, Kimberlee and I were the last Bookstagrammers remaining and we sat out under the sun with a drink. It was lovely to have one last catch up and, after discovering we are the same age, it also turned out that we have many similarities in our lives. If I didn’t have work the next day, I would loved to have sat there chatting all evening.

While it was sad to say goodbye to everyone after such a short time, there was a sense in the air that something really special had taken place. When I returned to work the following Monday, my close colleague commented that I seemed different as a result of the weekend’s events and what a positive effect it appeared to have on me. I do feel that the weekend has inspired me in so many different ways and it felt empowering to do something just for myself and now it feels like it’s the beginning of a new adventure. I never would have imagined that I could make friends through social media and it was wonderful to meet so many like minded people. I feel so lucky to have been part of such a special weekend and I believe that this is an event that will continue to grow in the future. Next year’s Bookstagram Meet Up has already been extended to ten days and will take place from March 30th to April 8th. For all the latest updates, make sure to follow @bookstagramhay on Instagram. If you’re a Bookstagrammer or a book lover, this event should be at the top of your list. Trust me, you won’t regret it!