Rupert Thomson: Hay-on-Wye – it’s a literary high

Rupert Thomson: Hay-on-Wye – it’s a literary high

The landscape is a lush green as we wind our way through Wales. Mist collects between the trees. My spirits are undampened, though, because I’m heading for the Hay Festival, and Hay is a place filled with old friends I haven’t seen for ages and new friends I haven’t even met as yet. Magical encounters, startling epiphanies – any day at Hay is a good day.

For my event with Maggie O’Farrell, we’re blessed with a large and wonderfully responsive audience. You can feel it when you’re reading. It’s a special kind of silence. Rain’s falling on the roof of the tent, and the ground is damp, but it doesn’t matter. Words keep us warm.

Then on to the Green Room, where Damien Lewis is pacing up and down, about to read Byron, Keats and Shelley to an audience of 1200. I spend an hour with Simon Armitage and his daughter, and as always with Simon we’re talking nineteen to the dozen, and laughing as much as we are talking. Michael Morpurgo saunters past. I ask him to sign a piece of paper for my daughter. To Evie, with love, Michael Morpurgo. She’s going to be over the moon.

Out to Jose Pizarro’s tapas tent, where I have a couple of glasses of delicious Albarino and devour asparagus in Romesco sauce. Later, I run into Lisa Dwan, fresh from her bravura 9-minute performance of Becket’s Not I at the Royal Court. Then dinner with Guardian journalist, Ian Cobain, who has written so incisively on rendtion and torture in Britain. So many words flying this way and that. So much inspiration.

All too soon it’s time to go, and there’s a beautiful moment in the station car-park at Hereford. My driver tells me that he loves my voice. He has heard it on the radio many times, and now he can put a face to it. I hope it’s not a disappointment, I say. The face, I mean. He laughs and says it isn’t. As I board the train back to London I’m still smiling. Hay-on-Wye – it’s a real literary high.