‘Go well, and may the road rise to meet you, no matter which way the wind.’ – Horatio Clare
Croeso, Welcome, to the Green Room at Hay Festival, home and hangout of movie stars, models, the occasional writer and NO bloggers, reporters, photographers – they are all banned. So what’s the gossip? Well…
Last night I danced with some of my favourite actors. Tom Hollander, swoon, Mark Strong, swwoooon, Benedict Cumbersomeone whom Tom Hollander was claiming to be, when approached by fans, and Toby Jones. The thing about dancing with actors is that they have all been to drama school and done a lot of jiving, so they’re pretty good shape throwers, only they don’t really like to go for it in case they look silly. How did they do?
Mark Strong is a natural. He knows that the person busting the most moves is not necessarily the best, and less is so often more. Benedict Sherlockwotsit loves it. He cuts rug. Neither was as good as Ben Okri, the great writer. My own dancing style has been described as someone pretending to play an accordion while stamping out a cigarette. I did that, and so did Tom Sutcliffe, I noticed, a slightly smaller accordion perhaps, but it was reassuring to see the Rolls Royce of radio presenters, Master of Start the Week and Saturday Review, is not good at everything. But then – have you ever tried dancing in a bookshop?
I quite often dance in the Co-Op supermarket at home, they play good stuff, and have better sense than to cut off Primal Scream half way, an uncharacteristic error made by DJ and boss of Canongate Books, Jamie Byng. The Welsh writers danced well, Claire Potter and song writer, author and screen writer Fflur Dafydd, best of all. You can see Fflur and clips from her new film, ‘The Library Suicides’, this evening at 8.30pm in The Cube. It will be outstanding. And rare indeed is the writer who has not at some point considered ending it all in a library.
I have had a few outstanding festival moments so far. Talking to Chris Packham last night I learned that kestrels smell faintly of sawdust. And that swallows use something called optical flow, which means they can switch from extraordinarily detailed vision – useful if you are shooting across Wales looking for flies – to simple shape and space vision, useful if you are ducking through the gap in a barn at high speed. Optical Flow would be a good name for a band. I keep hearing Radiohead are here. I plan to sidle up to Tom Yorke and whisper “I’m a creep too”. He will love it. I didn’t have the guts to sidle up to my great hero Roberto Saviano yesterday. He wrote ‘Gomorrah’, the book that did more to hurt the bloody Camorra than most of Rome’s politicians, and ‘Zero Zero Zero’ about the cocaine trade – he has traded his personal safety for life, for books that blast evil and challenge good. Now what are you going to do to make the world better, today?
There’s that Julia Donaldson! There’ll be a Gruffalo around the corner. And there’s a space ship! Really! A scale model of the Virgin Atlantic Challenger just came by. I wrote to them offering to be their writer-in-residence but their reply email seems to have gone astray. And here are my horrendously talented friends Owen and Katherine Sheers, and young daughter Sheers who is going to be Queen of Wales I think. She says she is a Clanger today. Katherine’s first exhibition is on now at the Tabernacle in Talgarth – it is a collection of work in textiles from around the world. ‘I sold four pieces at the opening!’ she says, apparently amazed and obviously lit up. Go, lady. She does not say her background is in international couture and lingerie design. Owen’s next wonder will be about the tragedy of Aberfan - where a slag heap crushed a school, killing 144 people, 116 of them children, in 1966 – and Aberfan now. It is a film for the BBC. Owen says he has cut the script to one hour and 15 minutes. He has structured it so that we begin with one voice, rise to 144 voices, and return and finish with one. It will be shattering and sublime, as was his ‘Pink Mist’. The trick, Owen says, is that his voice is entirely absent; his role is to be the conduit, the shaper, in order, too, to capture the vibrant, thriving 1960s place the town was before the disaster. But the BBC want it to be an hour, and Owen is adamant he has cut what he can. Come on BBC, give the man the space he needs.
Ooh nobody say we’ve gone on holiday by mistake! It’s Bruce Robinson. And the lady sitting next to me, a theoretical physicist from King’s College, London, one of the smartest people I know, is gasping over B Cumberlock, and saying “He’s even tall”. (She’s tall.) “Why does he have to be so perfect?” She’s about to go and see Janine di Giovanni. That will cure her. Di Giovanni is up there with Saviano. No compromise in the face of hell and fear.
On stage with BBC Wales this morning I was interviewed by one of the best in the business, the great Jamie Owen. Warming up the audience he urged them to make some noise, “Otherwise it will sound like a police cell in Llandeilo”. Wales makes great journalists. In Jamie’s other life he helps make radio and TV stations in Libya, Tunisia and in other places in the Middle East. He is recently back from the region. “Everything we built has been destroyed,” he said. “Blown up.” So they’re going to start again. Isn’t it wonderful when good people refuse to give up?
Penny Chantler is one such. She is the first person I look for at the Festival each year. She runs the Green Room café; the gentlest, most obviously wise person, and not ever starstruck, because, as she says, she does not watch TV, so apart from Benedict Whatsbatch, doesn’t know who anyone is. “I did see Jane Fonda come in on the morning that Robert McNamara was here,” she recalls. (There was some nervousness about this, because Hanoi Jane famously damned the Vietnam War when McNamara, US Secretary of Defence, was running it.) “She went up to him and said, Mr McNamara, you don’t know me, I’m Jane Fonda. He said ‘Of course I know who you are!’ And he was absolutely starstruck.” So – when in doubt, extend hand, approach target, and say, You don’t know me, I’m Jane Fonda – your hero and heroine will swoooon.
We will end with Saci Lloyd, Anti-Apathy Guru, best dressed in the Green Room this morning in Stetson and ‘The Black Hills Are Not for Sale’ T-shirt. How do you do it? “You have got to realise that you as a person can make a difference. It’s about being lively in your bones. Bilbo Baggins says you walk out of your door in the morning, follow the path through the gate, and that is how stories start. You get swept along the great road.” Looking at Peter Florence and Becky Shaw, who made this world-rolling festival from an idea and a lovely place in Wales, who bring all of us Hay-goers together, they look almost hopelessly relaxed. You can only imagine how lively they must be in their bones. Saci’s workshops, aimed particularly at Millennials, a generation she greatly admires and has huge hopes for (and the fact is the job of saving the world has fallen to you, guys, congratulations, sorry about that) at 5.30pm every day in The Compass.
My publishers would wish I had mentioned my event this evening, at 7pm in the Starlight, when I will be talking to the truly brilliant and incidentally hilarious Jon Gower about a book I have written about trying to find a bird that may not exist, ‘Orison for a Curlew’. And if you have children, please give them the pleasure of supporting superb Welsh publisher Firefly, who have published ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot‘, which is a very funny book about a rambunctious boy who can talk to animals, who help him fight the terrible monster that has attacked his father, the appalling spirit of suicidal depression, The Terrible Yoot! It’s a hoot. Really. I signed one yesterday to a little boy called Horatio. We compared notes on having the same silly name – I was the first Horatio he had met, and he was my second. He says it’s not so bad, these days, because lots of children have silly names. Thank you parents! Keep it up…
Right, I am off to drink A Pint and swim in the Wye. A very happy summer to you – go well, and may the road rise to meet you, no matter which way the wind.Tweet