Making Hay with Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Chris Riddell!

On Monday 29th May 2017, I had the good fortune to drive to the beautiful Welsh/Herefordshire border town of Hay-on-Wye and its world famous Hay Literary Festival. The Hay Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it felt like an extra special treat. My reason for going, apart from the fact that Hay-on-Wye is a book lovers paradise, was because I had tickets to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Stephen Fry on the subject of ‘Mythology’, two authors and people I greatly admire and a topic I love and am a little obsessed with – a perfect day out! 😀

I’ve been to Hay and its festival many times now but it always feels like the first time, that tangible sense of excitement and child like joy just stays with me every time. I’ve been wanting to see Neil Gaiman for ages but somehow had always missed him, often because I’d bought early bird tickets to see someone else before realising that Gaiman was appearing as well. As much as I love Hay it’s just too far to go twice in a week (every route there is fiddly as hell), and too expensive and booked up to even consider staying the night. Last time, I was at the festival to see Kazuo Ishiguro and his brilliant new book The Buried Giant and had once again missed Neil Gaiman. The irony was that Ishiguro was discussing the incredible snobbery he had encountered when he decided to write The Buried Giant, his first foray into fantasy, and how he had had no idea just what genre bias, prejudice and misconceptions there was in literary circles about fantasy. In fact, Ishiguro had been so taken aback by the level of snobbery towards fantasy that he ended up, with Neil Gaiman, writing a newspaper article about it!

So when the festival programme landed on my door two weeks ago and I saw Neil Gaiman would be appearing with another favourite of mine, Stephen Fry, it was a no brainer, I booked my ticket immediately. To my delight, a couple of friends had booked up the exact same event so we were able to meet up and sit next to each other. A shout out to the lovely Roz Clarke a brilliant fellow fantasy writer from Grimbold Books (who’s not only a great writer but is an amazing editor as well as being a lovely person) and Heather Ashley, another lovely mutual friend and her fabulous fringed blue shawl which I wanted to steal and two new friends I met on Monday, Ian Halverson and Amanda Beecham who was wearing the most gorgeous dress!

I drove to Hay hoping to avoid the predicted rain as well as all the poor squashed hedgehogs along the route. My accompanying soundtrack was Soundgarden’s Superunknown album, made all the more poignant by the tragic suicide of its glorious frontman and all round poetic genius, Chris Cornell less than two weeks before. The track ‘Feels Like Suicide’, a track I had always loved now seems too loaded with meaning and full of sadness to listen to. 😦

I arrived a little late (as usual), just after 1pm. Note to all people travelling to Hay-on-Wye, don’t EVER go through Hereford, REALLY not worth it! Anyway, after a security check of bags (a sad necessity these days especially post the horrific Manchester attack the previous Monday) and the armed police that were patrolling the festival, I met up with the gang in the Food Hall. What made it more joyous, is that only Heather had been to Hay before so for Roz, Ian and Amanda this was all a gloriously new experience. We wandered past the various tents, bunting and fluttering flags like Tibetan prayers to the gods, past the smells of barbecuing foods, coffee’s of every description, acoustic music, pan pipes, fiddles and the general hubbub caused by the thousands of festival goers.

We grabbed a shuttle bus into town and started our book crawl opposite Hay-on-Wye’s impressive ruined castle…by going to Shepherd’s Ice-Cream Parlour! Yes, ice cream came before books! 😀 Shepherd’s is an amazing place straight out of the 1930’s with it’s curved glass façade, mosaic floor and café chic vibe, but it’s ice cream…oh la la! The queues were totally worth it! Made from local sheep’s milk, for me, it’s the best ice cream outside of Italy. I was a little pig and had four scoops spread over two tubs! 😀

We began exploring Hay-on-Wye’s delights by visiting the famous Richard Booth’s bookshop – THIS is the sort of bookshop you dream about, all creaking dark wooden floors and interior and several levels to get blissfully lost in. Having the will power of a gnat, I succumbed and bought my first of many purchases of the day!

We went on to Addyman’s Books, Mostly Maps and one of my personal favourites, Hay-On-Wye Booksellers. The magical thing about Hay-on-Wye, is that it casts a spell over you so utterly that you lose track of time even if you’ve only been in a few of its wonderful bookshops. Which is what happened to us. We didn’t even get the chance to meander around Hay’s largest bookshop, Hay Cinema Bookshop with over 200,000 titles! Suddenly it was 5pm and with our Neil Gaiman/Stephen Fry event starting at 5:30 in the main Tata Tent, we had to move our arses. With the queue for the shuttle buses impossibly long we decided to chance walking the mile and a bit from the town centre to the festival. We made it in time and joined the expansive queue – in all my years of going to Hay, I’ve never seen a queue for anybody as long as that one! We eventually got into the Tent and in my exuberance to grab five seats together I virtually trampled on this poor woman who had sat herself at the very end of a line of empty seats. Oops sorry! :O

The event started and to our amazement we had an extra treat, up on stage joining Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry was Children’s Laureate and illustrator extraordinaire, Chris Riddell (a FB friend of mine and someone I am in complete awe of). Chris was on stage throughout actually illustrating the conversation on the spot! Amazing! I have no idea how he does it!

The conversation started with Stephen Fry asking Neil about how he first got into mythology, a subject they are both passionate about (Stephen Fry loves Greek Myths which he talked about a bit, whereas Neil Gaiman prefers Norse Myths – hence his new book, Norse Mythology). For Neil Gaiman it was Norse Mythology and its roots, not the Wagnerian Cycle stuff but the older original Eddas, tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and giant wolf Fenrir, of magic and cruelty, tricks and betrayal, that he loved so much. Certainly very inspirational stuff, no wonder Tolkien often plundered such tales for his own creations! Neil spoke eloquently about Loki’s children, particularly Týr and read a section of his new book, Norse Mythology, and how Odin had made the dwarfs make an unbreakable chain, Gleipnir, and had tricked Fenrir into being bound up by it because they were jealous of his strength and power. I won’t spoil the end of the tale for those of you who are not familiar. 🙂

Stephen Fry, as always, had a lovely relaxed style of questioning that made both men at ease, even under the intense stare of some 500 audience members and all the bright lights. Chris Riddell brought there conversations alive with beautifully drawn snapshots of both sitters and the various mythological characters they discussed, as well as some cheekily flamboyant moments of drawing hilarity!

The entire experience was utterly magical. I really wish I had brought a Dictaphone or something to record it all. It lasted just over a hour with some question and answer bits from the audience, including one girl asking if as writers did Gaiman and Fry ever feel like a God themselves? Clever question. Neil Gaiman replied “Yes, twice. Once when I was asked to write a Dr. Who script and I wrote… ‘Interior Tardis’, and once 30 years before that when I had to make Batman say something!” You can see the whole talk here.

Someone also asked if Gaiman would be interested in ever doing some Welsh Myths, like the Mabinogion…he didn’t say no! 😀 For someone like me, who ADORES any kind of mythology, but particularly Norse, Celtic and ancient Sumerian tales (Epic of Gilgamesh), this whole event was simply edible! 😀

After it finished I did my usual gazelle sprint to the festival bookshop, to queue up for the book signing. Despite my stumpy legs and swift weaving through the crowds, there were still about a hundred people in front of us, including the annoying serial fidget who was sitting next to me and could keep still for ore than a few seconds, making my chair move so much I was getting nauseous! But, we still managed to secure a good place, seeing as the queue snaked behind me by at least 2 or 3 hundred people!

Despite aching legs and complaining feet we queued and queued. Due to the number of people waiting Neil could only signed two books, but frankly he was amazing and ended up book signing for 5 hours! OMG! Anyway, being the naughty shit that I am and being a fan of his writing, I couldn’t resist in doing something cheeky. When it came to him singing the books I bought, his Norse Mythology and Stardust, I blurted out that I was a fan of his writing and wanted to give him a gift to say thank you. I wasn’t as eloquent as I wanted to be and slapped my novel, White Mountain, down on his table like a wet fish, but he was very gracious and seemed to love the cover. “Wow, lovely to meet a fellow author!” then to my amazement he stretched out his hand for a handshake! Gulp! What a moment, then he went and drew a doodle in one of the books!

After the book signing, exhausted but blissfully happy we said our goodbyes. It was nearly 8:30 but thankfully still light, so with the sun setting I left Hay-on-Wye and this my most favourite of festivals and taking a different route I drove through the majestic landscapes of the Golden Valley homeward bound.

What a magical day! 😀

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Distant Worlds – Welcomes Andrea Baker!

This is the fifteenth outing of a new blog series, as I dabble my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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The Distant Worlds strand started a few months ago, focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber-talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends. Check out their cool titles while they’re still at bargain prices! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

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A World Of Their Own – an awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories, with ALL profits going to charity!

But now we’re branching out and will be zoning in on an extraordinary group of people, The Alliance of Worldbuilders (AWB), who I am also VERY proud to call close friends.

The AWB – a bunch of uber-talented fantasy and sci-fi writers and artists who met on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy, back in 2010. We formed The Alliance of Worldbuilders, a friendly, inclusive and wacky group and our collective friendships have seen us through some very hard times, including the sad loss of one of our own, Lindsey J Parsons. In honour of Lindsey, our dear friend who tragically died in January 2014, the AWB have created an awesome anthology of short stories, which was published in glorious paperback and e-book on 4th September 2015! It makes the perfect prezzie and ALL profits go to charity, the World Literacy Fund, fighting illiteracy around the world, so grab a great book and help a great cause too! Amazon UK & Amazon US

Right, now to our fifteenth author interview, and our third AWB interview, our very own fantasy castle of paranormal loveliness…

Andrea Baker

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Andrea, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

Oh there are so many unanswered questions about this distant world Sophie, and my first thought was my family, but as I wouldn’t travel without them they’d be right there with me! So, all that said…

  1. Water filtration system, with enough spares to keep us going for a while, until we could find suitable clean water to maintain life.
  2. Medical pack, being a practical person, making sure the flint is in there for starting a fire, as the difference between night and day can be hundreds of degrees.
  3. Books – the whole pod library if I could get it down there, I’d need something to take my mind away and allow me to dream.
  4. As much food as we could carry, to give us chance to check out the supplies on the planet first, rather than poisoning ourselves on day one.
  5. A communication system, so we can keep track of what is happening on Earth

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

That’s a difficult one, and some things would be with me anyway, so they don’t count in the five, do they? I’m thinking of the rings my husband gave me that I always wear. The others, let’s see…

  1. My photographs, a reminder of home.
  2. Plenty of notepaper and pens!
  3. My glasses. I normally wear contact lenses, but there would be no point taking those because I’d never get replacements. I need my glasses though, I’m very short-sighted without them!
  4. My daughter has made me lots of little “I love you” signs over the years, and I’ve kept them all, so I’d take these.
  5. Music – I’d make sure I’d got some sort of solar-electric power conversion to keep this going. I need music in my life.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I wouldn’t actively seek out others, I’m quite the introvert, so I’d stick with the close group I have to be honest. Having said that, I wouldn’t turn them away if they found us and were friendly.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

Only 5!!!!!! I’m not sure I could live with only five of them! Oh well, here goes…

  1. Robin Hobb, probably the Rain Wild Chronicles
  2. Nora Roberts, The Cousin’s O’Dwyer series
  3. Neil Gaiman, Stardust is the one currently closest to me so it would have to be that if we’d crashed…
  4. Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials
  5. CS Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

Sorry, I admit they’re almost all series, so I guess I’ve cheated a little. 🙂

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

Again, with the 5…. This is really hard 😦

  1. The Muse version of ‘Feeling Good’, I adore it!
  2. Adele, the Album 21
  3. Ed Sheeran, X
  4. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
  5. REM – The Best of

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Vodka, although I’m not a heavy drinker of spirits, I don’t think I’d want to think too much about my predicament!

Random comet question: Marmite – love it or loathe it?

Loathe it, completely and utterly!

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go! 

My latest book is too raw to work this one through properly, so I’m going to focus on the current release, if that’s ok?

‘Leah’s nightmares are trying to tell her something, and will stop at nothing. When the dreams don’t get through, the message becomes physical in her waking life. What will it take for her to realise the truth?’

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Once my immediate needs are dealt with (food, water, shelter, heat, I would spend my time reading, listening to music, and writing. This is suddenly starting to sound like bliss!

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

  1. Companionship from those closest to me, and our dog!
  2. My family, as I know only some of them would have travelled with me, and I’d miss the others dreadfully (I sound like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey there!). It sounds sentimental, but I’m close to my family, and being apart from them, unable to speak to them every day would be unbearable.
  3. The beautiful scenery of Scotland, I dream my most vivid stories there.
  4. Independence – the ability to walk, or jump in my car, and visit wherever I wanted without being restricted.
  5. The smells of home – Vanilla, my daughter’s hair when she’s just washed and dried it, my favourite meal cooking. All the normal things about life I suppose.

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

  1. Politics! It drives me mad, you have each side accusing the other of manipulating the press, but of course everything that their own side puts out has to be the truth. As Billy Connolly once said, the desire to be a politician should automatically disbar you from ever being able to become one!
  2. Along the same lines, war and terrorism. I have my own belief system, and I know others disagree with that. I understand that is their right and have no intention of trying to “convert” them, or hate them for it. I can’t understand the desire to kill someone just because they’re ideas are not the same as your own. Having said that, I do believe that a country has a right to defend itself, and we have a duty to help those that are being victimised.
  3. Pollution – we’re slowly killing our planet, whether through fumes or the destruction of war.
  4. Traffic! I spend the best part of two and a half hours a day travelling, and most days am on the road for 06:45 in order to reach my clients at a reasonable time. I hate that this means I miss my daughter getting up in the morning, but it means I’m home for more hours with her in the evening.
  5. Insects – I’m an entomophobic, and am very scared of anything that crawls or flies. Having said that it stands to reason this new planet will be worse, because at least on Earth I recognise some of them…

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

That’s a really hard one, because of the ripple effect. We’ve just had Rememberance Sunday here, and I’d love to be able to stop so much death and destruction, but as history has proven, there is always going to be someone rising up trying to dominate the rest of the world. Perhaps I’d go back to the creation of man as we are today (however you believe we got her) and remove the gene that makes people hate one another and want to destroy anyone that disagrees with them! But then, perhaps we wouldn’t survive as a race then… Maybe I could wipe out the creation of guns and explosives…

If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Yes, providing you guaranteed me being able to return home!

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

  1. Will Macmillan Jones, The Banned Underground series, great books, and give you a good laugh too.
  2. Tricia Drammeh, Spellbringers series. It’s no secret that I love paranormal, and Tricia is brilliant with this series – I’d recommend it to everyone, and wish there was more to it!
  3. Lisa L Wiedmeier, The Timeless Series. This is a difficult one to explain. Lisa’s books appear to be set in the “real” world like my own, but there are significant differences. I love the concept of the Timeless Clans, and the stories that unfold. I’m a severe sufferer of CATTS (chronic addiction to the timeless series), I admit and can’t wait for each book to be released.
  4. AFE Smith, Darkhaven. I remember reading some of this when I first joined authonomy, and it hooked me even back then, you know how some snippets of books just stay with you. AFE has polished it and it is now published by Harper Voyager.
  5. It would have to be our very own anthology, A World Of Their Own. What a great way to discover the fantastic group of authors that have contributed to this, and for such fantastic causes too!

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

  • Never let someone tell you that you read too much – reading is the best way to understand the people and world around you. Personally I think it makes you more tolerant as well.
  • Writers, never give up. It doesn’t have to be perfection, write your story, that is what is important.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself and your inspirations!

12248781_920049701420680_491530867_nAndrea in her own words…

I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember – if you think about it we all do as children, in the imaginary worlds we create with our toys. As I got older I would “live” in the world from the latest discovery from the library, making up many “what happened next” stories, and even though I stopped playing, I still lived in those worlds until my late teens.

Once I graduated however I forced myself to stop this, thinking I needed to “grow up”, and that is one of my biggest regrets, as I’ve lost so many great ideas as a result.

I read so many books it’s hard to name inspirations – at one stage when I was younger I’d read 12-14 books a week, so to name them all would be impossible. I’m married, with an eleven year old daughter and a cocker spaniel named Ellie. In real life I’m a management consultant, specialising in transforming public services, which sounds quite boring doesn’t it?

Bio:

Andrea Baker was born and raised in the beautiful English county of Warwickshire, where she lived with her parents and older sister. She left home to study at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, from where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science, with honours, in 1992. She now works as an independent management consultant, and lives less than five miles from the town and castle of Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, with her husband and their daughter.

Worlds Apart is a series of romantic fantasy books, the first of which, entitled Leah, was originally released on October 11th 2012. Since January 2014 it has been published by Rose Wall Publishing.

Writing History:  

I have made up, and written, stories for as long as I can remember, even before I could effectively write them down. Rose was a nickname that I had within the family as a child, and as a result, anything that I have written, has the pen name Rose Wall. Other than a few poems in student anthologies, none of my writing has been published.

The idea for Worlds Apart has been in my mind for quite a while now, and I often wrote ideas, and dream sequences down into a notebook. In 2010, I started converting these into a story, and completed almost thirty thousand words whilst still working full time, in a high profile programme run on behalf of the Department for Education.

The Programme was closed at the end of November 2010, and after managing the handover of outstanding matters to the Department for Education, I found myself unemployed in January 2011. During the next four months, while trying to find another job, I used my spare time to continue my writing, and this novel, Worlds Apart: Leah, and the outline for its sequel, is the result.

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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Book Blurb

Worlds Apart: Leah

Nightmares are just dreams, aren’t they? They cannot hurt you.

It is simply your mind playing tricks…

Or are they?

Leah’s nightmares are trying to tell her something, something her mind is refusing to let her see.

At nineteen, Leah is still mourning the untimely death of her mother in an accident five years earlier. Her Father decides to move them both to a small Warwickshire town, for a fresh start. But Leah is plagued with terrifying nightmares, that seem to spill into her waking hours, and which somehow bring her comfort as well as fear. Conscious of the warnings in her dreams, and nervous of his growing temper, she deliberately withholds the details of these dreams from her Father.

One morning, Leah sets off up to the Castle, even though her Father would be furious that she had gone there alone. Settling down in her favourite spot, she dozes off in the sunshine, and for the first time experiences a nightmare outside the safety of her home. Disorientated from being awoken mid-dream, she instinctively distrusts the handsome young stranger, Ben, who had awoken her from her dream, yet is strangely attracted to him.

Over the next few weeks the two young people get to know each other better, and Leah finds herself more and more attracted to Ben. Her father finally discovers the relationship when she comes home late one evening. He attacks her, bruising her arm badly.

She fails to hide the injury from Ben the next day, avoiding the subject by questioning him about his music. As a thunder storm erupts they leave the shop at a run, racing together to his car. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a motorcycle skids in the rain, crashing into Leah and sending her flying into a wall.

Her recovery is hampered by her father’s temper and a break-in at the hospital, but this is tempered with the deepening relationship with Ben. Forced to move in with his family, Leah overhears mysterious conversations, her dreams begin to worsen and violent storms rage as she attempts to piece together the jigsaw of facts as they start to emerge.

A climactic event following a regional talent show final sees both Ben and Leah being severely injured, but they are saved by mysterious creatures. Passing out as a result of her injuries, and her discovery, Leah is transported back to the house, but when she awakes, Ben is missing. Forced into a journey of discovery, she finds hidden, surreal worlds within traditional English settings along with a truth about herself and her past that she can barely allow herself to believe, let alone understand.

***

Thank you, Andrea. Congratulations, you are survivor! A passing exploratory science vessel has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xx