A couple of weeks ago myself, Ted and my long suffering husband (Mr E) went on a day trip to a little place a couple of hours drive away, called Hay on Wye.
It’s a small Welsh village/town – which is, in many respects like many other Welsh villages…
but Hay is a town of books. There are books shops galore. New books, old books, really old books. Picture books, fiction, non fiction…. I think that if you can imagine a book you can probably find it in one of the many amazing bookshops in this quiet little town.
And the week we went was no ordinary week … this time, Hay was not the sleepy, quaint little town I had been to before , or the way you imagine a little Welsh town to look.
Instead, it was bustling with people. There were balloons and banners, the streets lined with stall selling all sorts of items from Welshcakes (yummy), to ice cream (just as yummy), to clothes, to candles.
There were adults of all ages, children and dogs. What an atmosphere!
But why, what wakes a quaint little town and make it a huge attraction?
Why books, of course! We had travelled to Hay for the annual Literary Festival.
It was the first time we had ever been (yes, I know, we only live two hours away, no excuse – but it’s true), and it certainly won’t be the last. Ted & I loved every minute. (Mr E did too – but he mainly did the town and river part).
BUT – before I get carried away with the romance of it all – a word of warning.
It’s busy. Very busy. Narrow streets see lots of traffic – pedestrians and motorised traffic. If you don’t like crowds, it’s probably not for you.
At the festival site, there are queues. For everything – you will queue for coffee, queue for ice cream, queue for the loo (although that’s normal anywhere I think!), queue for the shows, for the signings, at the book shop… Be prepared to spend lots of time queueing.
And beware of grumps. I think it’s linked to the queues. I encountered one or two very grumpy people. Small children I can forgive – queues are very boring.
Grown adults of 50+, being rude and grumpy at such an event – no need. I do hope you don’t get one of those in the book shop queue – honestly – the sales assistants are doing their best, give them a break!
But – yes, another but. -If you can get past all that, there are books.
Lots of books.
Storytelling, Activities. You can spot celebrities. You can watch people’s eyes light up as they pick up a book, see their favourite author or simply eat some rather delicious food.
There are smiles, there is laughter, there are people just all getting along. We were there when the UK security alert was at critical. There is nothing makes you smile more than a heavily armed police officer talking to children about the Giant Jumperee. (OK a child and me….)
And, there are many talks and shows you can go to. Ted and I went to one.
We went to see Julia Donaldson – author of (you guessed it) The Giant Jumperee and The Gruffalo – and many others of course. This was inspirational – she talked about her process, how she works with illustrators – we saw a video of Illustrator Helen Oxenbury in her studio – got to see snippets of Axel Scheffler’s sketchbook…
Julia and her family even acted our the Giant Jumperee for us all, and we all sang along to the Jumperee song. I met Julia afterwards – got her autograph – and she even spoke to Ted. (She was lovely)
To see the faces in that audience – see how the children were engaged.
Some say books are dying out due to e-books and online content – well if that day at the Hay Festival is any indication that is very far from the truth. Books and story telling are very much still with us – and the future looks great.
As you know – my dream is to be an illustrator of children’s books. Well – that day – that one special day, I felt like I was one step closer to that dream.
Hay – we loved you – and we will be back!