Hay 2015

Hay Hum

It is alway a joy to come to Hay and this year I am staying for the duration, chairing various events. I've been put up in a flat in central Hay, opposite Booths Books. My sitting room is on the first floor and looks directly into the upper floor of Booths. Which is actually used for more than book storage, as I found out after someone waved at me from there. At the time I was revelling in my solitude, having left companions and domestic responsibility at home in London. I was celebrating by dancing round the flat in my pants, eating blueberries and singing Abba. Well, it was Eurovision 

Arriving , I discovered, not very much to my surprise, that I was unable to work any of the technology in the flat, and so couldn't play music. But, the "Record N' CD Fair" was on, and so for the grand total of £2 I bought 4 CDs. Tony Orlando and Dawn (You remember - tie a yellow ribbon...) Abba, OF COURSE, The Pet Shop Boys disco remix and Sade. I am sure they had some cool stuff too, but hey, I'm on my own, and you only get to relive your youth several times. The ghetto blaster, the only piece of tech here I can actually figure out, has been playing my new acquisitions on continuous loop every since.

I ask all  the people I interview about music. It plays such an enormous part in my life, influencing my mood utterly and my ability to function in every way, so I'm tremendously interested in whether people can write to music or not. Does it distract them? Must it be relevant?

My first event at Hay this year was with Helen Lederer talking about her book Losing It , and basically we discovered that we may be identical twin sisters separated at birth. Apart from the gap in age and the even larger gap in talent. She was enormously entertaining, and ended up staying in my flat for a night also eating blueberries and drinking prosseco, but  her husband could work the television and found an old music show so our soundtrack was Queen.

Queen was present again when I spoke to Sarah Winman about her book, When god was a rabbit, Bohemian Rhapsody especially. Music  of the forties came to mind as we discussed her new work, A Year of Marvellous Ways and the shocking revelation of what really went on in the unofficial shelters in the east end during the blitz. 

 A huge swelling emotional soundtrack would have suited the session with Jessie Burton. After almost exactly a year on the road promoting her huge hit debut novel The Miniaturist, our chat marked the end of her tour. We took a selfie on stage to mark the occasion and both ended up in tears as the clock counted down to zero.

 Mark Watson, author of Hotel Alpha and Shireen Jilla, The Art of Unpacking Your Life, admitted to listening obsessively to one or two albums while writing - but neither wanted to say which. Victoria Hislop, here to talk about new novel The Sunrise 'fessed up to owning probably the largest collection of Greek music in the UK, and of course we heard Texas belting it out on stage.

There was some fantastic DJing at various parties (who knew Canongate publisher Jamie Byng  was so talented on the decks?) and an hilarious evening sitting next to Mark Ellen who knows everything there is to know about music. He should, he wrote Rock Stars Stole my Life. He also claims also to know that he can't dance, as do I. I never even try. But as the evening wore on, we both forgot our limitations and "threw some shapes" - his words. Definitely a case of should have gone home half an hour before. But the joy of hearing the original of Knock on Wood by Eddie Floyd. How could one not hit the floor?

I suffer very badly from involuntary singing, so much so that my daughter won't walk around in public with me as she claims I sing most of the time. But she is a teenager and everything is embarrassing (oops, that has just sparked off that Sky Ferreira song in my head). And  everywhere you turn here, there is another musical reminder.  Hay Jude Law wasn't taking it bad NA nananaNAnanaNA, and various tv theme tunes force themselves out of both my memory, and sadly, at times, my mouth, as the presenters of said shows walk past.

I'm not usually nervous when I meet people, but I was terrified that when shaking Virginia McKenna's hand today I would not be able to stop myself from singing Born Free. I had to content myself with humming it very softly under my breath as I walked behind her.

On Saturday, I interview Polly Samson. I may have to tape my moth shut to stop any lyrics from The Division Bell escaping.