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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Rain All the Way at Hay

The Hay Festival is a canvas village. With the rain pelting down all day today (it never paused for a second) the walkways were all sodden, the clientele even wetter.

But I’m already ahead of myself. Last night we went to bed around 1.00 am, the same time as the wedding guests were leaving. We thought we’d seen the last of the marquis and marchioness as they hadn’t shown since supper. Obviously filthy rich, we thought they’d found somewhere better and climbed up onto the king-size mattress alone, just the two of us. But the helicopter came back, must’ve been about three-thirty in the morning, down into the hotel carpark. I don’t know if that’s legal, landing in a carpark. Shouldn’t they have a helipad or something? Helipad? Is that a word. I must’ve picked that up from John Grisham, one of those guys. I’ve never needed the word at all my whole life, and there it is, right when I need it on a trip to Hay.

I was vaguely aware of them joining us in the bed, tried to shut it out, concentrate on my breathing, but there were at least one pair of cold feet to contend with.

This morning they were there in all their glory, completely unconscious as we extricated ourselves from their embrace. In the carpark their yellow helicopter was leaning dangerously to one side, one foot crushing the back bumper of a silver-grey merc.

On site we joined Elif Shafak and Maureen Freely as they read from their books and discussed their work as it related to the modern Turkish state. Elif Shafak’s reading from her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, was wonderful, and she spoke with great conviction about her life and her mission as a novelist.

As the child of a one-parent family, and someone who has moved around the world with some regularity, she was conscious of continuity and regarded her writing as the existential glue that ties the different experiences of her life together. She has lived in France, Spain, Germany and the USA as well as in Turkey.

Language shapes us, she told us with conviction. We don’t shape it. She said that she wrote in English when she wanted precision, but that when she was after emotion she could only use Turkish.

She was convinced that Turkey was a society of collective amnesia. The language has been purged of so many words that many people can’t even read tombstones any more, and this denial of language and its connections with meaning she saw as a metaphor for the rupture between the past and the present.

The writer had two grandmothers and each of them interpreted Islam in completely different ways. The one worshipped a god who ruled by fear, and the other worshipped a god who ruled through love.

In conclusion she looked forward to a society and a world which could make peace with people’s differences. This to replace a society which supports islands of people who don’t hear each other.

I’ve got lots of other notes as well, but this post is already too long. I’ll be back soon, but not too soon.

3 Responses to “Rain All the Way at Hay”

  1. Dick says:

    Great reports from ‘the Woodstock of the mind’. I’ve always wanted to go & never managed it so I’m enjoying these bulletins from the front line.

    jb says: Thanks, Dick. I should be able to get to a little straight reporting soon. It’s my first time here, too.

  2. Hi John. Thank you for all these wonderful stories and secret thoughts from writers like Elif Shafak. What fascinating observations about her grandmothers. Your current posts capture moods very well.
    Looks like your raining posts are cool too! 🙂

    jb says: It’s stopped raining, Susan. Bright sunshine this morning. People are sitting around the site in deckchairs, their feet up to keep them out of the muddy puddles. A few of us have hooked up small stringy devices so we can dry our socks. Things are looking up.

  3. John , you probably already know this, but just in case you don’t – there’s apparently wi-fi in the Sky tent (although apparently it keeps going down). (I went as Debi’s guest for the first weekend – about which I’ve blogged too), so thanks very much for the chance!)

    I love your descriptions of the hotel etc – it’s like a novel.

    jb says: Hi Elizabeth. Thanks for that, but, yes, I did know and I couldn’t cope with trudging around with a portable all day. I’m going to be able to post now, though slowly, as I’ve been off the computer so long it’s all clogged up with email and those daily problems that I’d hoped to avoid. Now I’ll have to head on over to your site and see what happened to you. I have interminable curiosity.