Returned home from Hay Festival on Thursday, then thrown straight into filming. So lovely to see everyone. Here’s a glimpse of what went on.
We arrived early, partly to see Julia Lovell and Robert Macfarlane speaking, and then became roped into an event, where I painted a peregrine. At first Robert was speaking spells, but then he left the stage and Pat Barker came on and read from the Regeneration trilogy. It brought a new side to audio books for me, painting on stage while the author reads to me. Not the best of peregrines, but I was very nervous.
The cover of Underland on stage looked magnificent ( artwork by Stanley Donwood) and Beth and Ben sang the song, Deep Time, which always steals a little of my soul when I hear it. Weaving through elements from the whole book, they take it deeper into the soul.
On Wednesday the rest of the Spell Songs group arrived. Rachel and I did an interview for the Songlines magazine, which became more of a comedy double act than an interview. And in the evening they sang, played and I painted.
We had a full house, and as they settled in for the second half the band played a river of music for inked otters to swim through.
I had prepped paper with an alphabet, gilding the letters that make the word ‘otter’, and with ink and the ‘tears of Robert Macfarlane’ I conjured the heart of a romp of otters, because I love Hay Festival.
These otters will be auctioned for Hay Festival some time next year, but if anyone can’t wait that long they can buy them for £1 500 from The Hay Festival office (email me and I will put you n touch. They are 75x56cms, sumi ink and gold leaf)
I had painted a suit of images that Ben threaded through the performance. Ghost Owl was definitely the one that worked the best for me. Even as I worked on them I tried to imagine them on the stage.
Below is the selkie’s child, heading for home, free in his element.
Earlier in the day I had been due to lead people off on a walk, but I called it off as the weather threatened heavy rain and instead we sat in the meeting place and I talked and painted for about two hours. From this another otter came. And I love the small otter by Bea’s sister that she painted having watched mine land on the paper.
And Hay was brilliant, exhausting, full of life and light, but the best bit for me was seeing this picture on instagram. Some time ago, not that long, there had been an appeal sent out to all who work at Hay. Otis Bolamu was in a deportation centre in Newport, held there and due to be deported on Christmas day, to be sent back to the Congo where he had fled in fear of his life after campaigning against the ruling government. Denied leave to remain by our government despite the very present risk to his life he received amazing support from the Swansea community, and all at Hay Festival, and how wonderful it was to see this picture of Peter Florence and Otis together again. You can read more about his story here.
It was also wonderful to see this marvellous small book given pride of place in the Hay Bookshop.
Just before i went away Robert gave a speech in Nottingham. As part of the welcome the wonderful team who had crowdfunded for copies of The Lost Words in schools in Nottinghamshire and then delivered the books made this beautiful film, below. How lovely to see these children together with our book.
For the full speech, watch the video below. Then you will know where the water to paint the otters at Hay Festival came from.