Make Hay not war! …A tribute to Hay, Ray and Sir Terry!

I’ll admit that my expectations of the Hay Festival were high…and I was NOT disappointed!

Returning home last night, at nearly 11pm, utterly exhausted and elated with a boot full of books, I found myself in a blissful state of delirium. What an experience! Not just the festival itself, with its Tibetan-like rainbow flags (perhaps fluttering in homage to the God of Books), its eco credentials and bohemian artsy feel, but the whole town and how each compliments the other. The entire vibe of the place…this little idyll, this heaven for book lovers nestled amongst the most breathtaking landscapes. Just bliss!

In a time of grim realities, economic meltdown, political confusion, conflict and war, to be immersed in such a haven is nothing short of magical. There are so few places where the written word is so celebrated. The minute my writer friend and I stepped foot in the town, you could almost feel a palpable tingle in the air. Everyone was there for the same reason…an unbridled love of books.

The rain, thankfully not as heavy as predicted, couldn’t dampen our spirits. So with twitching debit cards we started our foray into Hay’s wonderfully eclectic bookshops.

My advice for any visiting Hay-On-Wye? Bring a backpack…you can squeeze more books into it and leave your hands free to hold more!

Heading from one bookshop to another, via a cappuccino and slice of coffee cake, my growing rucksack and I quickly learned the ‘squeeze-squeeze-side shuffle’ needed in tight spaces and stacked shelves.

Amongst my prized buys of the day – a beautiful first edition 1866 green leather-bound collection of Lord Tennyson poems with gold-edged hand cut pages, gold ‘Arts & Crafts’ embossing on the front and back AND…(discovered only this morning as I took delight in placing all my books on the correct bookcases)…gorgeous illustrations by Hunt, Millais & Gabriel Dante Rossetti, the founders and geniuses of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement!

Wow! I can’t believe I’ve found such a treat for the senses for a mere £6.50! What a find…now you don’t get that from a kindle!

My other highlight? Well, after some serious trawling round Hay, we headed back to the festival and its billowing tents for the main event, an hour-long talk from Sir Terry Pratchett! What a thrill! We jostled our way into the Barclays Pavillion and settled down to watch and listen to a master of the fantasy genre. A real privilege.

Terry spoke candidly about his work and life. Poignant but always humourous and sharply witted, the hour regrettably flew past, despite the continuous munching of the man mountain sitting in front of me and the irritating fidgeting of the teeny girls next to me whose constant moving kept rocking my chair and making me sea-sick!

Of course, during the course of day, the news also broke of the sad passing of another great author, the astonishing Ray Bradbury, whose seminal novels including Fahrenheit 451, have been incredibly influential and inspiring to readers and writers alike. Terry Pratchett himself commented on the sad event, saying what a wonderful writer and what a lovely person he was.

Together with the loss of Anne McCaffrey earlier in the year, it has been a time of literary loss, particularly in the fantasy and science fiction genres, but the legacy such writers and their astonishing body of work leaves behind, ensures their immortality in the pantheon of great writers and artists.

After the fabulous talk, we inevitably took the shuttle back into town for some more book grazing. Hay, rather splendidly, leaves many of the bookshops open into the evening.

We wandered over to the castle, a beautiful ruin of a place, and poured over yet more shelves of delights before reluctantly having to say goodbye to a truly wondrous little place.

May the sun never set on you Hay. I shall definitely be returning for a longer stay!

I raise a glass to the glory of Hay, Ray and Sir Terry…marvels all!

See you next year! 😀

****

Tragically, Sir Terry Pratchett lost his long struggle against Alzheimer’s on the 12th March 2015, he will be greatly missed by all. I for one, shall think of him when I visit the Hay Festival again this year. A literary giant in his own life time, one of our brightest lights has been extinguished, may he shine on in the heavens and give Death a run for his money! xxx

😦

Make Hay while the sun…er…shines?

After visiting the beautiful town of Hay-On-Wye on the Herefordshire/Welsh border for many years, I am eventually visiting this little book idyll during the festival itself!

My idea of heaven…nothing but wall to wall books and people who love them!

The Hay Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an ideal time for my first visit.

Of course, I’d LOVE to have stayed for the entire duration, to immerse myself in the culture of it, the thrill of like-minded ‘lovers of the written word’…but unfortunately reality bites, i.e. a full-time job with heavy workloads and a serious lack of accommodation. Those going know all too well, that if you haven’t booked your accommodation by the end of January, you’re sleeping in your car!

But, none of that matters…I’m going and I’m thrilled! Along with a fellow writer friend of mine, we’ll be soaking up the atmosphere, trawling through every bookshop and generally drifting round in a halcyon state of bliss, come rain or shine.

Then…drum roll please…we’ve got tickets to see Terry Pratchett! SO excited to see the great man. Whether you are a fan of the fantasy genre, comedic novels or of Terry Pratchett himself, none can deny the sheer creative genius and inventiveness of the guy! Should be an excellent talk and a wonderful day! Can’t wait… 😀

Here’s a little ditty about the great festival:

Hay Festival founder Peter Florence remembers 25 years of what Bill Clinton called “the Woodstock of the mind”

In a digital world, it seems more important than ever to be together: there’s nothing quite like the intimate contact of face-to-face conversation. In a way, Hay (and the festival, in particular) is like a physical manifestation of the internet. There are untold miles of second-hand books that hold browsable stories; thousands of old – and potentially new – friends in a real social network, all sharing their love of books and music; and people from all over the world discussing ideas. The big plusses are great food, spectacular landscape and the pleasures of mind and flesh.

There have been incredible moments: Van Morrison’s legendary five-hour gig in 2001; Ted Hughes reading against a storm in a tent that almost left the ground; Maya Angelou summoning a rainbow over the Wye through sheer force of poetry; the crowd roaring their love for Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai; and the opportunity to talk over many years and on four continents to my activist hero Bob Geldof. But the abiding memory is the pleasure of seeing friends year on year, the coming together bit of festivals that is so magical.

Thank you again to Beattie’s Book Blog for this.

Hay…here I come! 😀

‘Aspiring Author’, really?

writing

I was having a discussion with some writer friends recently and this topic came into the conversation. It is also popped up on my publisher’s website, and they are of the same opinion as me. That although it is certainly a very common turn of phrase on writing forums and social media sites, it is also a complete cop-out!

Why ‘Aspiring’? Yes, to be an author may well be a long-held dream, certainly in my case, it has been a lifetime’s ambition, harboured and nurtured since I was a child. So I understand the longing, the desire to achieve ‘Author’ status, what I don’t understand or agree with, is the sentiment behind the word ‘aspiring’. It is such a terribly weak statement.

You are not an ‘aspiring doctor’, or teacher, or lawyer, or dentist…you either ARE a doctor, teacher, lawyer, dentist, or you are NOT. There is no halfway house. Yes, you may be ‘in training’ to join one of those professions, but you should still consider yourself to BE one of them, even if you can’t practise on your patients! Have confidence in your abilities and in where you want to go. You wouldn’t consider yourself an ‘aspiring human’, would you? Ummm…well in some cases that may actually be true! 😀

Have the strength of your convictions and the confidence to see them through.

Putting yourself in the category of ‘Aspiring Author’, merely tells the world that you don’t have confidence in your own writing and that you don’t consider yourself to be a professional. Why should any publishing house take you on and take you seriously, if you don’t take yourself seriously. Publishing houses are not looking for amateurs. Debut novelists, new writers…YES! But ‘Aspiring Authors’? Really?

Your approach and your thinking must always be professional, from the outset. No weak ‘aspiring’ here.

Some consider the sacred term ‘author’ to be based on sales. That you cannot call yourself an author until you are published and those royalty cheques start coming through your letterbox. Again…is this right? If you are basing your status as an author purely on sales…then you are in the wrong profession! Yes, being an author is a professional endeavour, but it is also a highly creative one. Creativity should and MUST always come before hard cash.

Although it is easy to get carried away with stories of instant success and truck loads of money, Christopher Paolini is a good example. If you are writing to get rich…you are DEFINITELY in the wrong profession! These stories hit the headlines precisely because they are so rare. Most writers struggle with sales and building their fan base for years and years, there’s nothing instant about it. It’s hard graft all the way. A good mate of mine, Will, once said that writing the book was the easiest part about it and he’s absolutely right. As hard or as easy as you may find the process of writing and editing your work, that really is the easiest part of being an author.

Think of the great writers of the 19th and 20th century, few of them had instant success with their very first book. They too had to build their readership, hone their craft and get on the carousel of marketing and promotion. Why a carousel? Because it NEVER stops! If they had dismissed themselves as merely ‘aspiring authors’, when their first book languished on the bookshelves due to poor sales, then they probably would never have written a second or third book and thus deprived us readers of some literary masterworks!

Sales has nothing to do with writing or wanting to be a writer. Yes, you’ve got to be professional and yes, good sales are what you want to strive for and achieve, but it should NEVER be a motivational tool or a yardstick by which you class yourself as an author or not.

Be what you want to be. Have confidence in your abilities, your imagination and your writing. There is nothing ‘aspiring’ about it…inspiring, hell yes! Wouldn’t you rather be an inspiring author than an aspiring one?

Whatever your professional day job…You ARE a writer…or you are not. That simple.

For me?

I am and have always been a writer, an author and proud to be one. 😀

Post World Book Day – Hobbits and other wonders!

Okay, so World Book Day was the 1st March, so I’m a few days behind, the rigours of work I’m afraid. I celebrated the day, by getting the children I teach to show and talk about their favourite books. It was fantastic to see the huge range of books that really captivate the children’s imaginations, including a couple of wonderful non-fiction books on animals and the natural world, a far more prevalent subject nowadays than when I was a child.

It really highlighted the importance that stories and books in general have on us all, and just how vital they are for a child’s growing imagination. It also got me thinking about the books that I loved as a child and how our tastes change or remain.

For me, as a very young child it was the books of Richard Scarry, with his finely detailed and labelled illustrations and his wonderful anthropomorphic animals. I still fondly remember ‘The Busy Busy World’, and the hours I spent looking at each page. Then it was a staple diet of Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Lewis Carroll among others and the wonderful ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories of the early 80’s, interactive fiction books where you became the protagonist and actually choose from two or three options at the bottom of each page, deciding where the story goes. Amazing for developing storytelling!

Then…when I was 8, I read The Hobbit!

What a revelation it was! My first foray into the world of dragons and dwarves and great deeds to be done! I was hooked. Magic, adventure, epic storytelling and my first glimpse of a hobbit! That was it. Seeing Star Wars at the cinema (my very first film) when I was four years old, had had a HUGE impact on me and started my life-long love of science-fiction…but that was nothing compared to the ignition button that went off in my imagination at reading, The Hobbit! I devoured it, re-reading it again and again, then more Tolkien and any other fantasy I could get my hands on! My dreams were filled with wyverns and warriors, escapism of the most wondrous kind.

So…now I’m all grown up, do the same books hold the same power for me? Do we ever get over our first book love affair? Probably not, like most things we really love, they always have a profoundly special place in our hearts. So, though I won’t be picking up a beloved Richard Scarry or Beatrix Potter anytime soon, I’ll let them stay snuggled up in my literary past, my love of fantasy is a part of me now and as such I shall always love pioneers like Tolkien and C.S Lewis and all the other fantasy luminaries that followed.

Forget a single day…Happy World Book Year! 😀

My idea of heaven!

Having just fulfilled a life’s dream of actually having a library of my own, albeit very small and petite, the room is only big enough for four of my ten bookcases + a sofa so the others are dotted around the living room and house, I came across this wonderful article all about libraries!

http://flavorwire.com/261320/20-beautiful-private-and-personal-libraries?all=1

Thanks to Beattie’s Book Blog for that one! : http://beattiesbookblog.blogspot.com/

Ahhhhhh!!!!!!! What heaven!

Writing in a temper – creativity versus rage!

Now, on the whole I’m a very even-tempered person. By all accounts my mates describe me as very laid back, often too much so. However, I am also a perfectionist who worries a lot and gets incredibly passionate and fired up about people and things who are important to me.

The one thing that gets my goat, is injustice. People being treated badly and situations which are completely unfair, really jar with me, as I’m sure they do with you. Now, trying to be diplomatic about things and biting your tongue gets you so far…but when you witness someone behaving badly and with total impunity, the urge to set things right can become overwhelming. So, what do you do when you absolutely HAVE to vent but know you can’t?

Well…I write, furiously and in a fury! Often frenzied, words spilling out and crashing about the place like truculent teenagers. BUT, apart from the cathartic release you get from venting on paper or on screen, does writing in a temper actually enhance or detract from your creativity?

Tricky question!

Certainly writing in a temper will inject your prose with passion and fire, and of course, while you are in that raging vein, you are not self-conscious (the killer of creativity!). But does the content of what you are writing become better with a proverbial axe to grind, or merely more ‘in your face’?

Re-reading passages of White Mountain that I knew I wrote in a rage, made me chuckle, as I remembered not only the cause of my anger but still took ENORMOUS pleasure in seeing the literary results! Bad, I know…but why not immortalise those who have irked you or caused you pain, into caricatures of themselves?

Poetry I find is particularly best when ‘written in rage’…it’s fresh, powerful and uninhibited…just how I like it! BUT, the flip side of course, is that you are incapable of reflection and introspection in moments like that. Any scene which requires subtlety and ‘stillness’ simply cannot be achieved if you’re in a personal lather.

So…my recommendation to all writers, particularly those that have action in their books…is don’t write a battle scene, fight, murder etc in a calm mood, wait until you’re juiced up on rage and injustice! But ensure your calmer literary scenes are written with peace of mind and a clear narrative of thought…time to breathe! 😀

The Wishing Tree

The Wishing Tree

Evan sat on the branch, swinging her legs as she had done a thousand times before, as she had done since she was a child. The Wishing Tree continued to whisper to her, soothing, caressing, each tender shoot and leaf urging her onwards. The pounding rain lost its power here. Nothing ugly could touch her in this magical place. Shards of moonlight poked intrusively from between the swaying canopy. She sighed. She could lose herself here, utterly. If happiness was a place, something tangible you could grasp or just be in, this was it.

She was vaguely aware of the acidic glow of the streetlights from the top of Hillrise and the distant hum of cars on the motorway. For so many people, this small neglected wood was no more than a dumping ground. Fly-tipping mounds, the cliché of broken shopping trolleys, used condoms, porno mags, beer cans and dog shit littered its dells and grassy knolls…but it was still beautiful.

From an early age Evan had been drawn to the Wishing Tree, though she never knew why. Only she was able to climb its awkward gnarled branches. Only she had ever been brave enough to reach its fingers stretching ever skyward, then dangle like a deranged monkey while her friends screamed and cackled below. She had been invincible. But age tears down such possibilities, age tells you to tread carefully…age puts the fear in you.

Evan watched the breeze catch the leaves around her, as they danced in the broken starlight. She closed her eyes and raised her arms in the air. She thought of the huge condors of South America, gliding on the thermals with their monstrous wings. The feel of the warm air under them, forcing them up. Only her balance could stop her from falling now. She looked into the gloom beneath her feet. At this height and with the rusty railings below, she knew if she fell she would kill herself.

The tree continued to whisper. She felt the soft wind pushing against her and the dappled light shifting over her eyelids. She had the overwhelming desire to let go.

That afternoon had passed in a haze. As always, Evan had trudged up the street to the bend in the road where she could see her house, sitting proudly at the end, and could see which cars were parked in front of it. An old rambling cottage, it sat on the corner of Wolfridge Street and the lane that led up to The Square. Its overgrown brambled garden, lined with old trees, stretched down the road toward her. She looked at the cars outside. Her father was still in and her mum hadn’t come back from work yet.

Evan stood for a moment, deciding what to do.

School had finished at 3:30, it was now 5:39. She couldn’t spend any more time wandering about, in case her mum phoned. She walked briskly, passing the overhanging holly and the three cars which had been left rotting in the garden for as long as she could remember. The radio was blaring in the kitchen as normal. She lifted the latch of the gate, hoping to avoid the usual squeak, but left it ajar in case she had to run. She stopped by the back door. Silence. She couldn’t hear him, no fridge door clattering open and shut, no screeching of chair legs on the quarry tiled floor. Evan turned her key in the lock, she’d perfected how to do this with no sound at all. She stood in the small lobby listening through the stable doors.

It was deathly quiet.

She closed the back door behind her. She’d chance it. With any luck he’d be kipped out on the couch in the living room glued to whatever sport was on, or he’d be upstairs sleeping it off and snoring.

The kitchen was empty. The dog didn’t greet her. He must be in the living room with it. She instinctively looked in the bin to count how many empty cans there were. Ten or twelve by her count.

Suddenly she heard a noise. Shit he’s awake, he’s coming! Evan grabbed her bag and as quickly and silently as she could, crept up the old cobbler stairs and along to her bedroom. If she was quiet enough he wouldn’t realise that she’d come home yet and he might piss on off to work or whatever.

She closed her bedroom door and sat on the edge of the bed, listening, perfectly still. The fridge door went again. The radio was highered. She could hear the muffled voice of her father probably speaking to Fluff their dog, or someone on the phone. Yes, now the back door was opening and he was calling Fluff to go out to toilet before he left. She waited. Eventually the dog came in. She waited for the shuffling he always did, trying to eventually sort himself out for work. She knew she was safe as long as he didn’t come upstairs. If he came upstairs he’d walk along to her room to check if she was in. He was in a hurry today. The back door slammed. Evan relaxed. She was safe. She waited for the gate to go then the predicted heavy footsteps back up to the door because he’d forgotten something. The keys in the door again, scraping chairs in the kitchen, heavy footsteps up the other stairs and the thud of him in her parents’ bedroom. Shit, please go down, don’t come along! Good, good…the steps were going down again.

“Evan? Evan? Are you in?” came the voice suddenly, calling up the old stairs.

She kept silent. Shit, shit! He was coming up. Panicked, she looked for somewhere to hide. Suddenly the stable door clattered shut and the back door slammed again. Keys locking it now then the gate, then his car. Wait, wait for the car to start and watch it leave. Wait…wait.

The street lights glowed red as Evan peered out of her window, keeping herself low, and watched as her father drove off.

Great! Relax. He’s gone.

She closed her eyes, the Wishing Tree was talking to her again, soothing and calming her. The Wishing Tree was always there for her, whispering the answers to her English test, telling her what to say to the bullies at school, warning her of danger. Oh, how she loved it…

She had relied on it more and more over the past few months, as the world around her seemed to slip away. Only she knew the secrets of the Wishing Tree, only she had been lucky enough, special enough, to be chosen. Every wish she had wished, had come true, every one! She only had one more wish to ask…

The evening came and the lights of the village glittered in the cold night. Mum’s voice echoed over the answer machine. Staying overnight for a 2-day conference, Evan had forgotten.

“…We’re going to go down for dinner in a minute.”

“Oh right. How’s the room?”

“You know, basic, it’s alright. Is Dad there?”

“Uh…no…He’s popped out to Tesco’s to get some more milk,” Evan lied. “D’you want me to get him to phone when he’s back?”

“No, don’t worry, we’ll probably be at dinner then. You’ve seen the dinner in the fridge?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“And there’s salad to go with it if you want.”

“Thanks.”

“Are you alright? You’re quiet tonight.”

“Yeah I’m fine.”

“How was school?”

“It was fine, Mum…honestly, everything’s fine.”

The phone went dead for a moment.

“Okay, well, I’ll be back tomorrow, it’ll probably be around 6 or 7 though. I’ll phone you if it’s later.”

“Okay, have a nice dinner.”

“I love you sweetheart.”

“I love you too, I’ll tell Dad you phoned…Have a good day tomorrow…I love you Mum.”

“I love you too, god bless, sweet dreams darling.”

“Love you…bye Mum…”

“Sweet dreams.” The phoned clicked off.

“I love you,” whispered Evan.

She held the receiver in her hand and pressed it against her forehead.

She could hear the tick of the grandfather clock in the kitchen and the hum of the fridge. She went downstairs and switched off the noise of the radio. She loved listening to the sounds of the house, the familiar creaks and groans she’d grown up with, in a home that she had loved and feared in equal amounts.

She glided the bolts of the back door across and turned the key. Double locked. Safe. He would have to use the conservatory now. This old house held so many memories, so many secrets, such magical joy and nostalgic happiness and such terror. Evan stood, her back pressed against the stable doors, taking in the view. The cracked quarry tiles, the pine cupboards that never quite fitted together. The solemn stretch of the Victorian sideboard, its dark smooth wood and the brass handles of its heavy drawers.

In summers past, her mother would stand by the window watching her children play in the garden, chasing each other between runner bean canes and past tended borders full of pansies, sweet peas and love-in-the-mist. She remembered the constant wail of the radio and the shrill beating of the electric mixer. Her mum was always baking. The oven was always on. The wire racks loaded with hot jam tarts or cooling sponges, dishes half full with icing or buttercream, flour on counter tops, broken egg shells next to the sink…and always water splashed on the floor.

“Mother’s been in the kitchen!” They’d joke.

Evan touched the mixer, wiping her finger across the rim of the bowl, feeling a thin layer of dust under her skin.

Things change.

She didn’t understand why, but she knew they did.

Evan switched off the light and left the kitchen in darkness. It was raining. She could hear it clearly now, pounding on the roof of the conservatory. Even in light rain, the sound was so loud the cat would be too frightened to go in. Now, it was thumping down, hitting the PVC like so many fists. Evan found rain to be cleansing, a way of freeing oneself from worries. But rain like this, the sheer violence of it half frightened and half excited her. Standing in the midst of such an onslaught had a way of forcibly emptying any thoughts, filling the head and body with only the pounding noise.

She smiled.

She was glad it was raining. Like tears she thought…tears for me? She walked into the living room, the womb of the house. This, the smallest of rooms and the oldest in the cottage, with its low uneven ceiling and castle-width walls, was dominated by a fireplace far too large for the room, but somehow it worked. The leather sofa, now over 30 years old, bore more creases and lines, but had the warm steady comfort of something lived in, something that had seen and witnessed the best and worst of life and had still survived.

The Wishing Tree whispered again.

“Yes, I know. A fire, that’s what we need.”

A fire had already been laid in the hearth. Evan lit the paper sticks watching carefully as the embers spread until she was sure the fire was lit and well on its way. She didn’t know why, but wanted the house to be warm. With any luck, when father returned, at 2 or 3 in the morning, pissed as a newt, he would come in here and just pass out on the couch. She knew he wouldn’t check upstairs, so she had plenty of time now.

The smoke curled its way up the black chimney as flickers of flame caught light. The fire was blazing. Evan sat for a moment in its warm glow. The rain had stopped.

She glanced out of the window, it was still light, only just though.

The Wishing Tree was waiting…and the promise of yet more adventures. She wanted to reach it before dark. She quickly kissed the cat and dog then opened the conservatory door. She could smell the chimney smoke mixed with the fresh smell of rain. She closed and locked the door behind her. The house was warm and safe.

The sky was black now and amidst the rustling tree branches she could hear rain coming once more, perfect…Magic Time!

Climbing higher in the tree, Evan smiled, swinging her legs again. She had never felt so happy, so light. The Wishing Tree was calling her, calling her to its branches, to its loving embrace. She placed the heavy rope around her neck. 

It was time to go.

Sophie E Tallis © 2012