The Jub Jub Bird

A literary blog with fantasy tendencies

The Hay Festival 2010

I’ve been at the Hay Festival for the past week.  With baby in tow, we weren’t able to attend as many events as usual but the sun shined throughout, so we spent our days sitting out, drinking wine, eating strawberries and trying not to stare too obviously at the famous types nearby.

I did take some time out of the busy schedule to hear some writers speak though, so here’s a brief summary for Jub Jub readers:

  • Adam Foulds read an entrancing excerpt from The Quickening Maze, as part of his discussion about the book.  I am now very much looking forward to this one.
  • Jub Jub favourite David Mitchell, was interviewed about Cloud Atlas for the Guardian Book Club.  In typically self-deprecating mode, he referred to his ‘cowardice’ in writing six short stories, instead of one full length novel.  Although he was inspired in part because he felt cheated by Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, which takes a similar approach but leaves much more unresolved.  That said he emphasised the concept of ambiguous redemption, as a general aim in his fiction.
  • Mitchell signed my copy of Cloud Atlas, which I persuaded him to sub-title Reconstruction of the Fables in reference to the REM album, an idea he’d mentioned at Hay last time he was there promoting Black Swan Green (he signed that one Life’s Rich Pageant – you get the idea REM fans).  He also signed my shiny happy copy of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.  I asked him about the implied connection between stories in Cloud Atlas arising from the idea that souls cross generations ‘like clouds across the sky’, he said it was a lovely idea and that he hoped it was true.  The queue behind me was growing, so didn’t push it but I wonder whether this was something else he ended up having to cut out for space reasons (he originally planned to have nine inter-related stories), as it was never followed through properly.   Then again, maybe it’s just ambiguous redemption in action.
  • Ben Okri was inspirational in discussion about The Famished Road (Booker winner 1991).  Okri also read poetry and talked about finding the African beat to his writing, which hovers somewhere between prose and poetry.  His view is that African people have three levels of reality: the physical, the mythical and the spiritual.  Myths are important because they simultaneously tell us what we are and what we have lost, (they are both strengthening and commemorating) while ‘without the spirit, you don’t have Africa.’  He also claims that literature is based in dream and dream-logic.  The spirit world certainly plays a big role in The Famished Road, though I confess that I didn’t get on with it myself, the dream-like style worked well for a couple of hundred pages, less so extended over twice that length.  Even so, I am now minded to read the follow-up, which has the virtue of being much shorter.
  • Patrick Ness discussed the final book in his Chaos Walking trilogy, which was talked-up by his interviewer (can’t recall his name but seemed relatively impartial) as being the best conclusion to a three-parter, ever.  This is some claim for any book, but is more impressive still for a YA title.  My interest is well and truly piqued.

All in, a memorable week.  Just one complaint: whither all the fantasy writers? Apart from YA, which slips in disguised as children’s fiction?  I’ve seen Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks in previous years, but that’s still slim pickings for such a large event.  Is adult genre fiction just not literary enough?

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Notes in the Margin | 1 Comment