Tiffany Murray at Hay Festival Segovia
Beginnings, Middles and Ends at Hay Segovia
Interviewing Val McDermid on Friday for a theatre full of Spanish 16-18 year olds isn’t a hard task. Val is expert at this and I’ve discovered over the years that my withering look can at least have bubbling youth on simmer. I’ve done this before at Hay Segovia as part of the British Council program, last time it was Charles Dickens (clearly this wasn’t an interview, but a turn). This time it’s the as prolific Val McDermid. ‘It was Agatha Christie who pushed me into a life of crime,’ she tell us and then elaborates on the library she grew up next to, how she’d tease the adult section from the librarian’s clutches with her mother’s library card and the plea, ‘I’ve to get a book for mah mum, she’s no well.’ Val talks aspiration and hard graft and reading, reading, reading, ‘As a child I was on two novels a day.’ There’s a touching round of applause for one of the Madrid teachers as Val tells the wrapt audience she once worked in the newsroom with his dad. He blushes. I wonder at miniscule world. ‘If a story excites me, I want to tell it,’ she tells the overly excited room.
Come Saturday, Val is on the same stage again, this time the fidgeting waves of testosterone are absent from the audience. Val’s line is clear: barriers of genre are breaking down; genre snobbery is an out-dated and meaningless thing. ‘Contemporary crime writers are the by-products of what happened to literary fiction in the 80s/90s. Writers who once wrote literary fiction are now writing crime novels: John Banville, Kate Atkinson: William Boyd.’ And, hopefully, yes, because of this cross-pollination contemporary literary fiction does have a stronger story, while genre fiction has become more ‘literary’.
Of course, you and I -the reader- we know all these supposed barriers are hokum: the genre game is for reviewers, critics, for prizes. Readers don’t differentiate. A good book is a good book is a good book (and all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…). ‘We’re hard wired for narrative,’ Val says, ‘beginnings, middles and ends. When we go to art we need the beginning, middle, end. We need story.’
The end of this particular Segovia story is Friday night, and I’m on a bus with Val. It’s dark, we’re thirsty and hungry, and we’re not quite sure where we’re going. ‘We’ll be there in a hour,’ one of the Hay team tells us. It’s black motorway, black Spanish hills, and suddenly we’re humming ‘Free Man in Paris.’ Then we’re singing it. After an hour we’ve done Joni, Emmylou, Janis, Nanci, a little Beatles (‘Hey, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’), and a good chest-rumbling Elvis set. We’re at the front of the bus: the middle and the back are very quiet.
We reach our destination, throats a little dry, and soon we’re tasting fine wine and gobbling tapas. This end isn’t a fully worked out resolution, but there’s some sort of satisfaction: on the way back the lovely Fflur Daffyd joins in, and we teach Val a little Super Furry Animals.