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The Other Side of Hay

The Hay Festival of Arts and Literature is one of the highlights of the UK literary calendar. Every year it takes place in Hay on Wye, a small village on the English-Welsh border, famed for its numerous bookshops. This year sees events from lots of big names including  AC Grayling, Niall Ferguson, Ian McEwan, and Karen Armstrong. Several OUP authors are also doing events during the festival, including Anthony Julius, Ian Glynn, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, and Jerry Coyne.

OUP UK’s Head of Publicity, Kate Farquhar-Thomson, is also there, and this week will be sending her dispatches from the festival front line. Today, though, she writes about the other side of Hay.

It would be easy to make a list of the stars that I have spotted here at the Hay Festival since I arrived, or indeed the past colleagues I have worked with, but actually what strikes me more, on this visit, is what is going on outside the boundaries of the festival.

The fact is that whilst tens of thousands of people descend on this small Welsh border town for a week (or so) to mingle with politicians, models (oh yes, Jerry Hall was here!), historians, novelists and more, life around the UK’s premier ‘Book Town’ still goes on.  I see tractors going about their farm business, sheep lambing and hay being made.  However it is not only hay that is being made in Hay by the indigenous population.  There are numerous little stalls of bric-a-brac, tea shops, cake stalls and plant sellers that have sprung up in gardens, on pavements, under tents and in driveways.  The whole town embraces the festival and is keen to capitalise on it!  Good for them I say.  It happens but once a year and it is truly special.  It is like the circus is in town… all encompassing but transient.

Some of Hay on Wye’s native residents.

Talking of circuses there is actually one in town in the grounds of Hay Castle this year.  Giffords Circus, normally to be found every other year in a field just over the Hay Bridge has bedded down in the town centre this year.  Within the castle, which was built in 1200, is a flat owned by Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed “King of Hay” whose eponymous bookshop stands at the centre of Hay and was the first second-hand bookshop to open here well over 40 years ago.  And for the first time since I have been coming to Hay I actually met the man himself last Saturday night!

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