A Town of Books: Hay Festival 2013

I was lucky enough to get to spend a weekend at the Hay Festival of Literature this bank holiday, which has become something of an annual event for me and my family. In fact, it started with just myself and my partner, Rich, stumbling across it on a trip into the countryside.  Every year since, our group has grown and grown in size.Hay festival

The Town of Books

There’s something fantastic about the feeling of being at a festival of literature in a little village that is already adorned with streets and streets of quirky little bookshops. Having visited Hay-on-Wye outside of the festival season, I’ve seen how essential these bookshops are to this ‘town of books’ throughout the year (it’s especially entertaining to spot the ‘Kindle-free zones’ around each corner). But even though there might be a fair few tourists browsing the shelves on any given day in the year, there’s this sense that the books really get to shine and come alive when the crowds descend in May. Pristine bindings of Folio titles get to dazzle briefly outside their boxes before being snapped up, and dusty, second-hand copies of much-thumbed classics find themselves being loved all over again. The whole place comes alive with a shared passion for words.

In the past few years, my partner and I have developed our little routine of which shops we must visit and how long to leave between each event for browsing the labyrinths of the Cinema bookshop or the caverns of The Children’s Bookshop and Rose’s Books. Coming home empty-handed is never an option, and my personal challenge to find the most battered and fragile, yet perfectly quaint copy of Winnie the Pooh is still underway…


The festival events themselves are like the icing on the cake. And to top it all off, there’s not one – but two festivals spread around the town. I find myself hurrying to book-signings or basking in the sun on the grass in between talks about voyages to Antarctica and Julia Donaldson’s picture books,  before nipping across town to ‘How The Light Gets In’, to be engrossed in an hour-long debate about  the philosophy of forgetting. If your mind doesn’t boggle at the masses of information and inspiration it accumulates each day, you’re doing something wrong…

Hay-on-WyeA highlight for me was a talk by screenwriter and Pixar story consultant Bobette Buster on our last day, who talked through her formulas for what really makes a story. She used examples from such Hollywood films as E.T. and Toy Story to demonstrate that every great story has a set of key ingredients. For example: the chance to take a personal journey with the main character; a clear distinction between enchantment and disenchantment; a juxtaposition between two sets of ideas – perhaps two characters in opposition to one another (hmmm… Buzz and Woody ring any bells?); a transformation from something ordinary to extraordinary; wake-up moments to understand the experience a character goes through to transform; and a story within a story.  It was dense, interesting talk from an excellent speaker – all based around her new book, Do Story, of course.

Young talent

My only regret this year (aside from missing out on Quentin Blake’s mid-week session!), is that I wasn’t able to time my visit with the announcement of the winners of the 500 Words competition for BBC Radio 2, which took place last Friday. I listened instead to the live radio broadcast of the winning entries on my commute to work, as they were read out by such famous voices as Michael Palin and Michael Ball. I was so engrossed that I had to negotiate with myself to peel my feet from the train station platform and risk losing my radio signal by getting on the tube. You can read the shortlisted and winning entries here.

I hope these talented kids get to come back to Hay-on-Wye year-on-year.  If there’s one place at one specific time of year that can inspire someone to open up their imagination, grasp every piece of knowledge from around them and put pen to paper to create something fantastical  – then the Hay Festival is certainly it!

Edible books!

Well, it’s been a a little while since my last post… and it certainly feels like it shows – as I must be out of the loop to have missed out on this year’s International Edible Book Festival!

Edible book festivals have been taking place around the world in April every year since 1999, where competitions are hosted in different countries but are judged by Books2eat.com.  But I’ve just come across this slightly more local online version of the event, hosted by blogger playingbythebook, which focuses more specifically on children’s books-themed entries. A pinterest page documents all the entries from the previous ‘festivals’ and is filled with tummy-teasing pictures of glorious cakes – all themed around books! I can’t think of anything better in the world than combining these two of my favourite things…

So, I just HAD to draw attention to it, and post a couple of the pictures here for you to see… And if you want to see the winners (based on overall creativity, not necessarily how perfect a cake it is!) you can follow this link.

Wow. Just WOW!





Themes and dragons

Just a brief post to mention that the Reading Agency have decided on their theme for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge – ‘Creepy House’, with illustrations by the well-known author Chris Riddell.The Reading Mission

As with each and every Reading Challenge, there will be various levels to explore – this time The Awful Upstairs, The Gruesome Ground Floor and The Spine-tingling Cellar…

I never fail to be impressed by the theme ideas that The Reading Agency come up with year-on-year – from Circus Stars to The Reading Mission, to Space Hop and many more since 1999. As they say – they always ensure that they suit both genders and cover a wide age range, to entice as many children as possible to take part.

Circus Stars

The themes allow libraries and schools to get creative with displays and events to make The Challenge the centre of attention at libraries during the summer weeks, so that children really feel they’re a part in something big. When I worked at a Bristol library, I remember the effort we would make to promote The Challenge and make it as exciting as possible for every child. Take this big dragon, below, that I made one evening for the Quest Seekers theme! Now that was a lot of cutting and gluing…

“The annual Summer Reading Challenge helps gets three quarters of a million children into libraries to keep up their reading skills and confidence. Because everything changes when we read.”

– The Reading Agency
Quest Seekers

World Book Day… and a Womble

So, today was World Book Day in the UK and Ireland – a UNESCO-organised day to promote reading, publishing and copyright around the world…

World Book DayAs part of the many events organised for it around the country, thousands of children were expected to tune in to ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ this morning to watch some of their favourite authors and illustrators celebrate reading. It was a live event in London streamed to 40 cinemas in the UK, with such popular figures as Tony Robinson, Anthony Horowitz and Shirley Hughes taking part. The hour-long event was also made available online to watch at home or in schools – and if you missed it (like me!) you can watch it again here from tomorrow.

Along with the show – which the World Book Day charity are hoping will have reached 750,000 children around the country – other events have been taking place to mark the day, such as author signings in bookstores, book fairs, storytellings and such quirky events as a book-making workshop and even a Giraffes Can’t Dance-a-thon in Woolwich.

But perhaps one of the highlights every year is the fancy dress that takes place around the country, where school teachers and children (and anyone who simply feels like it) dress up as their favourite book characters… This photo gallery on the guardian website shows some of the efforts made around the country today by teachers and, I’ve got to say, I especially like Roald Dahl’s Mr Twit’s beard!

So, I thought I’d take inspiration from World Book Day’s decision to broadcast via the web this year and take part myself by adding my own photo to the collection… Here’s one of me at my publishing course’s awards ceremony last year, dressed up as one of my favourite characters – a Womble!

A Womble of Wimbledon

I hope everyone taking part today had a great day.

This Saturday: The Red House Children’s Book Award

This Saturday, we find out who the winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award of 2013 will be! Authors, publishers, illustrators and readers will all get together for the award ceremony to find out who young readers have voted for out of the shortlisted entries.

The award, originally called ‘The Children’s Book Award’, was founded in 1980 and was renamed in 2001 after being sponsored by Red House. There are 3 categories for the competition – Younger Children, Younger Readers and Older Readers, with a notable overall winner. Previous overall winners include Michael Morpurgo’s Shadow, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls.

The award ceremony takes place at the Southbank Centre – a place close to my heart, due to the many amazing events I’ve attended there over the past year or so (most notably World Book Night!). Special guests include David Walliams and Patrick Ness, and some last minute tickets are still available here.

I think book awards in general are fantastic exposure for the publishing industry and can intrigue readers with genres and authors that they might not usually consider. But what makes this award especially stand out to me is that it’s the only national book award voted for entirely by children.

Next, I’m sure we’ll all be setting our sights on the Blue Peter Book Awards and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, whose shortlists have also been announced…

To find out more about each entry from their publishers’ pages, just click on the images below.

Older Readers

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur      The Medusa Project: Hit Squad by Sophie McKenzie      The Power of Six by Pttacus Lore

Younger Readers

Operation Eiffel Tower by Elen Caldecott      Gangsta Granny by David Walliams      The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres

Younger Children

Spooky Spooky House by Andrew Weale      Welcome to Alien School by Caryl Hart and Ed Eaves

Can You See Sassoon? by Sam Usher     Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates

I can’t wait to find out who wins! Who are you betting on?

Linked post: And the Winners Are…