What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t be caught? To mark the 25th anniversary since the first festival was held in Hay-on-Wye, this is one of 25 questions that the Hay organisers are asking everyone who is taking part in the 15 festivals that now take place all over the world.
At a round table discussion in the Palacio de Quintanar, novelist Tiffany Murray replied that she’d play slide guitar with Jack White’s band as he toured the world – but only as long she was totally invisible and it was unplugged, as she can’t actually play slide guitar.
The discussion was chaired by Peter Florence, the festival’s founder: “We take the availability of books for granted – which is particularly relevant here in Segovia, the home of Spain’s first printing press. We are still going to consume stories, whether on e-readers or in beautifully-bound books with the best vellum paper. But in Latin America, China, India, the Middle East… wherever books are not so readily available, the revolution that the internet provides is the gift of education, so might bring enlightenment of some kind to people for whom books have been hidden or censored, or simply commercially unavailable.”
Part of the 25 project is to create a sort of fictional library of books, music and films, and Florence asked the writers what they would put in it. Tiffany Murray suggested Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, because David Bowie would have to be in there, and she thinks the track Five Years is the best short story there is. She picked Some Like it Hot as the perfect film, but her book choice was rather more obscure: “I’d like to recommend a book by a wonderful British writer called Denton Welch, who died in the 40s. It’s called In Youth is Pleasure and I read it for the first time when I was 14. It’s the story of a young boy called Orvil Pym and his summer staying at different hotels with his father and his brothers between the two wars. It’s about his coming of age, his sexuality, and his obsession with small, beautiful objects – and it’s a very strange book.”
Andrew Miller, author of Pure, chose the now defunct Irish band Planxty, who were very popular in the 70s and 80s, for their virtuouso musicianship: “They travelled around Greece and Bulgaria, came back with all sorts of instruments and then retuned them for Irish music. It’s a wonderful effect. These are traditional songs but done at a level that nobody else was doing. It’s enthralling, and you imagine yourself in some wonderful Dublin pub and hoping it will never end.”
His film choice was Paths of Glory by Kubrick, while his book was The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald: “It’s set in Moscow in the early part of the 20th century and is about an Anglo-Russian man who runs a press. It’s a kind of comedy and seems to know more about Moscow in that period than anyone should know – or even be able to find out. It’s a slight book, maybe less than 200 pages. It’s an entirely magical experience reading it because you just don’t see how she’s doing it. All her touches are light. I’ve got a picture of her in the room where I write. She’s got a slight smile on her face, and that’s how you feel she writes.”
The Palacio de Quintanar hosts all sorts of events during the festival. Built in the 15th century, it is now a cultural centre all year round and is used for design and photography courses. The courtyard was the venue for the lunch of roast suckling pig provided every year by José María, one of Segovia’s best restaurants. The cochinillos were ceremoniously carried out by the waiters and several of the key figures appearing at the festival were invited to cut the meat with the side of a plate then smash the plate to the ground. Those granted the honour of carrying out the ritual this year were bestselling author María Dueñas, Revel Guest, producer of War Horse and also chair of the Hay Festival Foundation, and the designer of the Olympic cauldron, Thomas Heatherwick.