Tag Archives: book festivals

Hay Festival Kells

Hay Festival Kells 2014 finished yesterday, after four (no doubt) glorious days; the weather was showery-but-generally-pretty-okay, the speakers and events were top-notch, and the town buzzed with book fever. So, naturally, The Husband and I made a beeline for it. Last year we spent three days at Hay Kells, almost bankrupting ourselves and overloading our car with book purchases, so this year we decided ‘all things in moderation.’ One day sufficed, we convinced ourselves.

It didn’t, really. But we made the best of it.

Part of Kells' pretty main street. Image: meathchronicle.ie

Part of Kells’ pretty main street.
Image: meathchronicle.ie

Kells is a lovely town, oozing history out of every stick and stone. One end has an ancient graveyard, the other a medieval church and round tower; Celtic crosses (in various states of disrepair, thanks in large part to Oliver Cromwell and his marauding forces) can be found in various locations. Outside of the town is a large folly named the Tower of Lloyd, built during a time of terrible hardship. From the viewing platform at its top, a huge swathe of the surrounding countryside can be seen, including a Famine graveyard. So, clearly, you’re never short of a way to spend your time, particularly if, like us, you’re interested in history and culture.

However, this year, we were there for the books, and just the books.

It’s wonderful to see the whole town come together in support of the Hay festival; second-hand bookshops pop up everywhere, and every shop decorates its windows with books to get into the Hay spirit. There’s live music, cookery demonstrations, talks by some of the world’s leading literary figures, a massive focus on children’s events and children’s books, and even a celebration of typography, rejoicing in letters and words in their raw form. This year, we only attended one talk, given by Professor Declan Kiberd on the history of Irish children’s literature (though, of course, it was far more wide-ranging than that, taking into account history and philosophy and anthropology and the reasons why adults write children’s literature and what sort of agendas they bring to it), and it was fascinating. We heard a brass band recital, and we visited the food market (barely restraining ourselves from eating everything in sight), and – of course – we visited many, many book purveyors.

Our purchases!

Our purchases! (Guess which are mine, and which are hubby’s…)

I love conversing with people who love books, and nobody’s better at that than a person who sells them for a living. We chatted to loads of interesting (and slightly batty, but all in a good sense) folk who live amongst and for their books, taking advice and recommendations, discussing literature and culture as a whole, and discovering how much fun it is to take time out and just talk to people. There’s something about a festival spirit that brings out the raconteur in everyone, and that, in itself, is to be celebrated – and if there are books involved, all to the better.

If you have a chance to get to Kells next year – when, I sincerely hope, the Hay Festival will be returning – I couldn’t recommend it more highly. And, of course, look me up; you’ll probably find me snout-first in a big old box of children’s books…

 

 

 

Approaching the Event Horizon

April is nearly over. May is nearly here. That means a few things, of course, not all of them scary and new; it means there’s likely to be more of this sort of thing, which is good:

Image: paleohappy.com

Image: paleohappy.com

And people will, more than likely, start to wear stuff like this (even though, in Ireland, just because the sun’s out doesn’t actually mean it’s warm, but we’re eternally optimistic – a sort of ‘if you wear it, summer will come’ thing):

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Sadly, it also means a lot of people will be going around looking like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil, too, because – while the sun’s not particularly strong here, unless things are exceptionally warm – the Irish pelt just isn’t equipped to cope with anything much beyond a vaguely bright afternoon.

But, on a personal level, the approach of May means a few different things.

Firstly, it’s going to be a busy month for me. As well as attending two conferences (at one of which I’ve been given the opportunity to pitch my book to an agent), I am also going to be giving a reading at a book festival. On top of all that, I’ve decided that now would be a good time to branch out into a new business venture. It’s official. I’ve ordered business cards, and everything.

What’s that silence? Oh, don’t worry. It’s just my quietly controlled panic.

Secondly, it’s a month full of new stuff. I’ve never given a reading before, for instance – the very idea of it seems slightly ridiculous, as if someone, somewhere, has made a terrible mistake and is expecting Sinéad O’Connor instead of me, or something.

FYI: not me. Image: thetimes.co.uk

FYI: not me.
Image: thetimes.co.uk

Actually, there’s an idea. Perhaps if I pretend I am Sinéad O’Connor, it might make the whole thing easier – and more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure I could belt out a few verses of ‘Mandinka’ before being manhandled off the stage.

The next challenge is to write and memorise a ten-minute pitch for my book. Delivering this in front of a mirror, or my mother, will be scary enough. Delivering it in front of a top-notch literary agent, however – that’s a whole new level of terror. What if I forget how to talk? Maybe my mind will become a field of pristine snow, unblemished even by the tiny pock-marks of foraging birds. Perhaps my teeth will chatter so hard that everything I say will come out all chopped up, like baby food.

Maybe I’d be better off printing the whole thing out on laminated paper and giving it to the agent to read. You know, in her own time.

Image: emeryruth.com

Image: emeryruth.com

Yeah. Or maybe not.

The second conference I’m attending is less nerve-wracking, mainly because I don’t have to do anything, per se; I just have to be outgoing and friendly and approachable and all that other stuff that sounds easy (and which, in truth, I’m good at, once I stop tripping myself up). When I’m surrounded by people I consider important, though – in the sense of ‘oh my God look it’s a famous published author I must scuttle out of her way forthwith’ – I find it difficult to be my happy-go-lucky self. I think I need to take a large dose of ‘Get On With It’ before I enter the room, and go in wearing my widest, brightest smile.

Easier said than done.

And finally, the business venture. Well, calling it that probably lends it an air of importance that it doesn’t really deserve; it’s not like I’m going to be appearing on ‘Dragons’ Den’ looking for funding for my ingenious invention, or anything like that. If you’d like to find out more about it, there’s a website over here – you can even sign up to follow it, if you like – and there’s a Twitter feed over at @YellowRoadEdit. It’s extremely early days yet, but maybe – with a bit of luck – I’ll be able to use my talent for words to help those who don’t find it easy to pick just the right phrase to express what they mean, or who aren’t as clear on the rules of apostrophe usage as I am.

Or who aren’t as pernickety about the rules of apostrophe usage as I am, maybe.

So, I have a lot going on. By the end of this month I’ll have neither fingernails nor a strand of hair left, and I’ll probably be living in a vat of caffeine. If you have any good wishes knocking about that you’re not using for anything else, it’d be brilliant if you could send ’em my way.

Welcome to a shiny new week, everyone. May it be fabulous for one and all.

Image: hellogiggles.com

Image: hellogiggles.com

 

 

While the Sun Shines

And so, just in time for July, I’m back from a busy weekend spent at the inaugural Hay Festival Kells. Happy new week, happy new month, and hope you’ve missed me a little – but not too much. How’ve you all been? It’s great to be back.

Thank GOODNESS you're back! Image: ourpeacepath.com

Thank GOODNESS you’re back!
Image: ourpeacepath.com

You know, I used to think that being surrounded by books would be the best thing ever. I mean, ever. Better than being surrounded by piles of money or rivers of gold or whatever else you might want to think of. Lakes of beer, possibly. Anyway, now, I know it’s true. From Friday morning to yesterday evening, that’s pretty much exactly the situation I found myself in. Except it was even better than I’d imagined, because my husband was there, which always makes a fun thing even more fun. Also, as well as all the books, we had plenty of historical-stroke-archaeological things to look at, too, on account of Kells being well over a thousand years old, all told.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more amazing, do you know what the most exciting and wonderful bit, out of all the exciting and wonderful bits this weekend held, was? We got to see this lady here:

Lesser intellects (i.e. everybody!) cower before her! Image: guardian.co.uk

Lesser intellects (i.e. everybody!) cower before her!
Image: guardian.co.uk

I still can’t quite believe I managed to find myself in the same room as Jeanette Winterson, for it is she in the wonderful image above. But it happened. And all for the rock-bottom bargain sum of €8.00. How cool is that?

Jeanette Winterson gave a talk on Friday evening, one of the definite highlights of the festival overall, where she spoke about her writing life and her childhood and read some sections from her recent novel ‘Why Be Happy When you Could Be Normal?’; my husband, who has never read a word of her work, was pretty much won over by the charming warmth of her presence and the power of her prose (well, at least he was on Friday evening – I’m not sure how long the effect lasted.) I think he may even read one of her books, but whisper it in case he gets spooked. He doesn’t generally ‘do’ fiction, so I’ve tried to sell ‘Why Be Happy…’ to him on the grounds that it’s pretty much an autobiography, and largely non-fiction. I’ll wear him down, never fear.

After the dizzy heights of a Jeanette Winterson reading, then, the weekend had a lot to live up to – it managed admirably, of course. Saturday was spent going from pop-up bookshop to pop-up bookshop, wherein several gems were unearthed; most of the bookshops were selling second-hand books, however, which you may remember me spouting off about only the other day here on the blog. I managed to keep my purchases to a minimum – for me, at least – and I did my best to buy sensibly and with conscience, bearing in mind that all the money raised through second-hand book sales was going to some form of charity. I hope I managed to strike the appropriate balance, most of the time.

Hay Festival Kells also showed me an important truth about my marriage, believe it or not. I’ve never really had cause to wonder whether my husband and I are a good match, but just in case there was any chance that a hint of doubt could ever start to grow in my mind, this weekend put paid to it. We are, of course, two peas in one pod. Nothing tests a union more than spending hours doing something that other people would probably find deathly boring, and not only enjoying it, but completely losing track of time while enjoying it – and not even caring. We spent hours trawling through books, completely happy to beaver away – he in the non-fiction sections, I up to my eyes in the children’s, usually – and topped all that off with trips to each of the town’s historical sites. Kells was founded by monks in the eighth or ninth century, so it has plenty of those. We spent time in the house of St Colmcille, rebuilt in the eleventh century (and absolutely amazing to look at – the stonework is mindblowing), and we gazed upon the huge Market Cross, a Celtic cross probably made in the tenth century and re-erected in the seventeenth by no less a figure than Dean Jonathan Swift. I didn’t learn until after I’d visited it that it was used as a gallows during the 1798 Rebellion; on reflection, I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time.

I may never have mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to cemeteries – not in a ghoulish way, but in a historical-enthusiast way. My husband isn’t always as intrigued as I am, but he’s usually happy to let me have my fix. This weekend he showed great forbearance and patience, for Kells is full of historical burial grounds; he didn’t once complain, but just dived in and joined me in my explorations (further proof that he is the man for me, I think.) I love looking at old tombstones, admiring the workmanship of the lettering, marvelling at the age of the burial, wondering about the people who’ve passed away and what their lives were like. I do, admittedly, tend to get quite emotional at times, particularly when I encounter graves wherein entire families are interred, and/or a list of children’s ages are spelled out on the headstone. Sadly, this is not uncommon, particularly during times of plague or famine, to which Ireland is no stranger. One of the sites we visited was a Famine graveyard – I’m using the capitalised form because I’m talking about the Great Famine of the 1840s here – and it was, pretty much, a blank field with a stone cross memorial in it. No markers exist for individual burials, no gravestones, no names. I admit I wept, and I prayed for the souls of those who’d died.

It’s amazing to think the Famine happened something like 170 years ago, but the pain of it still sears across the heart of Ireland. Anyway.

So, we trudged home yesterday evening with our books and our thoughts in tow, and now we’re facing into another week. My husband has a few more days holiday from work, and I’m trying to spend as much time with him as possible while still thinking about everything that’s on my schedule for this week and this month – more competitions, more entries, more agency submissions, more ideas to sketch out, more dreams to form and shape and plan for – more amazing things ahead, I hope.

I hope you’re looking forward to July, and that you’re planning holidays or thinking of taking some time out. I recommend going to a book festival, you know, just in case you’re looking for something to do…

Image: rte.ie

Image: rte.ie