Needle in the Hay Stack

Just over seven months ago, on a drizzly summer day, I took this photo. The setting was Hay-on-Wye – a tiny town nestled between the foreboding valleys of the Powys-Herefordshire border; Welsh by a wisp with part of the town situated in England and the other in the land of St David. The Hay Festival of Literature and Arts has been an annual celebration of all aspects of creativity since 1998 and has remained a fixed point in the British calendar since then – being descended on by droves of authors, journalists, poets, lecturers, actors, musicians, artists, school children and tourists in Whitsun week.

Hay itself is a sleepy place, albeit one with a wonderfully sprawling collection of second-hand book shops. In fact, on entering Hay you are greeted with a sign beholding “Hay-on-Wye – Town of Books”! The very fact that such a town can survive and that this festival of the Arts continues to grow year on year, attracting some of the greatest authors, poets, comedians and thinkers of the 21st century is surely uplifting in our current climate of library closures and bookshop decline – a topic I mused on over a year ago in my post “The demise of the local bookshop”.

Ironically, my bemusement at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts being sponsored by The Telegraph (for some reason it tickled me at the time) morphed into excitement when I had the great pleasure of meeting Lisa Armstrong; Telegraph Fashion Editor, ex Times Fashion Editor and Vogue contributor. I had half an hour to kill between Michael Morpurgo’s glorious Annual Hay Library Lecture and David Bellos’ fascinating talk on language in translation, humorously entitled “Is that a fish in your ear?”, and having been alerted to the fact that Lisa had given her own talk earlier in the day I was off on a hunt to find her.

To put it into context, Lisa Armstrong’s Times Magazine columns accompanied my Saturday afternoon lunch for as long as I can remember; I’d even go as far as to say that she was one of the reasons I became so interested in fashion because of her ability to make it appear accessible to me, a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old schoolgirl. I arrived, a little out of breath I might add, at The Telegraph tent only to spy her chatting with a festival-going couple. I hovered, debating whether to pluck up the courage to introduce myself. In short: I did. She was lovely, gave me advice about becoming a journalist and complemented me on my black felt hat. I was a very happy girl. What’s more, she very kindly agreed to have a photo with me and even snapped me for The Telegraph’s festival style blog!

Experiencing Hay was, without doubt, a true highlight of my year. Sitting in a huge tent, my pen poised above my favourite RSC notebook and surrounded by other fellow Morpurgo devotees I felt inexplicably at home. Even more so when Michael, as I like to think of him, boomed;“Cutting library funding is the stupidest thing this government has ever done”, amid cheers and applause from the delighted audience. A phrase which has stayed with me ever since the festival came from his lips too: “Reading is the oxygen of enlightenment”. A metaphor so strong and so true it doesn’t even feel like it should be granted metaphor status.

My favourite quote from the festival came courtesy of Twitter; “Only at Hay-on-Wye would a talk on fonts be so popular it has to move venues twice”. There is something so honest and uplifting about that sentence which embodies this festival in the accolades it deserves. I can’t wait to be returning this year. If you’ve never been – go. I dare you.

Hay 2

Hay 2

Hay 3

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The digital debate

Roz of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee

Roz of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee

If there’s one blog that I read religiously then it’s Clothes, Cameras and Coffee written by Roz Jana. Beautiful landscape photographs, such well-styled vintage that you feel like you’ve stepped back in time and a shot of literature and creative inspiration is the perfect combination for engaging and warm reading material. If you haven’t already then you must go over to her blog. She is rather inspiring! Roz wrote a post on Thursday called “Dedicated follower of fashion” of which the content displayed not only the usual dose of vintage Vogue-esque outfits, but also a mini-debate on the topic of whether the way the internet is evolving will mean that it will eventually replace all books and magazines, and that instead we will all download them onto kindles and portable reading devices. This post is something of a re-hashed version of the ridiculously long comment I wrote on her post (apologies Roz!), but it sparked off the issue in my own mind and I’m sure I’m not the only person who also has a view on the subject…

I don’t think that books will ever die out; after all it’s now come back round into fashion to have vintage editions of magazines such as Vogue and first editions of famous and/or classic books. It’s the same with records – I buy records at charity shops and play them on our old record player. Obviously the quality isn’t there but there’s something so retro about playing records that makes them so appealing – almost as if we are rebelling against the digitization of the world.

I’m not saying that the internet is wrongly stealing the limelight from books and papers because, after all, we all write and read blogs and shop online and keep in contact with people and so we would be lost without it. However, I think that regarding newspapers it is much quicker and easier to find particular news items that are up to date on the web, and it’s because of this that The Times are trying to cash in by making people pay to view the news on their website unless they already subscribe to receive the actual paper. This concept could potentially be successful in raising subscription levels, but only if every single other news-broadcasting website in the world did the same thing, and let’s face it that’s not going to be happening any time soon.

I had the debate re kindles the other day with my friend as she has one and loves it as she can take all her books everywhere, but you always run the risk of breaking it/losing it (a £100+ kindle is harder to replace than a £6 copy of Pride and Prejudice) and it just isn’t the same as concentrating on and curling up with a good book and feeling that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment when you finish it.

I like to smell my books when I open them and feel the pages and become one with the book. I don’t want to read it off a screen. This leads to the problem of independent and even big chain bookshops closing as people are either buying them much cheaper off Amazon or are simply downloading them onto kindles. I would hate to lose the feeling of wandering round an independent book shop and browsing the endless titles. I think that’s why I love charity shops so much!

I share Roz’s hope that both types of media – the digital kind and the ‘in the flesh’ kind will continue to exist side by side without one decimating the other. There will always be books I hope – I mean in a couple of decades time books will probably be considered ‘vintage’ so at least we know that someone will be reading them! But what do you think? Will books soon be considered a thing of the past which can only be found in charity shops much like cassette tapes? Or will we always have them?

Photograph copyrighted to Roz Jana of Clothes, Cameras and Coffee