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Oh Hay!

HayFestival2009-generic-6

I haven’t written a review in a little while (though don’t worry, a lot are coming very soon), but I thought I’d write a quick post to share some literary excitement. I’m off to Hay! For the second year, I will be visiting the beautiful town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales at the end of the month for Hay Festival, arguably the world’s best literary festival. Forget Glastonbury – this is where the really cool people hang out. (Like, er, me. And my friend Curly.)

I first visited Hay Fest last year, pre-booked tickets in hand but otherwise fairly oblivious as to what was in store. The set-up is rather neat, as you can see in the photo above. Tents are spaced out over an open site, some hosting lectures where literature’s biggest names discuss the books they are promoting, others with kitsch little second-hand bookshops or ice cream stalls (Shepherd’s Ice Cream, the former workplace of a friend of mine, is well worth a visit). The lecture theatre-style tents vary greatly in size, with the biggest one resembling what I thought of as a small arena. It was there last year that we heard Miranda Hart (of Miranda fame) and Rupert Everett discuss their latest autobiographies, while in the smaller theatres we listened to Q&As with Matt Haig, Patrick Ness, NoViolet Bulawayo (pre-Booker announcement) et al. We also went to a seriously cool performance from a Colombian jazz band and danced until our feet were sore. And when the festival’s over for the day, the local pubs and venues put on their own cultural shindigs to entertain us after hours. The whole thing was a lot of fun (particularly with the sun out).

So what’s on the menu for this year? As promised, I’ll be blogging about the festival at length – though I can’t promise I’ll be doing any live updates, given that internet connection is notoriously poor out in the Welsh countryside. But despite that, this is what I’ve got in store:

Fictions: Interesting Times
Fictions events mainly consist of one or two authors sitting down with a host to talk about their latest books. They’re given loose themes (‘interesting times’ being the one here) and, like most events at Hay, are done Q&A style, with a short audience participation session at the end. In this event, Nick Harkaway and Zia Haider Rahman will be talking to Olivia Cole about their latest novels, Tigerman and In the Light of What We Know respectively. I haven’t heard of either novel and haven’t done a great amount of research yet but the beauty of Fictions is the chance to discover new books to add to the reading list (and getting a signed copy at the end). Not that I was ever short on books to read…

Heather Widdows – Perfect Me!
This doesn’t look like a literary event itself but more of an intellectual discussion about contemporary ideas of beauty and perfection. Widdows is a Professor of Global Ethics and I’ll be excited to see how the discussion is steered and what talking points it will raise.

Laura Bates talks to Anita Anand – Everyday Sexism: The Project that Inspired a Worldwide Movement
Every woman with access to Twitter – hell, every man, too – has heard of Everyday Sexism (@EverydaySexism). The premise is fairly simple and had humble beginnings; Bates wanted to collect stories of sexism that occurred, well, everyday, and publish them online in an effort to prove how deeply sexism is rooted in our culture without anyone really batting an eyelid. The response was astonishing, as thousands of women from all ages and in many different environments shared their stories. This was very interesting to a 22-year-old woman like me who’s faced countless cat calls and public sexual objectification, but, like many others, had never really considered it out of the ordinary or anything to speak up about. Bates inspired a response by simply retweeting the many stories flooding in and creating awareness of what was going on. Indeed, I had the conversation with my dad not long ago and told him about the classic ‘white van man’ experiences; he was quite frankly appalled to hear about the comments women endure on a daily basis and he’s got through over half a century without ever realising it was an issue. No one talks about it, and so it continues. Until now! I’ll be very excited to hear what Bates has to say about how the project has grown and what she hopes to achieve with it. It’s just been turned into a book, which is presumably why she’s speaking at Hay Fest, but the subject matter itself is fascinating, so that will be an interesting session.

Philippa Semper – Who Wants to Live Forever? Mortals, Immortals and the Undead
As someone who loves me some Dracula, this will be a great insight into how immortality has sprung up in myths and popular culture, and  what that says about us.

Glenn Greenwald talks to Anita Anand – No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
Oof! This is something exciting to be seeing at Hay, and something my sister Lou is incredibly jealous about. Greenwald is a journalist who worked closely with Snowden to publish stories about the NSA and surveillance in the Guardian last year, and as security and the rights of privacy come into light more than ever, Greenwald will no doubt have some very strong opinions on whistle-blowing and the freedom of the press. His boyfriend was unfairly detained at Heathrow last year on the grounds of potentially containing sensitive information, which angered Greenwald no end, and did make me wonder how he was happy to come to the UK to talk at Hay – but in fact he’s there via video chat.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter – The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media
Cosslett and Baxter are founders and editors of the hilarious feminist blogzine The Vagenda (www.vagendamagazine.com), which I’ve actually written for in the past. They’ve just released a book which I already feel like I have a personal tie to (I went to the book launch last week), one which I will review at some point after Hay – I’m reading it now. Baxter and Cosslett look at the ridiculousness surrounding some women’s magazines and how the media can change to reflect who women really are.

Fictions: Gothic
Another Fictions event, this one with a spooky feel. Lauren Owen and Marcus Sedgwick discuss their novels The Quick and A Love Like Blood respectively; again, I’ve done no research, so we will see if those get added to the to-read list.

Steven Moffat talks to Alan Yentob – The Showrunner
Moffat, co-creator of my beloved Sherlock and lead writer of my not-quite-as-beloved-but-still-fairly-beloved Doctor Who, is discussing his work in the TV business. He’s a marmite fellow, loved for his talent but hated for his press talk (the biggest ‘troll’ in the television industry, always chucking curveballs and twists into his TV shows when he firmly denied everything prior to broadcast), and it will be very fun to hear him chat about his life experience and how he made it to the helm of arguably two of Britain’s most successful shows. Plus, a pal of Cumberbatch can do no wrong in my eyes.

And that’s it – so far! I can’t bloody wait. Stay tuned!

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Let’s begin…

Hello! Welcome to my literary blog, a place on the interwebz for me to ramble about books. I graduated from the University of Hull last year with a degree in English with Creative Writing, and since then I haven’t been able to stop reading. The thing about doing an English degree is that you kind of get used to writing about books once you’ve read them (and keeping an eye on the page number, and consuming your body weight in coffee at three in the morning while reading a critical essay about the presence of rabbits in Wuthering Heights) so this blog is a way for me to have my writing fix (without the other stuff. Hopefully.) Don’t worry – I won’t be using this space to write undergrad-style essays (because that’s REALLY tempting), but rather use it to write honest reviews and maybe inspire others to pick up the same books.

I know, I’m greedy. I’ve already got a blog, which you can check out here, but that’s more of a nonsensical, humorous blog about the frivolities of everyday life. I want to dedicate this one to the pile of books I’m slowly making my way through – which means my blog posts might be a bit irregular, depending on the length of my current read. This is putting time-management to the test. I’ll keep you updated with what I’m reading next, so we can turn this into a virtual book club – the very best kind of club!

Read About the Blog to find out more about my aims and motivation behind this. In the meantime, expect my first post to be on White Teeth by Zadie Smith – an oldie but goodie. I read it a couple of weeks ago and as it was a debut novel from a twenty-something writer, it seems pretty fitting to start on. Watch this space!