The first time I went to Hay-on-Wye was on a hiking trip. It was so hot I left several of my toes behind, melted into the B&B carpet.
Rain, mud, brr! But the crowds of visitors to Hay’s 25th Festival are a sturdy lot, and the British summer wasn’t going to get in their way. Nor mine. This was the first time I’ve ever done a literary festival (from the stage not the seats, at least), and the very first time I got to talk to an audience about the Pea’s Book series. There could’ve been a hurricane and I’d still have had a big dorky grin on my face.
Not only were there masses of brilliant kids in the audience, willing for me to inform them that the road to becoming a children’s author is strewn with unexpected roast chickens and pooey nappies – but they came stocked with tons of top questions for me to go ‘erm’ at in a very intellectual manner. One young man even asked me what my favourite TV show was when I was a kid, which meant I could, perfectly legitimately, talk about Doctor Who to a room full of smallish people for a good five minutes. Bliss.
The ‘Peaspoon’ and various magnificent flaily arm motions were deployed by my fab onstage helpers Nikkita, Becky and Elun (I’m so sorry if I’ve remembered your name wrong!), to help me introduce everyone to Pea and her sisters: thank you all!
Then, too soon, I was dashing off the sparkly Starlight Stage to sign some books, and to drink a very big cup of tea, a.k.a. stuff my face in the hospitality tent.
Hay’s great for people-spotting. I managed to run into Sian ‘you-know-weather-Lembit-etc’ Lloyd in the queue for the ladies (who was utterly charming and lovely), stare at Prue Leith in that ‘have we met? Oh no, I’ve just seen you on the telly’ sort of way, and achieve a very quick dorky hello with Jacqueline Wilson. Well, I was dorky. She was poised and fabulous and wearing really good wellies.
(RHCP folks: I also observed Annie Eaton all aflutter in the presence of Bryn Terfel, and can indeed confirm that ‘he caught her eye’ over the chicken tagine. Oh yes.)
I’m still pinching myself, to be honest. I think I’ll take two Big Thoughts away from my Hay experience this year (mud not included):
1) My Mum and Dad and my big sister T came to watch me, and every now and then while I was talking – about being little and loving books, or about all the years writing and doing other things – I’d spot them in the audience, and think: if you hadn’t filled my childhood with books, if you hadn’t taken me to the library every Saturday, if you hadn’t let me be my funny shy odd self… I wouldn’t be here, on a stage, talking about a book with my very own name on it at all. So thank you.
2) Anyone who says young people are ‘post-books’ in the technology age needs poking in the eye. Hay on that Friday was cold and miserable and packed to the gills with people who love stories. They came to hear tiny little me, telling them about a book that’s not even out yet. The queue for Louise Rennison was blocking doorways 2 hours in when I clambered past. Andy Stanton signed for four hours. Books are beloved and they matter and STOP BLOODY CLOSING LIBRARIES SO KIDS DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO THEM.
My hugest thanks go to Sophie Lording for her incredible work bringing Hay Fever (ie the children’s bit) together, drivers Sandy and Chris, lovely Polly, Annie for ‘making’ me have wine, Emily, Stephie, Lisa and Harriet for setting it all up – and above all, everyone who came along. You gave Pea the very best welcome I could’ve dreamed of.