Talking Location With author Charlotte Rixon – Newcastle
What we did at the Hay Festival #Hay30 – 2017
29th May 2017
The Hay Festival has always been on my bucket list, an increasingly popular and highly respected arts event happening just over the border from England in Wales. 2017 marks 30 years since it started. And be clear it is in Wales, as Victoria Hislop found out to her cost when she murmured that she was in England on the border of Wales in her author event!
A huge variety of events, mainly focusing on authors, supported by the BBC and other organisations, ensures that you can always find something that will appeal.
The festival used to be actually in the small market town of Hay on Wye until a few years ago but now commands its own large field. No need for wellies, as there are covered walkways between the various tents. And at the heart is a large bookshop that is permanently being restocked around the author signings.
Naturally we chose events that featured authors whose work is strong on location.
Victoria Hislop – GREECE
First up was Victoria Hislop who was charmingly interviewed by Rosie Goldsmith. The focus for the discussion was her new book Cartes Postales from Greece (reviewed here, and where we also feature an author Q&A). She has really put Greece on the map, a country that is for her “an addiction, a passion”. She has an apartment in Athens and is so well known that she has even been the subject of a multi-choice question on a popular TV show there. She really does have celebrity status!
For now, Greece still has ample material for her forthcoming books and the one she is working on at the moment is set in the post Occupation period of the 1940s/50s.
She was inspired to include photographs in Cartes Postales from Greece. After all, why should children have all the fun of picture books? She travelled the country extensively with a photographer at her side, charting the beauty and at times the brutality of concrete skeletons that are prolific across the country (planning permission probably hasn’t been granted and it is cheaper to abandon the structures than continue to build them). Over 100 have been included in this wonderful sketch of Greece both past and present.
A delightful way to start the Hay experience.
Elizabeth Strout – ILLINOIS
Chatting with the wonderful George Alagiah (who is more usually seen reading the 6 o’clock news on TV), it was a delight to watch this author engage with such a proficient interviewer. I know from running the TripFiction website that she is hugely popular in the States and that setting is integral to her stories. As she said herself “place is very important to literature” and that “geography shapes characters”.
As a reader one feels that the mundane people matter to her. Her characters are people who may well have voted for Trump – had they indeed bothered to vote – but she was more than clear that her characters would in no way reflect her own political persuasion. The questions at the end just served to underline that she is a master of characterisation and her writing is very popular. To me she also came across as a real New Yorker, although her roots are in Maine. There were just so many accolades for her work at the event.
Paula Hawkins – NORTHUMBERLAND
Georgina Godwin had the task of interviewing Paula Hawkins, and their convivial interchanges really brought to life the writing process of Paula’s latest novel “Into the Water”. It is set in a fictional village in Northumberland and she said that she was inspired by the landscape of this verdant county, setting the river at the heart of the narrative. It is the fallibility of memory that fascinates her, and how at times we can all remember things in certain ways, but that we can fabricate our own version of truth which is sometimes far removed from reality. Yes, people do lie.
How hard was it to follow up on such a hit as The Girl on the Train? In fact, she was well into writing her new book when TGOTT was published to such acclaim.
Many of us of course were curious about the filming of her book. In fact Paula, probably very healthily, separated the two and left the direction of the film largely in the hands of the director. She was invited to watch some of the filming and in fact had a cameo at Grand Central but it was cut!
There seemed to be general acknowledgement that the 11 voices in her new book would take some concentration in the early part, essential to the narrative and that this book is very different to the first.
Tim Winton – AUSTRALIA
Skilfully interviewed by the BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones, Tim explained how he was brought up in WA, and how a move to Albany as a young teenager proved ultimately to be quite an isolating experience. He tells a wonderful tale of how he messed about with a rifle in his parents’ home, and how he began to write shortly thereafter, getting several books published by the time he got to his mid 20s! A seminal moment, a kind of awakening to becoming a writer was seeing 2001 A Space Odyssey when he was 8 years old. A car accident as a late teenager meant that he also had to focus promptly on writing, as the accident left him unable to take on any significant manual work to earn his keep. The burgeoning need to write just had to be his way forward….life is full of contingencies and the telling of these had to became his bread and butter.
His novel “Cloudstreet” is often considered to be “the great Australian novel” and after hard graft on 10 books, this one became an overnight success. Landscape, he says is “where I begin, it’s the first character and the most important”. The country is large and it defines the inhabitants.
In his own words he is also a recidivist surfer (he has been doing it for 50 years or so) and he has also used his celebrity status to counter the building of a tourist resort at Ningaloo, one of the book-end reefs of Australia (the other being The Great Barrier Reef of course). A good guy who can use his celebrity status for good!
So, Hay is definitely worth a visit for people who want to hear more about books and the authors’ stories. There’s lots to do and the setting of the festival is just beautiful.
One thing I would flag with the organisers is that there are other Hay festivals in the world – who knew? – Dhaka, Cartagena de Indias, Kerala, Segovia and more. Surely the demographic attending the festival in Wales would love to attend one of the other venues, so how about trumpeting loud and clear and having a dedicated stand with a dedicated travel agent, all ready to supply information and booking opportunities. After all, combining books and travel seems so very pertinent!
Hereford Station is the nearest rail access point, 20 miles or so away, and it is pretty much left up to those arriving to sort out their own transport to and from the festival. I had hoped for a shuttle service but there are maybe 5 or 6 local buses per day that service the area. So, it’s not ideal.
We chose parking at the official parking venue, Clyro, about 3 miles out of town. Again the bus shuttle at peak times is poor, but as the crowd decreases, the shuttles work fine. There are in fact non-official parking areas just a few minutes walk from the festival site and they charge half of the official site and there seems to be plenty of room! You just turn up.
We stayed at a wonderful B&B, a farm, which I could highly recommend, about 20 minutes’ drive from Hay: New Barns Farm
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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