Hay-on-Wye is a beautiful market town nestled on the Wales : England border roughly a million miles* from everywhere. For fifty weeks of the year, Hay’s main claim to fame is the number of second hand bookshops that occupy buildings dotted all around the town. The only thing more eclectic than the appearance and architecture of the shops, is the breadth od subjects covered by the books for sale within them. I have loved Hay from the first time that I visited as a teenager, and it continues to hold a very special place in my heart.
For two weeks each year (around the late spring public holiday at the end of May), Hay plays host to a literary festival that pulls in visitors and speakers from all over the world. We try to get to at least one of the ‘big ticket’ events at the festival each year (even driving from Bristol to Hay and back on the same Thursday evening one year to see Dara O’Briain perform his stand-up show).
This year, the Festival has inevitably fallen foul of the restrictions that are in place to help us manage the coronavirus threat. It has therefore taken the decision to move completely on-line, and the full programme of events can be found here. As well as the main Festival, there is also a Programme for Schools that will involve free films targeted respectively at primary and secondary children, with associated activities as a contribution to home-schooling.
The main Festival programme contains the usual incredibly broad range of topics from current affairs (Welsh, British and beyond), through science (with a particular focus on issues arising from the covid-19 crisis), through literature (ancient and modern) to comedy and music. Those taking to the digital stage include Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, Dame Sally Davies, Afua Hirsch, Tori Amos, and Hilary Mantel. Most of the sessions run for around forty-five minutes, and all of them will leave you much better informed afterwards than you were before.
If you’ve never heard of the Festival before, and fancy seeing what it’s all about; or if – like me – you have always wanted to attend more sessions but the challenges of geography and timing have made it difficult, the this year’s digital Hay Festival is a fantastic opportunity to give it a go. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!