What Blew My Mind About Hay by children’s author Sarah Webb


Sarah Webb with Black Leg the lamb

I’m a Hay newbie so the sheer size of the festival made me dizzy – 444 adult events and 114 children’s and teen events in eleven days – astounding. (Or ‘shut that door’ as Laura Dockrill would say – more on her below.)

2) Magnificent Events

I managed to catch eight Hay Fever events: Cathy Cassidy – as charming and warm as always; Sarah Lean – with her adorable animal quizzes; the legend that is Judith Kerr in conversation with Michael Morpurgo. I must admit I shed a few tears at that event, it was wonderful – we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Judith, who will be ninety very soon, and gave her a standing ovation after her adorable joint reading (with Michael Morpurgo) of A Tiger Who Came to Tea.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s years of experience shone through; Geekhood and Geek Girl was a highly entertaining look at the world of geeks and nerds and everything in between including a very spirited discussion of ‘nerd’ television show The Big Bang Theory with Andy Robb and Holly Smale; CJ Skuse and Matt Whyman made teenage grave robbing and cannibalism sound rather jolly, and Jonathan, their chairperson, had a delightfully light yet informed touch.

Sally Gardner, Nick Lake and Alexia Casale all spoke eloquently about writing YA fiction, violence on the page and also naming characters.

But for me another Hay newbie, Laura Dockrill, stole the show with her high-energy dramatisation of Darcy Burdock (a book I love) and her sense of fun. I’d never heard Laura speak before and it was quite the experience. Of course, I’d bumped into her in the loo beforehand where we’d bonded over matching pink bits in our hair (you always meet the best people in the loo, don’t you?) Definitely a writer to watch out for.

My favourite audience question came from a young Welsh boy at Laura’s event. He asked: ‘What spicy toothpaste do you use, Laura? Chilli or jalapeno peppers and cheese?’

‘I love the way you think,’ Laura told him, before sitting down on the edge of the stage to hear more.

Which brings me to:

3) Wondrous Audience Participation

I have rarely encountered such a responsive, enthusiastic, booked-up audience at a festival. The atmosphere at each of the events can only be described as joyful and electric – hundreds of readers, young and old, gathered together to celebrate books and reading.

It was a real thrill to meet keen readers from all over Wales and the UK after my own event – It’s A Girl Thing with Sophia Bennett and Luisa Plaja.

And finally:

4) Welsh Sheep And In Particular Black Leg The Lamb

During the festival I stayed with my relatives on their sheep farm (thanks, Jerry and Sue!) and met Black Leg, a motherless lamb. I even got to feed him, with a warm bottle – what a thrill! Sorry, I know, city girl to the core.

Thanks to all the Hay team for their hospitality and roll on 2014!

Sarah Webb writes the Ask Amy Green series for young readers. She is based in Dublin.

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