PEARL-LINED HAY – CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL

PEARL-LINED HAY – CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL

 

I was in my final year at university, reading English literature and writing a dissertation about the American author Don DeLillo. He had a new novel coming out, Cosmopolis, and by chance I read in a newspaper one morning that he would be appearing at a UK literary festival in a place called Hay-on-Wye. I didn’t have the wit to wonder “Hay-on-Wye?” as Arthur Miller famously did: “is that some kind of sandwich?” but I did think: this place sounds unreal. I need to get myself over there. So I got on a train to Hereford – and that was that.

I came to Hay that year and in a sense I’ve never left it – or it has never left me. As a great Hay fixture, Jeanette Winterson once wrote about the way certain works of literature can act on us: “it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined.” I feel pearl-lined by Hay: its wonder continues to do its work.

I’ve never missed a Hay Festival in Wales since – this is my fifteenth year straight – and I’ve been lucky enough to experience some of the international ones too – Cartagena, Xalapa. The festival period gets blocked out in my diary each year, sacrosanct, because I owe it the very best things of my life. I first came here in my early twenties to see an author I loved, and over the years became an author myself. It was here that I watched at close hand the broadcasters I most admired, and within a few years was working a broadcaster myself. To describe Hay as a place of inspiration is a laughable understatement: it is a place of enlightenment and communication and generosity and language and empathy. It proves, event after event, year after year, that what unites us as human beings is much more persuasive and powerful than what divides us. Hay matters; the values it enshrines matter; we’ve never needed it so urgently. Lest this all sound rather heavy, though, Hay is also a place of laughter and conversation and food and dancing and fun – not to mention, the most beautiful place on earth.

Over the the past decade at Hay I’ve interviewed neuroscientists and violinists, theatre directors and movie makers, anthropologists and authors. I’ve watched historians and biographers and astronomers and players. I’ve wept with laughter and with tears; I’ve had my mind blown and my mind changed; I’ve made some of the greatest friendships of my life and I have learned – and continue to learn – how to listen, how to think, how to be. Thank you Hay for being the marvel that you are. Happy, happy birthday. And here’s to the next thirty years and beyond…