Monday, June 07, 2010

Hay Festival 2010 - Saturday: Making Hay while... oh you know the rest

I finally got to the Hay literary festival last weekend after several years' hankering. Nestled in the Wye valley it really does inhabit the most beautiful spot (one way into the town requires you to pay a lady 80p to go over a bridge, which is fun if a little random; I'm sure I've been over several bridges where I *haven't* had to pay a lady 80p) and it's just at the stage where it's bustling as opposed to sardine-like.

I'd quite like this sculpture if anyone has a few grand they'd like to throw my way...

One big draw had actually been Philip Pullman, who was set to talk about The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (which I'd read in preparation: formal syntax makes it hard to get into at first but Pullman quickly drags you in) on the Saturday evening. Unfortunately, ill-health kept him away, but Hay and his publishers were more than generous, giving full refunds and a free audio version of the book for every ticket bought. A disappointment nonetheless of course; no-one rewrites the life story of Jesus without rather a lot of interesting things to say on the subject.

Awful photo, sorry chaps...

I was also booked to see Mark Kermode interview Charlie Higson about his latest children's novel The Enemy though, and seeing as I pretty much love them both, I still had something exciting to look forward to... The Fast Show was and remains one of my favourite TV shows - a programme that can run the gamut from Cheesy Peas to a wordless sketch which encapsulates the heartbreak of unrequited love (that'd be the Ted and Ralph, here) is alright by me, and I always held a special place for Mr Higson particularly. The talk was huge fun as expected; as The Enemy is a zombie horror in which everyone above 15 becomes a member of the undead, Kermode was clearly in his element. Higson was open about his writing process, such as pushing the fright factor further and further until his youngest son - to whom he read his work-in-process every night - came running into his room scared half to death by a zombie-filled nightmare ("At last!"). He also said that gore is easy - scaring, and more importantly surprising your reader, is much more difficult. [He covers many of the main points he made during the talk in this Guardian podcast.]

And this was something repeated during our second talk, with Tom Thorne writer Mark Billingham and the man who is to play the heavy-hearted detective, David Morrissey. Literally repeated, in fact - he said that anyone can write a grizzly murder, but keeping your audience guessing is the trickier part. And even trickier, as they both said, on screen, where avoiding revealing the killer is that much harder, but Billingham was at pains to make it clear that he didn't mind the writers doing what was necessary to his stories to make them fit the format; indeed he wished he'd come up with some of their ideas in the first place. Both Morrissey and Billingham were great speakers, and it was nice to hear that the wonderful Dave had had a real say in the whole process of the forthcoming Sky productions. The talk, with Marcel Berlins who knew an awful lot about the genre, is going to be on Sky Arts at some point soon.

There's a lovely post-script to Day 1. I tweeted in the evening that it was real pleasure to see "@monstroso" talk earlier in the day (that'd be Charlie) and that I'd have loved to ask a question but it felt a bit wrong to stick my hand up when there were lots of excited kids wanting to hear from their favourite author. I was clearly fishing for a "thanks for coming" type response, but actually got a much nicer reply: "ask me one now." The question I had wanted to ask was whether the act of writing a novel and a sketch or show is entirely different or requires a similar mindset, and while I'm loath to repeat the answer verbatim as it came in a Direct (non-public) Message, Charlie did find space even in a 140-character message to say that he likes to write comedy with someone else, "ideally Paul." Which is kinda sweet.

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