THE SUN SHINES ON HAY | BENJAMIN AROGUNDADE

THE SUN SHINES ON HAY | BENJAMIN AROGUNDADE

My first encounter with Hay-on-Wye was when the late afternoon sun swooped in low as I drove toward the town. It was an amazing heavenly flare of yellow that, even with sunglasses on and the car’s sun visor down, still penetrated the windscreen. There were terrifying moments when I was totally blinded, with the car still moving. Was this Hay’s own type of sun? I’d never seen it this low in the sky, this blindingly bright. Perhaps it was an omen for how the Winter Weekend would go.

When I got to the Swan Hotel, I saw Jeanette Winterson, one of the Festival’s biggest rock stars, standing in the foyer. She was waiting for someone, and was toggling through her mobile phone in that way we all do when we are waiting. I wanted to tell her, “My girlfriend thinks you’re great”, but I held back, thinking, people say that to her all the time. But actually, maybe they don’t.

On the morning of my talk about my book, ‘Obama: 101 Best Covers’, I entered the dining-room of the hotel, ready for breakfast. I was greeted at a communal dining table by a group of fantastic strangers — fellow authors and their families who were there for the same reason as me. The chat was instantly warm and friendly, in that way that we authors particularly appreciate because we are so professionally lonely.

Later, as I walked into The Auditorium for my talk, I was amazed to see a room full of people I did not know. No matter how many talks I do, I never quite get used to this. Who are they? Why have they come? What you they know about me? In that moment I was reminded that literary festivals are not for writers, but for writer-performers. When I sat down on stage, suddenly I was in the glare of the spotlight once again, like when I drove through the sun into town on my arrival. When the light shines on you, take it Ben, I said to myself. Take it with gratitude.

Benjamin Arogundade spoke to Dylan Jones at Hay Festival Winter Weekend on Saturday 25 November.