Hay Festival is a big event in the book industry. This year I was doing four days at Hay. Maybe because I was there for so long, this year I learned far more about the festival than I had before.
This year, on the way to Hay, we walked up to the top of Drwslwyn Castle, where I left a gift of stone and gold and tried to imagine what the castle looked like when the walls stood strong and tall. Below the river moved lazy along its oxbow lines of desire.
I chose not to stay in Hay, but at Nic’s house near Crickhowell, which meant early starts and a short commute, but also peace, river and wood.
So, my Day 1 at Hay Festival found me in Richard Booths Bookshop as artist in residence for #HayIllustrates. I took with me three things to work on. Saturday was an owl day. I painted and listened as the floor creaked, the books whispered on their shelves and the clock outside marked time by striking the hour. People came and went and some engaged in conversation with me, wondering why I was painting in a bookshop. Many ignored me, and some people ( thank you all who did) came especially to talk and to see me.
On Saturday I signed books, gilded an owl, talked about time. Catherine Barr came by to say hello. Tom Bullough also called in, and it was lovely to see them both. Addlands, by Tom, remains one of my favourite books read last year, and I know it is a book I will return to.
Sunday was a different kind of day altogether. I was billed to do a talk for The Woodland Trust with two other speakers. We arrived early ( bringing all the things that Nic, who had left before us, had forgotten) and had breakfast, and the food tent was splendid with soft sculpted animals.
I was so nervous about the talk, which was only ten minutes, but Zaffar seemed more nervous still, which calmed me down. I had asked to go first so that I could listen, and was amazed at how the three talks threaded together and Matt from the Woodland Trust was a great chair.
I had tried to get hold of some of Zaffar’s poetry before the event, but it was only available second hand at £388. Zaffar kindly gave me a copy, and through it I found more threads, linking us all, including a beautiful piece about the three hares with conjoined ears.
After the talk, and signing in the bookshop, I went to Booths to paint again, this time gilding the peregrines, a special piece of work for an exhibition in Bratislava to highlight the plight of the many migrant people of the world, mostly refugees, from war and the violence of poverty. We had been asked to paint or draw birds, postcard sized. I chose to do one painting, of two peregrines. Robert Macfarlane is writing on the reverse of the card and I will then cut the piece in two, each 15 x 10 cms. They will then travel through the post, safely I hope, as postcards and arrive at their destination to become part of the exhibition. If they are separated or lost in the post there will only be the record of what they had been. So it is with many people, those who travel in search of safety.
I drew in gold on stone also, leafed labyrinths, and each morning Nic and I would walk by the river with Pi and Ivy and place the stones in running water, first pebbles from the beach, then riverstones, collected from the banks, in the water, gilded and returned.
The stones in the water looked beautiful.
That evening when Nic and I walked the hounds before bed she took me to meet a great yew tree that stands behind the church in the village. As we walked beneath its bent branches we realise the air was alive with bats, swirling and whirling, pouring from their roost, hanging in the branches, flight like a dance in the green tent of the tree. More bats than I have ever seen. So close they came their wings almost brushed us, so many there were. Out and away they flew, into the twilight, in search of water for the day had been hot.
It seemed the perfect end to the day after talking for the Woodland Trust. A tree so old, her branches reached down to touch the earth, and twined and wove around and through each other. Such a power. Such a beauty.
The last day at Booths was all about dragons. Karin, of Celestine and the Hare came to keep me company in the shop and it was lovely to see Jayne and Roz from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. Zaffar called in and it was good to see him again. I spent too much time talking, not enough painting and still have to finish the dragon.
Tuesday was my last working day at Hay and I was in the Make and Take tent at the illustration hot desk, painting for an hour. Chris Riddell came by with Emily Drabble to say hi and it was really lovely to see them, and to talk blackwing pencils, sharpeners and knives and the pin feathers of woodcocks with Chris.
In the bookshop at Hay I bought three books.
We stayed, because on Wednesday I wanted to see #3000chairs by Nicola Davies, performed by students from Herefordshire College of Art. I love this beautiful piece of work so much.
We left then, although we could have stayed for more and next year I want to see more. This year I really wanted to see Min Jin Lee and sebastian Barry but I was so tired after talking all day.
Anyway, Hay Festival, over for another year.The flowers, as ever, were beautiful, the staff and volunteers were stars as always. They work so hard to keep the show going, make us all comfortable. Thanks for having me in your shop, Booths, and thanks to the Woodland Trust for inviting me up on stage. I’d like to thank Peter Florence for having a brilliant idea 30 years ago and spending his life implementing it. Here’s to another 30 years of Hay.
Home now. I finished the owl, and am now working on this years Help Musicians card, writing a short story, thinking about another story.
Walking and thinking over the last few days I found that the labyrinth under the tree has gone. Curiously there’s a bird’s nest there now with eggs in. Not sure why it’s on the floor. It doesn’t look as if it has fallen. The eggs are the more beautiful colour.