My Week: Nicholas Murray on the trials and treasures of his literary pilgrimage to a muddy field in Wales

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The Independent Online
Saturday Car trouble again. It's all very well living in paradise, perched on the side of a Welsh hill, but the nearest bus is several miles away and I have to get to Hay tomorrow. Mervyn, who repairs tractors and coarser vehicles like mine, is my nearest neighbour - 300 yards up the lane. The bank is spilling over with bluebell, stitchwort, campion and plain old dandelion. Mervyn's hyperactive but harmless spaniel rushed over to maul me while his master says yes, it's OK for 4pm.

SUNDAY To Hay (the car makes it]) to hear Colin Thubron and Redmond O'Hanlon talk about Bruce Chatwin and his recently published photographs. Another Chatwin mystery: no one had any idea that Bruce even possessed a camera. Well, not exactly. Colin Thubron quietly points out that Chatwin was so keen on photography in the early Seventies that he was thinking of mounting an exhibition. But then the writing took off. The packed marquee ignores this little factual hiccup and sweeps on. Afterwards I make for the BBC Radio Wales tent where I am to be interviewed about biography. I'm told to wait in the VIP tent but I don't see myself as a VIP so I prefer to stroll up and down the squelchy field. I hope the camera doesn't focus on my muddy trousers.

When they are ready I am bundled into a cabin that looks like a portable lavatory and the lights are switched off. In the gloom the interviewer asks me what I think about authorised biographies and I say I believe that 'a thousand flowers should bloom'. I see from the look on his face that this is the sort of soundbite that will not end up on the cutting-room floor. I try to give him more of the same.

MONDAY The big day. Back at Hay I am met by a young man who is to be my 'minder'. He is so relaxing that when the time comes for me to leave the refreshment tent and head for the place of execution I have forgotten to panic. He steps forward and introduces me, and before I know it I am standing at the lectern delivering my lecture on Bruce Chatwin's On the Black Hill. It's an excellent audience who have lots of interesting questions, that don't stop even after I've filed out of the marquee again. I cross to the bookshop where, like Barbara Cartland at Harrods, I sign copies of my little book on Chatwin. Then on to The Hatshop In The High Street, a red-painted bistro at Presteigne, where a small art show is opening. A glass of wine, then home.

TUESDAY I cross and re-cross the border twice today. My dentist is in England, my doctor in Wales. When my book came out I was described in the London Evening Standard as 'an unknown Welshman'. This is incorrect. I am an unknown Scouser.

WEDNESDAY Up early to read a slim volume of poems I have to review for the TLS. For the past seven years I have lived solely by my pen in rural Wales and I'm still not bankrupt. 'Why did you write a book on Bruce Chatwin?' the BBC man asked me. Don't people understand the cab rank principle of Grub Street, where the monosyllable 'No' is simply not in one's vocabulary. You agree to everything. But when someone asks you to write on one of your favourite authors the 'Yes' is thwacked back with velocity of a squash ball.

THURSDAY The phone rings. It is Amanda in London. The Welsh councillor I described in my pieces as Jones, would he by any chance be the same as the man I have transformed into Lewis three paragraphs down? Er, yes. Sorry about that. Jet lag. Not firing on all cylinders. Hmmph. In the evening we go to a meeting called by the local council to 'consult' on a new funding scheme. The chairman, a Knighton taxi driver, thanks us for coming out on such a 'foul night'. Wait a minute. That's what they say in freezing village halls in December when a segment of the Rhayader Male Voice Choir is suspected of having gone Awol in a snow-drift. But this is late May, for Pete's sake.

FRIDAY Back to Hay. An American stops me in the street and asks the way to the Poetry Book-shop. I explain that I've just come from there myself. It's the poet Samuel Menashe who has arrived in Hay for the poetry squantum. 'I thought you looked like a poet,' he says. 'Yes, he's got a beard,' says his companion drily. What can these people mean? We discover that the former poetry editor of a literary paper published poems by both of us and his successor has spurned us. By way of consolation he recites, on the pavement, a poem called 'Nightwalking'. This is what literary festivals are really about.

'Bruce Chatwin' by Nicholas Murray is published by Seren Books, pounds 5.95.

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