Water Divining at Hay – Alys Conran

Water Divining at Hay – Alys Conran

Before the Writers at Work programme starts this morning, I’m treading water at the festival. I sit in one of the pastel deckchairs surrounded by early morning quiet.

In his event ‘How to Read Water’, Tristan Gooley talked us through how, in an eddy, a brook or a cool lake, texture and light are as eloquent as the flow of meaning beneath the surface of a good story. So, in my deckchair, I look around the festival site and see a beach before the tide comes in. The green walkways spread, expansive and almost empty except for a few stray early-birds, picking along with their Telegraph bags and coffees. A young litter-picker clears the flotsam of yesterday with the beak of his ‘helping-hand’. Two salient women stand between the pot plants at the welcome desk, preening the feathers of their display before the new tide.

Slowly, the bunting seems to tighten, quivers. The tall flags of pink and orange and blue flutter their wings like birds of paradise expectant for a mate.

Brought in by the village shuttle bus, the tide comes in with steady urgency. Not galloping horses so much as clumping trainers. The crackle and criss-cross of talk. The Hay crowd comes in its shapes and sizes, brandishing phones, programmes, tickets.

Vision, in the morning at Hay, is long-range and abstract until the talks focus it. Right now there are friends to be met, queues to join, and coffee to be gulped. The many eyes arriving scan the horizon for signposts, focus on the arrows above the walkways which point toward the trigger points of Tata Tent, Restaurant, Box Office, and, perhaps most importantly for these crowds of new arrivals, the heroic civilisation of the Hay Festival toilets. In the rush for these destinations, the tide builds, pressing and boisterous, homing for its final goal: the pavilions.

Within the pavilions, these patient bays, the tide eddies for an hour or so, in that quiet simple recipe of Hay. This, you talk, we listen formula.

How miraculous it is, the sudden quiet, the reflective water of this listening, this hour or so of stirring talk. All this gathering of potential, like a bottle shaken and kept sealed. For the moment.

Until they burst out again, effervescent, splashing with new opinion, rushing along the walkways like the foam breakers of home.



Alys Conran’s first novel ‘Pigeon’ features in an event at Hay this Sunday. She is also part of the Hay Writers at Work programme which gives selected new writers opportunities to meet professionals in the industry.