Friday, 6 June 2014

Postcards from Hay!

                                                      Assistant Librarian, Alison Evans

The university and its library staff in particular, seem to have undertaken a mass exodus to the Hay Festival this year! Some were first time visitors, others were introducing their children to the festival, one was returning to work as a volunteer steward...and the primary motivation of others seemed to be the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch! We thought you'd like to hear what they all got up to, so here are a selection of 'postcards' from Hay...  
Helen Beale - Deputy Head of Library and Learning Resources
My initial observation of Hay this year – mud and a veritable rainbow of Hunter wellies – the highest concentration of Hunter wellies I have ever come across in one field!
Our first session Letters Live coincided with my 18 year old daughters’ first ever visit to Hay, what enticed her to join us this year? I’d like to say it was the literary element of the festival but no, it was the chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch live on stage! The queue for this event started early and was made up primarily of very enthusiastic young (and not so young) fans, some sporting rather interesting T shirts. One teenage fan tried (emphasis on tried) to engage Caitlin in conversation about her recently purchased Benedict Cumberbatch colouring book! This was a step too far for Caitlin though who went off in search of a hot drink.
Letters Live was inspired by To The Letter, by Simon Garfield and Letters of Note by Shaun Usher, to celebrate the dying art of letter writing. A group of performers read a selection of letters including the very touching letter written by explorer Robert Scott to his wife on knowing he was going to die on his Antarctic mission in 1912 and one from Elvis to President Nixon in 1970 asking if he could help the country’s fight against drug abuse.
On Saturday we went from the comic musing of the QI Elves, who knew so much lurked in beards, via Tom Hollander and Andrew Davies talking about the recently aired drama A Poet in New York, to a celebration of the poetry of Dylan Thomas with Rob Brydon and friends. Now looking forward to 2015!
Alison Evans - Assistant Librarian
Thoroughly enjoyed our first visit to the Hay Festival - heard the amazing James Lovelock and utterly engaging Charlotte Higgins. Will definitely be back. However, must remember:
1. Plan ahead and book early
2.Bring wellies
3. (Most importantly) Do not leave glasses on car seat in 'park and ride' and spend the rest of the day having to be pointed in the general direction of the stage!
Allison Jones, Library Assistant
It was with some trepidation that my husband and I jumped in the car and set off for the Hay Festival.  We are festival novices and with two children, aged 11 and 3, in hand we just didn’t know what to expect and were dreading the, “I’m bored”. 
Hayfever is the children’s programme at Hay and I have to say that the list of events was astounding.  I’m fortunate in having two children that love books and so it was very disappointing that my youngest was unable to attend any of the shows.  It does however give us something to look forward to in future years with authors such as Alison Brown, Tom Gates, Jacqueline Wilson and the 2011 – 13 Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson.
A scaled down replica of Dylan Thomas’ writing shed greeted us at the entrance.  I wouldn’t have taken a second look but my eldest sone spent a good twenty minutes looking at the various artefacts within.  The pop up shed is touring the country as part of the centenary celebrations and is worth a peep if you are in its vicinity (  I can feel a trip to Laugharne looming.
Events wise my eldest and I had opted for Anthony Horowitz, the author of the Alex Rider series, Diamond Brothers and the Power of Five.  Horowitz was giving a talk on his recent bestseller, Russian Roulette, a prequel to Alex Rider which very much focuses on Alex’s arch nemis, Yassan Gregorovitch , a Russian assassin.  In truth I had not read any of his titles and was amazed at the volume of his writing.  He spoke briefly about his script writing for series such as Foyles War, Poirot and Midsummer Murders and the complications of fitting in a murder around a commercial break but he mainly addressed the formation of his books popular with children. He gave an insight into how he meticulously created plans when sketching stories, the development of his characters and amazingly how he successfully juggles two to three projects at a time – which he believes stems off writers block.  Throughout the hour he engaged and entertained his young audience with plots on how to successfully “blow up” people!
With hindsight I would have also booked to see Michael Murpurgo. Not knowing what to expect we chose to just dip our toes into this year’s Hay.  Having the festival so close to home is amazing and will hopefully have encouraged reluctant readers to pick up a book.  Indeed having not picked up a book in five years I have just completed a novel by George Orwell!
It's also worth mentioning that I have booked some other literary events, this time plays,  for my children, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book in Aberglasney Gardens and the War Horse in Cardiff Millenium Centre.  It is great to see so much going on the doorstep this summer which doesn’t involve football!
Andrew Campbell - Head of Leisure, Events, Tourism & Sport (Swansea)
Clearly judging by the amount of UWTSD staff seen shuffling along the boardwalks last week, there were quite a few empty desks back in SA1 during the Whitsun break. This surge of literary interest was welcome and will perhaps herald a new dawn in creative assignment writing throughout the university. Well, one can but hope! For most of the week those same some UWTSD staff  and other visitors appeared weilding umbrellas, hoping to ward of unprecedented levels of rainfall. Deluges rendered the Festival site impassable at times with scenes more reminiscent of muddy Glastonbury than Hay. It was a good week for Hunter wellingtons, but correspondingly a bad week for car park attendants.
Despite the weather, some record visitor days were recorded, fuelled principally by some stellar celebrity appearances(someone please remind me in the next life to change my surname to Cumberbatch). The likes of Tom Hollander (I met a woman who had flown over from California specifically to see him deliver two readings. Hmm), Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Bear Grylls, Julia Donaldson, Mary Berry, Jennifer Saunders (I could go on....and on....) never failed to enthral their followers, who often queued up three hours in advance of performance times. Who said that popular culture was in decline?! That said, the "lesser names" on the programme often provided greater value in terms of thinking and reflection. Audiences who listened to the poetry of Simon Armitage for instance, writing about the First World War, could not have been more emotionally moved....or those who sat in on Oscar Guardiola - Rivera would have been spellbound by revelations over the coup d'etat of former Chilean President Salvador Allende. Again and as ever, the list of subject matter was so eclectic. Even ex Spurs defender Sol Campbell turned up to speak about celebrity football. Enough said.
My duties at Hay were varied, but always involved connection and conversation with those who "tipped up" for the event. For newcomers the old Vauxhall advert strapline about being "once bitten, forever smitten" holds true for Hay. Go once and prepare for a lifelong engagement. People return year after year and always want to share opinions about presentations heard. Or want to talk about real life encounters with those in the public eye, who also come along to listen surreptitiously to those on stage. Some notable ticket holders in my queue this year included Alan Yentob, Suggs (of Madness fame|), Susannah (from Trinny and)....and Tony Fadell. Tony who? (he created the iPod). Just like visitors to Hay, festival staff always seem to talk about presentation highlights as well. For the record, my 2014 choice was as follows: in third place Anthony Horowitz; in second place Margaret Macmillan....and in top spot (and I know this gets a high rating from another UWTSD member of staff, Lucy Griffiths as she was there too), Arianna Huffington. In her talk about happiness - The Third Metric, she simply inspired.
That's it from me. A few insights, a few thoughts. Just 360 days to go the next Hay Festival! Unless one wants to go the Winter Festival of course...

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