Make Hay (on Wye) while the sun shines

Well I have finally achieved an ambition that I have had for many years –  my first visit to the Hay festival; however it will not be my last visit I am sure.  For those who have never attended, I hope I can give you just a small flavour of this quite extraordinary and very unique event.

It takes place over two weekends (from 25th May to 1st June in 2017) and is a melting pot of events covering adult and children’s, non-fiction and fiction.  there are politicians, artists, reporters, authors and illustrators all expressing a wide range of views, so that almost everyone will find something to their liking.  Everything that I know about the Festival has been learnt from friends who have appeared or attended in past years.  Hay itself is a small town with the reputation of being the second-hand bookshop capital of the country (if not the world).  During the festival period it becomes overwhelmed by the number of visitors and accommodation is extremely difficult to find.  For those who are young enough and have the energy there is always the option of camping or glamping; however hotels and B&B s need to be booked a long time ahead if you want to be anywhere near the town.

This year I only attended for one day so my main concern was in finding parking.  Luckily this is extremely well organized with a large off site car park several miles away at Clyro Court. the cost was £6.00 for the day but this also covered the bus to and from the venue.  The buses are every 10 minutes and run until after all of the events have finished, so quite late in the evening.  However I also found that there are several large “Charity” car parks just outside the entrance to the site, so this is something that I need to investigate for the future.

The day that  I chose to attend was Monday 29th, mainly because Neil Gaiman was going to be ‘in conversation’ with Stephen Fry.  As my friends know I was lucky enough to be chair of judges in 2010 when Neil won the Carnegie Medal for “The Graveyard Book” (illustrated by Chris Riddell).  I also discovered that Sarah McIntyre was talking about her new picture book “Prince of Pants” (author Alan MacDonald) and Philip Reeve was discussing “Black Light Express” the follow up to “Railhead”.  I booked all of my tickets, including the parking many weeks before the date and was ready for the two hour journey when the big day arrived.

I knew that it was going to be good when I saw three people that I know within five minutes of arrival at the site; there is nothing like the feeling of belonging this can give you and the children’s book community is so open and friendly that it feels like seeing members of your family .  The Festival site is like a miniature city under canvas with a variety of tents connected by wide covered walkways.  This means that even in the rain it is a very usable space.  The first thing that really hit me was just how crowded the venue was.  With other Festivals such as Bath and Cheltenham they are widely spread out, but this is something totally different.  However it gives Hay a really sense of energy and excitement and you gradually get used to the crowds.

The tent city is well signposted and there are plenty of places to chill out, get something to eat and drink and generally enjoy the ambiance.  My first stop was the Festival Bookshop where all the signings were taking place.  there were several queues and it took a while to understand what was going on; however there is a board which tells you that each doorway is allocated to a specific signing queue, but some of them were very long and things became confusing.

My first event was Sarah McIntyre who was sporting another one of her fabulous outfits, both dress and hats; however it was the beautiful handmade bead necklace that had me drooling, the maker is obviously extremely talented.  As always Sarah got her audience to draw some of the characters from the book and also explained the whole process of creating the illustrations.  I think many were in awe of the skill that goes into interpreting the words that are given to an illustrator and it reminds us that the illustrators are of equal importance (Hence Sarah’s work on   I then wandered over to the tent where Philip Reeve was talking about his new book.  He had some great digital book trailers which had been manipulated to give the feel of being in space.   Philip is an amazing speaker and he had his audience totally enthralled.  Just before the talk started I discovered that the lovely M G Leonard was sitting directly in front of me, so we were able to renew our acquaintance.  You really must read her two books “Beetle Boy” and “Beetle Queen” if you have not done so already.  After the event had finished I was able to spend some time talking to Sarah and M G before going in for the Neil Gaiman event.

Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman were discussing his new work “Norse Mythology” and making links to Greek Mythology, as Stephen Fry is currently working on this theme. This was a highly motivated audience of hard-core fans and they were even more ecstatic when Chris Riddell joined the others on stage and spent the entire session creating wonderful and very humorous sketches based on the conversation.  The event was a masterclass in illustration, interviewing and also the depth of knowledge that both speakers had about their subjects.  Although I had taken several books to get them signed the queue was far too long and I still had a two hour drive.  Still I hope that I will be able to hear Neil Gaiman speak at another event in the future.

Hay Festival turned out to be a real delight and I am hoping that in future years I will be able to go for several days and totally wallow in the experience.  It also shows that reading is still alive and well in this country and the range of material is absolutely huge.  I really do encourage people to go to this if they can, however it does require a fair amount of planning to maximize the benefits and see as many people as you want to.  I am sure that many of the events were sold out, so it is important to book tickets as soon as you can; trying to get tickets on the day will probably not work.  Thank you to everyone involved with the Festival, you are fantastic.


Welcome to 2016


Chicken House, 9781910002704

M G Leonard is causing quite a stir with her first book “Beetle Boy” and the attention is very well deserved.  this is the story of Darkus, who has been living with his uncle since his father disappeared. He discovers mysterious goings on next door, including the presence of thousands of exotic beetles.  There are villains and heroes, some of them very unlikely but it really is a cracking story and is set to be a real favourite.  I am lucky enough to be taking her to a couple of schools towards the end of March, so photos will follow hopefully

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Katharine Woodfine

The case of the Jewelled Moth” by Katherine Woodfine is the second in her series featuring the young staff of “Sinclair’s” store in Oxford Street.  This time they are caught up with debutantes and members of London’s China Town as they fight against the villainous character called “The Baron” and try to recover a brooch containing a sacred jewel from China.  As before, there is a real sense of time and place about the book and the characters are growing stronger as the series progresses.  Now I just have to wait for another year until the third title comes out. (NG)

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OUP, 978-0192739384

Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection” by Julia Lee is a wonderful look at life in the 1930s, but from the perspective of a young girl called Nancy in her first job as a housemaid, but dreaming of becoming a great detective.  Once again we have a nod towards themes from Poirot novels, but this is more rooted in the reality of life for many working class people of the day.  Nancy has lots of dreams but discovers that she will need to work hard to overcome the barriers that she faces.  I am looking forward to reading more about this strong charactered young lady.

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Chicken House, 978-1910002513

“The Great Chocoplot” by Chris Callaghan (illustrated by Lalalimola) is enough to give palpitations to all chocolate loving people.  What would you do if it looked like the world is about to run out of chocolate and Cacao beans were no longer available?  There is a dastardly villain and a heroine called Jelly (Jennifer) who has to undertake a lot of investigations in order to save the world and chocolate.  This is a adventurous and funny story, best read with a chocolate treat at the ready.

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OUP, 9780192743558

“Electrigirl” by Jo Cotterill (Illustrated by Cathy Brett) is an original and exciting story.  It is partially a novel, but interspersed with sections of graphic comic, beautifully illustrated by Cathy Brett.  Holly was just an ordinary girl until the day she was hit by lightening and suddenly found herself with superpowers, with the ability to use the electricity in her body to perform amazing feats.  However there is an evil professor who wants to transfer all of that power to herself, meaning that Holly has a fight on her hands, not only to save herself but also to save the world.  A new super heroine is born.

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Walker books, 978-1406358964

“The Dark Days Club” by Alison Goodman is a new historical novel for teens, but with a large slice of the Gothic and a lot of vampires and other worldly creatures who ‘feed’ on the human world.  Lady Helen discovers that she is part of the small select band of people who are fighting to preserve civilization and she has to decide whether to follow her destiny, or to live a normal society life.  This is a really great story for those who in a previous generation would have been reading Georgette Heyer and who do read Jane Austen.  There is a mix of romance, excitement, and a story-line that keeps you hooked.  The historical background feels real and accurate and I look forward to reading the next set of adventures featuring this character.


Faber and Faber, 978-0571325252

“Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton is a fantastic new story where the Arabian Nights meets the  Wild West.  When Amani tries to escape the idea of a forced marriage, after the death of her mother, she faces dangers that she had never dreamed of.  It is a teen novel that is full of magic and mystery, where science and myths conflict and the heroine must come to terms with who she is and the legacy she has been born with.  if this is anything to go by then this will be a really cracking and original series.  (NG)

I hope these will give you a taste of the fantastic offerings that are hitting the shelves in the months up to Easter.  Needless to say I am working my way through some more really amazing titles at the moment.

As always many thanks to the publishers and to Netgalley  (NG) for being so generous with titles.