Posted by: Corri van de Stege | June 3, 2010

Me @ Hay – third and last instalment (with Jeanette Winterson and other greats)

Jeanette Winterson gave what can only be described as a surprising and wonderful stand up literary performance on Sunday in Hay.   I’m a great fan of hers, the way she has written herself out of a very confined and stifling background, through stories that are touching and funny at the same time, is quite amazing.  She came on stage and stood there, quoting and reading from ‘Oranges’, and declaring her love for words, language and stories.   Even if all books were ever taken away from her (again) – as her mother did, who burned them, she will have a head full of stories that no one can take away.  Amazing woman.  She received the longest standing ovation and one member of the audience declared that she did not actually have a question, but would simply like to say how much she admired JW.  Well deserved – and what an act.

The day started early again, this time we were installed at 10 o’clock listening to Andrew Rawnsley and Guto Harri, and what an enjoyable feast that was.  GH now works for the major of London and they had a go at each other, several times, in a cheerful kind of way.  AR’s book, The End of the Party, has already had many reviews and been talked about a lot.  How, asked Guto, do you know what is being said when there are only three people in a room, how do you find out.  Andrew was not going to give away his source other than stating the obvious that one of the three must have talked to him…  The Brown-Blair relationship will go down in history as one that has had defining effects on how either premiership is going to be judged, I’m sure, especially that of Blair.  Why on earth did he let it dominate the politics and the policies to such a large extent?  We’ll never know.  But I will definitely get hold of the (paperback) book by Rawnsley (not out until September).  Lots of great amusement whilst some stories were related, as you can see.

The great Nadine Gordimer was there, very frail now.  She had no truck with e-books or e-readers, mobile phone reading or anything that did not resemble words on paper, books in other words.  Books you can take with you on a mountain top, she said, as you may have to in Africa, books can be put in libraries and people can come and pick them out and take them away. 

  On Sunday the crowds were even thicker than on Saturday, if that was possible.  The good thing was that the weather had cleared and so when not in a queue for something (sessions, autographs, books) you could at least find some respite in dekchairs or by sitting down on the grass.  We also slipped in a nice Sunday lunch in the local hotel.

Tina Brown talking to William Boot turned out to be Tina Brown talking to James Naughtie and this was an entertaining discussion about the future of magazines, in particular the Daily Beast, a new on-line enterprise.  Although she was born British she became an American citizen.  James Naughtie is of the Radio 4 Today programme, and his name was kept secret in the programme, which gave ‘William Boot’ as the name of the interviewer.  Too late I realised that this was a reference to Evelyn Waugh’s book Scoop in which William Boot is a character through which Waugh satirized journalism and so my surprise seeing James Naughtie there was real!  But then, no one else seemed to be in on the secret either.   There’s another book for the list (Scoop, I mean).

And then, of course Carlos Ruiz Zafon, whose two novels The Angel’s Game and The Shadow of the Wind I read with great relish.  I think I reviewed them some time ago.  He was in Hay to talk about his book The Prince of Mist, which is really a book for ‘young people’, and was written some twenty years ago but has only now been translated into English (you guessed it, I did buy that one).  CRZ always wanted to be a writer, and started off writing for young adults.  His view is that the difference is only at an emotional level, that young people don’t want to read stories that necessarily have a young person as protagonist, but rather they want to read what adults rea.  Only, at an emotional level, the writing may have to be less complicated.  He said that he read Thomas Mann when he was 13… Quite a feat.

And of course, I did end up buying books, whatever my good intentions.  A Jeanette Winterson, a Zafon, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, and some more.  But, to answer Leeswammes’ question, no I did not buy all the ones I really wanted, mainly because I could not face carrying them around with me!



  1. Nice review again, thanks. Oh well, if you bought more books than you could carry, you probably wouldn’t have time enough to read them anyway! There’s always the book shop!

    I loved Scoop, haven’t read Black Swan Green (but re-reading Cloud Atlas).

  2. Thanks for writing up the Hay Festival, it’s let me attend vicariously!

    I love Jeanette Winterson’s books, and having heard her interviewed can believe she gave an impressive performance.

    I found Black Swan Green a very evocative and moving coming-of-age tale and I can’t wait to read Mitchell’s latest.

  3. Well, it sounds like you had a fascinating time and I envy you the experience – I would have liked to have heard Zafon – he certainly creates a unique world doesn’t he. I have only been to Hay as a walker, outside festival times but enjoyed browsing the bookshops

  4. Visiting from Tom C’s excellent blog, and glad I did. Have loved reading your evocative accounts of the Festival. Never went myself, but Hay’s one of my favourite spots (I lived in the area). You clearly got an enormous amount out of it. Wish I could have been there, but these posts help fill the gap.
    PS Do read ‘Scoop’. It’s a classic – well, ‘up to a point, Lord Copper’!

  5. I have just realised I did not respond to any of your comments – how rude! my apologies. Too many things on the go, obviously. Or rather, too distracted by life’s demands.
    Clearly, I have to read Scoop as recommended by both Leeswammes and Minnie and there it goes on my tbr list… And my shelves are creaking already.
    And Sarah, yes, Black Swan Green is already amongst that pile.
    Tom, if you can make it, just go next year, take a couple of days off and let yourself be pulled along by the crowds. It’s great fun.

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