BOOKS The Hay Festival '95
`Hay on Wye - is that some kind of a sandwich?' Arthur Miller said; here are more tributes to the annual 10-day festival of literature and the arts, and a round-up of events from 26 May to 4 June follow
Sunday 02 April 1995
British writers William Boyd, Hanif Kureishi, Anthony Sher and Booker Prizewinners Penelope Fitzgerald, Bernice Rubens and Ben Okri head up a formidable fiction roster alongside poets galore, a history team boasting Eric Hobsbawm, Simon Schama and Sir Fitzroy Maclean and three of our most revered scientists Sir Fred Hoyle and Professors Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins.
A series of "Good Read" conversations features Brian Keenan and Terry Waite, politicians Enoch Powell and Roy Hattersley and General Sir Peter de la Billire, Jeremy Paxman, Martha Gellhorn and Barry Norman.
A late-night line-up of cabaret stars includes Jools Holland, Sean Hughes, Harry Hill and Fascinating Aida to complement the writers' programme, with a rich musical pickings from John Tavener with The Chilingirian Quartet, Peter Donohoe, Julian Lloyd Webber and Welsh diva Rebecca Evans.
AND do they enjoy it when they get there? Some past and future performers give their impressions:
Hay on Wye is the very best of the festivals. It's good to get together with a whole pile of writers who don't often get a chance to see each other. It's very picturesque when the sun is shining. One year, though, there was a great hurricane blowing when Michael Palin was discussing his series Pole to Pole and I was talking about Captain Scott whose journey I'd fictionalised. I normally go to discuss a book I like or read from my latest novel. I'm doing something with Terry Waite this year. But I also go to buy. I take a basket on wheels and fill up with old medical and gardening books, Victorian children's books for the illustrations and good crime trials, especially Victorian ones which are very rich in fascinating period detail.
When I first went I thought it was going to be catastrophic - it was this big marquee in a field of mud, you walked around on catwalks of horizontal chestnut paling. But it was very good: festivals can be quite formal in town halls and so on and the open-air setting was very refreshing. I chaired a thing called the poetry squantum: poets were invited to write on a given subject over the weekend and after four meetings they perfomed the work. People are there for a week or a weekend; it's got a kind of campus atmosphere, you bump into people all the time so it's the wrong place to be if you're an aloof writer.
It was natural that someone would think of a festival there. The whole event is stunning: they erect a medieval encampment of tents and the next day it has disappeared like a mirage. One year there was a marathon of chamber ensembles from 11 until 10 at night and one quartet was very special. This year I'm giving a lecture on how and why I wrote my play Shylock, and it's a great place to meet your audience - unlike at a signing, people can get over their shyness and begin to talk.
It's a great mix of literary people and groupies, who can be near their heroes or heroines. Of course it's ideal for a festival, small and with a castle, organisation is excellent and they treat writers well. I live 16 miles away and fish the river Usk. I used to buy a lot of old books but now I'm fussier: I just buy anything on surrealism and fishing.
It's the best festival because it belongs to the town, it's part of the life of the town. I think that makes it less lite, less exclusive. It's also very concerned about literature, they care that writers need an audience to listen to them. I heard William Golding give a wonderful PEN lecture and later thought how lucky I was. Writers often ask to come back, and of course there are many regular punters. I like to catch up with people there and it is a chance to meet writers you wouldn't ordinarily meet - like Joseph Heller, Carlos Fuentes or David Grossman. Of course the last thing that writers talk about when they get together is writing: they bitch about other writers.
In my mind, it's replaced Christmas.
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