Hay-on-Wye is a charming little town in South Wales. Every year they have a literary festival which spans for ten days, every day about twelve to fifteen thousand people visit the festival. I was lucky enough to be one of the twenty interns at the Hay Festival 2016.
I left Bangor on the morning of 26th May, it took me a little over three hours to reach Hereford station. Hereford is the nearest station to Hay-on-Wye, you can take a bus from there, which takes about an hour. While waiting for my bus, I started chatting with a young boy and his mother. We spoke about drugs and how the boy was also going to be working at the Festival. I was obviously very happy that I already knew someone at the festival. During the journey from Hereford to Hay-on-Wye, the landscape excited me even more as I couldn’t wait to get to the town of books.
I introduced myself to the lovely lady I stayed with the next ten days, she’s called Betty with the books. The festival was a ten minute walk away from the town. On the first day itself, it was buzzing with people, especially children visiting from the schools in the area. All the interns started chatting with each other and we were instructed about our responsibilities. We were given handbooks with all the events printed in it, we would get allocated to different artists every morning. Even though all of us were listening eagerly, we couldn’t wait to get started with it all. Because of all the excitement, I was awake until 2 am, going through all the programs that were going to happen and marking the ones I wanted to attend.
It was from 27th that we saw the real Hay Festival. The first person I had to monitor was an eccentric oxford professor, we chatted about the northern lights before her performance, she kindly shared her story of witnessing the magnificent aurora borealis. Never in my life had I imagined chatting to distinguished professors about such light matters. All the artists at the festival are presented with paper roses on stage after their talks, it was my first time presenting it so naturally, being the awkward person I am, I was nervous. As the days progressed I became more confident and could act more professional with the artists.
The interns are also required to do a minimum of two hours, helping out in other areas, like the reception desk, tidying the green room and so on. I hated being at the reception desk during the start, giving a fake yet convincing smile and being graceful has never been my strong point. Although now I have to say that that job helped me learn a lot as well, and more than anything I’m going to be patient with the people at reception desks for sure!
I suppose it wouldn’t make sense for me to describe all of my ten days there, but I could highlight some of my favourite moments. I met so many inspiring people, some more famous than others but yet most of them were extremely kind and friendly. I learnt from Benedict Cumberbatch and the others along with him at Letters Live that no matter how famous a person is, in the end they are just people who love to laugh and enjoy. From Horatio Clare I received the motivation to become an author more than ever, talking to him I realised that I wanted to be as adventurous and humble as him, at the same time I felt frustrated as I could see that I had to work much harder to achieve my goal. He inspired me to take the plunge and dedicate myself to the literary world. Amy Liptrot on the other hand, very kindly wrote in my signed copy “Keep on writing”, she told me the story of how she met an author once and got the copy signed, he wrote the exact same thing and her publisher sent him a copy when Amy got her book published reminding him of what he had written. I was honoured to receive such a gesture from her. Cecelia Ahern has always been one of my favourite, I feel as though she writes fairy tales for adults, on my third or fourth day I realised while going through the program list that she was coming to Hay. I requested to be her intern and luckily got the job, she arrived with her daughter and mother. For a person who has read all of her books, I couldn’t believe my luck when I talked to her.
Some of the others that I enjoyed chatting with were Peter Mandler, Patrick Kingsley, Kat Banyard, Mia de Faoite, David Aaronvitch, Paul Roche, Tim Whitmarsh, Anuradha Roy, Karl Jenkins and Nicola Heywood Thomas. I might have missed out some of the other, maybe important names, but I can say it with sincerity that I really enjoyed talking to all of these amazing people. My horizon expanded in those ten days. I sat in for talks that I generally would not, but ended up being enlightened. I learned that swallows feed their males more. I got to know about a man named Keith Morris who travelled all over Wales to find his name sake and ended up finding ninety-one, in which one’s wife refused to answer and one was on his way to changing his gender. I helped a colleague put on a ‘Maisy the Mouse’ costume and watched kids cling onto her as she nervously hugged them. I learned about the law for sex workers in Sweden and Ireland and the point of view of an ex sex worker. David Crystal somehow managed to make a talk about punctuation marks funny, writers that I grew up reading like Wordsworth, Colridge, jane austin, etcetera didn’t care about punctuation marks. I attended a clay modelling class where we made ‘Shawn the Sheep’, although I was a pile on and they ran out of white clay so I ended up making a black sheep (I was quite proud of it actually, being the black sheep of my family and all). I learned that in extremely cold places such a greenland and the arctic, they don’t bury bodies as they don’t decompose. Science trivia was everywhere, a blue wale’s brain weighs 63 kgs, 20% of our energy goes to the brain, 100 neurones in the brain and it is at day 14 after consummation that the foetus is considered as a human. I loved knowing these things and many more. I was also moved when the Red Cross team stood before an audience and shared they heart shattering life stories, the leader Teresa was like a mother to those refugees, she patted their backs when they got through their story, helped them when it became overwhelming and smiled with pride as the audience clapped. I got to touch a piece of meteorite and even experienced a bit of existential crisis from a talk given by an astrophysicist. I learned about what Atheism was in the ancient world. I took a journey down the nostalgic road as I sat for a talk given by an Indian author as she talked about the culture in India. I shared cigarettes with a few authors, if only they could know what it meant to me. So much of inspiration from these amazing people.
The Festival had a main Bookshop where all the book signings took place. Working so closely and constantly with the bookshop people, we became friends quite soon. The giant
tent was always crowded with books and people. The first time I assisted an author for one of the book signings, it was for a children’s book. I stood as I saw the author sign away book after book, the girls jumping in excitement and awe. I do understand how they must feel though, I watched so many authors do exactly what I want to do it the future. It made me realise that once I do get published it isn’t just happily every after, there will be different hurdles after that.
In the second week, we were allowed to get an evening off, all of us jumped at the opportunity as being so busy, we hadn’t had the chance to explore the actual town of books. So during my evening off, me and a friend called Bryony set off on our modest adventure. The town of books was more fascinating than we could ever imagine. We went to a variety of book shops which ranged from crime (fiction and
non-fiction) to poetry. I came across some other interesting shops as well, like a shop selling precious stones and a shop dedicated in selling old maps. There are quirky aspects to the the town that were unique, like the ‘reading only zone’ signs on the street, poets for hire desks and as one would expect, books everywhere. It was like heaven for a book lover. The added bonus for me was the Indian restaurant in town called red indigo. Even though most of the people who worked there were Bangladeshi, they turned out to be the best Indian restaurant that I had been to in Wales. I loved the charming houses with beautiful flowers bursting in spring.
The end to the festival approached like a sneaky bullet. All the interns had become good friends, but it wasn’t just limited to the interns either, we became friends with
the stewards, tech guys, our bosses and even some of the artists. At the artist’s reception we closely worked with Bex, Marta, David and Sarah. Even on the most stressful days everybody continued to laugh together. We would play music, tease each other and steal pens. On the last day as we were relieved of our duties, we decided to add the cherry on this experience, most of us interns headed for the Wye which is a river that runs around Hay-on-Wye. We stripped and jumped in the river with our undergarments. Sipping on some pints and playing along with the river current, we watched the sun set on us. Luckily the slightly cold water turned into a good way of getting our energy back. We marched back to camp with our under-wears in our hands. Soon it was time for the closing event – the staff party. All of us started stealing wine from the green rooms and made our way to the party venue. I had decided I would not drink too much, but oh well, when does any plan actually work out. We talked and boogied our way through the night.
I was supposed to leave the next morning, but of course I had a hangover to accompany me. At the bus stop I ran into a fellow intern and friend named Beth. Both of us groaned together. We looked at each other’s bags and realised that we had way to much of luggage and it only consisted of a few clothes and a lot of books! I managed to catch the train, somehow. On my way I picked up the first book placed on top of the mountain of books I had received and purchased. It’s a book called Traunt: Notes from the slippery slope by Horatio Clare. It turns out I actually got twenty-two books from Hay-on-Wye. My adventure to the town of books cannot by fathomed by my mere words after all. Until next year Hay Festival!