At the weekend I went down to Hay-on-Wye for the book festival, to meet up with the Commonwealth Writers staff who were involved in various events there. Met lovely people, including the thoughtful Emma Martin from New Zealand, who won the Pacific region and the overall prize – her story Two Girls In A Boat is absolutely beautiful – and the charismatic Shehan Karunatilaka, from Sri Lanka, whose book Chinaman: The Legend Of Pradeep Mathew won the Commonwealth Book Prize (and sounds brilliant, despite being about cricket, will read it soon). Thanks to all the Commonwealth people and particularly to those of the judges who were there, Bernadine Evaristo, Margaret Busby and Nicholas Laughlin, for being lovely and encouraging. There was a reception and couple of other talks.
Other interesting encounters: the impossibly glamorous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who arrived in a gorgeous, totally impractical vivid green frock and stilettos, and was so sweet that when she drew a little picture of me in a book (like a child would draw), me and the two adoring blokes with her melted into cooing praise like fools.
A very posh lady, whose identity I never quite got but who had lots of intense anecdotes and seemed to know everyone, who told me a story about hearing ghostly footsteps “when my husband at the time and I were living at Longleat for a while with Alexander” (ie the Marquess of Bath – pronounced AlexAUNNNder). Two very nice writers from north Wales, Mary and Debz, who took pity on me when I was hanging around on my own and were good company. Debz runs Bridge House Publishing and Paws’n’Claws; among other things they publish children’s books in aid of the Born Free Foundation. AND, though it shouldn’t really count as I didn’t actually speak to him, Salman Rushdie who ate his dinner just two tables away from me (I was tempted to do a Bridget and ask him where the toilets were).
Having booked at the last minute, I was staying in a weird dorm room with 16 small bunk-beds crammed in. Thankfully only two others were occupied, but the 1970s decor and low heights made it feel like a claustrophobic Girl Guides’ trip. I can’t complain about the price though: £22 a night including a great breakfast! The only other thing available was a luxury yurt at £200. And the hotel it was in, while also untouched by the fashions of the last few decades, was the original Baskerville Hall, where Conan Doyle stayed and took the name (relocating the place to Dartmoor). It was a bit out of the way though, down a dark country lane, and it took two buses to get to the festival site. And unfortunately the weather at Hay was bloody awful. The tented village may have kept the rain out but not the cold and wind, so being around there all day was a damp and depressing experience. I’m sure the festival is really good usually (though I don’t get the sense they have as big and varied a programme as the Edinburgh book festival), but I only saw it at its grimmest. And the journey was quite complicated with a succession of dull bus and train journeys – and stop-offs of several hours in Hereford (quite pretty, nice cathedral) and Crewe (incredibly boring and ugly town centre). I came back home exhausted and immediately succumbed to quite a rotten cold. I’ve spent the last few days snuffling and moaning and cuddling the dog. You know, just in case literary success went to my head or anything.