Saturday, 27 March 2010

Shoes Full of Mud

You are in a field in the rain listening to a band whose name you can’t remember. You get back to your tent and find it’s been stolen. There’s no water and the queues for the toilets stretch half a mile. Your shoes are full of mud. But the music is great and when the sun shines this is the best place to be anywhere in the world. Get ready. The festival season will be on us again any day soon.

Literature festivals, of which there seem to be an endless number in green green Wales, are not quite the same as ones for music. But there can be similarities. Sell-out performances by writers who you’ve only ever seen on television. Readings by media stars who you didn’t know could write. Visits by politicians keen to let the stardust settle on their sleeves. Rain. Overpriced ice-cream. Endless opportunities for wannabees and the prospect of meeting just about everybody and anybody on the literary scene.

The Urdd Eisteddfod, the Welsh-medium young people’s bash, visits Llanerchaeron in deep Ceredigion at the start of June. There’ll be music, literary contest and, amazingly for a children’s show, a beer tent. The Guardian Hay Fest Director Peter Florence’s granddaddy of all literary shows runs more or less at the same time. This festival’s inexorable rise to world domination has now reached truly American proportions.

At Hay you can witness the world passing by your window. Bill Clinton, Salman Rushdie, John Updike. This year there’ll be readings and talks from Bill Bryson, Roddy Doyle, Tom Stoppard, Booker prize-winner Hilary Mantel and music from Christy Moore. Hay is a dream – an almost perfect mix of affordable lit presented in a civilised and consumer-friendly fashion. And there’s so much of it, literarily hundreds of events fill the 10-day programme.

So successful has been the festival that the brand is replicated across the world. Segovia, Alhambra, the Maldives, Nairobi, Zacatecas and Oxford all now host Peter Florence directed events.

On a far more local and encompassable scale is John Williams and Richard Thomas’s Laugharne Weekend. The show is held in the pubs, bars, hotels, millennium halls and other spaces around Dylan Thomas’s Laugharne during the first week of April each year. Events mix cult fiction with hard-edged poetry, indie bands with alt folk and alt country with Welsh rock. Musos and writers stand next to each other in the small town’s bars. For 2010 expect to see and hear Roddy Doyle, Bill Drummond, Stuart Maconie, Nicky Wire, Martin Carthy, Niall Griffiths, Trembling Bells, David Quantick, Howard Marks, Mark Olson, Jane Bussman, Rachel Trezise, Alasdair Roberts, Trezza Azzopardi, Twin Town, Richard James, Helen Griffin, Nick Kent, Clinton Heylin, and Rupert Thomson. More to come says the Laugharne web site. Watch that space.

A version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 27th March, 2010

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