Join me at the Hay Festival
It’s some years since I first paid a visit to the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts. That was before it grew too big for the small, bookshop-packed town of Hay on Wye. It now resides on its own permanent green site a mile from Hay, where large garden spaces and grand marquees mean you can wander round a park-like arena (hopefully, under a sunhat, not an umbrella) rather than rush through busy town streets trying to find the right venue.
I am planning to be at the festival grounds for one day; Saturday 28 May, and I would be happy to join with OCA students to attend events and discuss them afterwards. ‘Earlybird’ tickets are available for two events that day, but until Easter, we won’t know which other writers and artists will appearing, due to the Hays’ ‘close to their chest’ policy on tickets.
This means you still have the chance to book for the talks and events you’d like to be at and have an OCA tutor ready to share them with you. The wide range of events has always helped make this Festival a thought-provoking event, and part of the fun is to pick apart what you have heard, seen or read, over coffee, or lunch or while sprawled in the sunshine.
The Hay Festival is proud of its ethos of being a sustainable, child-friendly, ‘not for profit’ company that holds events around the world. It promotes printed books and discourages people from bringing their Kindles. It has a ‘five continents’ approach, and the two towering figures of the literary world who drew me to Hay this year are from almost opposite ends of the globe. Marlon James is a Jamaican, now professor of English at Macalester College in the US, who writes predominantly about the Caribbean. Svetlana Alexievich is a nobel laureate, who writes in Russian, and is of Belarus and Ukrainian extraction.
I’m close now to finishing James’ Mann-Booker winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings. I’ve really enjoyed taking my time with the 688 pages, in which he explores multiple voices /within multiple genres, including political thriller, biography, whodunit and historic fiction. As portrayed in James’ novel, gunmen did burst into Bob Marley’s grand, colonial house in the nineteen-seventies and rained fire on those inside, seriously injuring, among others, Marley and his wife. This posse went on to control the crack trades of New York and Miami. But the novel isn’t a simple recounting of gang-land facts, mostly because the facts themselves, even before they are fictionalized, are not simple.
Reading A Brief History of Seven Killings is like entering a nightmare you hoped you’d never have again. It spans generations, countries, and politics. So many voices, including a ghost and members of the CIA. James delves into the slums of Kingston Jamaica like a midwife with birthing forceps, dragging amazing characters from that womb to make them…sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now…to quote the book.
There is no doubt that this is a dense, complex, sprawl of a story. It is inventive and ambitious and, therefore difficult to read, which is why I recommend taking your time with it, enjoying every word, even those in the heaviest patois. As I’m not Caribbean, the Jamaican voices often defeated me, but I found playing Bob Marley classics in the background really helped take me there (and winged me back to my youth…).
Before being awarded the Booker this year, the novel received glowing reviews, in which his writing was compared to writers as disparate as James Ellroy and William Faulkner, but I’m also reminded of the classics of the past; War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago.
I already know that Marlon is a great speaker, who will say things of interest to writers and writing students. For instance, for those of you worried about using real people in your fiction, I’m sure James will expand on what he’s already said about re-naming his central character. “I didn’t want to get into the whole ‘imagining in the mind of Marley,’ for artistic and lord knows legal reasons,” he says in interview with the LA Times. “I was more fascinated with what was going on around him…Truth keeps shifting. Five, six stories, even contradictory stories, can exist at the same time and they’re kind of all true and all false. There is no one story.”
I’m also looking forward to hearing Svetlana Alexievich talk to Bridget Kendall, as the event will be conducted in Russian, with consecutive translation. Her writing is described as being about ‘the emotional history of the Soviet and post-Soviet individual’ Not all her books are translated yet, but if you’d like to take a look at her work, follow this link to read from Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from a Forgotten War, a collection of first-hand accounts from the war in Afghanistan. On the Hay website, Alexievich is quoted as saying, “I don’t ask people about socialism, I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age. Music, dances, hairstyles… History’s sole concern is the facts; emotions are out of its realm of interest. It’s considered improper to admit feelings into history. I look at the world as a writer, not strictly an historian. I am fascinated by people…” This is the nub of good writing, something as a tutor, I want to get across to my students – write about people and the semantics will naturally follow.
It’s writers like these two that attract such an interesting crowd to Hay, not definable by age, gender, race, religion, or sexuality, but by a love of all kinds of literature. I already can’t wait to be there.
If you would like to join me at Hay, the earlybird tickets are available here; Saturday 28 May 2016 Box Office: 01497 822 629, and the rest of the events programme will be released soon, so sign up to the mailing list to receive all the latest information. Please let me know if you are coming via email email@example.com