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Stella & Rose's Books

Specialists in Rare & collectable books

Hay Festival 2008

It's the end of May, probably raining (well, this is Wales after all) and thousands of people are travelling to a field in the market town of Hay on Wye. 'What for?' you ask yourself. To visit the Hay Festival of Literature - and tour the 30 or so book shops situated in the town! Now in its 21st year the Festival is more popular than ever and this year it runs from 22nd May to 1st June.

The first Festival in 1988 was planned around a kitchen table! Peter Florence (the Festival Director) and his father had the idea to invite friends to listen to writers in the beauty of the Brecon Beacons. The festival grew and grew and is now held over ten days and attracts thousands of visitors. Originally the events were held at venues around the town but now a 'village' is constructed just outside the town. It is interesting to watch developments as I travel to and from work, as the field is transformed to a small village complete with several marquees, portaloos, small sheds, chairs, tables and all the other many bits and pieces that are required to make the site into a leading literary Festival venue. Other fields are opened for parking, something which has been a problem in the past. Although the site is within walking distance of the town there are shuttle buses to and from the town and one of the stops is just outside Rose's Books!

People come from all over the world to visit the Festival. Some visitors come for the day, others stay longer. Accommodation, in and around the town for a radius of about 30 miles, is booked for months in advance. Local people open their homes for paying guests and those in the know book up a year in advance. Camp sites and caravan parks are all fully booked - a case of 'no room at the inn.'

The Festival has attracted many big names! Bill Clinton came in 2001 and described the Festival as 'the Woodstock of the mind'. John Major, Tony Benn, The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Goldie Hawn, Jane Fonda, Maureen Lipman - the list is almost endless. This year Jimmy Carter, Jeremy Clarkson, Jamie Oliver, Ken Dodd, Jacqueline Wilson, Allan Ahlberg to name but a few are booked. Some are so popular their events are already sold out! Many of these celebrities can be spotted at the Festival site and around the town. Some even pop into our shop. Last year an interview with Malorie Blackman was recorded much to the delight of one admirer who managed to get her autograph. 

Hay Fever organizes events and activities for families and young people. The Children's Zone is guaranteed to keep youngsters happy with a library of books to read and activities aimed at keeping them amused. Many of these activities are free. The Artist in Residence this year is Jon Williams of Eastnor Pottery who will be working in mud and clay to create a story telling chair. It will be messy - but so much fun!!

Left: a sample of books by Jacqueline Wilson.

There are many other activities crafts, storytelling, games going on. There is even a tent for the very young with their own activities. Amongst the authors attending this year will be Judith Kerr, Charlie Higson, Eoin Colfer, David Almond, Darren Shan, Michael Rosen, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Most authors hold book signings after their talks so don't forget your book if you attend one of their talks - but beware the signing sessions can take longer than the talks!!!

The Guardian newspaper, sponsors of the Festival, will announce their long list for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize at the Festival. Three events have been left blank so that the Festival organizers can rush round and hopefully get some of the nominated authors to appear!

What of the bookshops during the Festival? Well, the shuttle bus stops outside our door and that means the door opening and people pouring in! It is impossible to estimate just how many people visit the shop. At times it feels more like the Tourist Information Centre - when does the next Shuttle Bus leave? (I'm not sure but they come every few minutes), can you recommend accommodation? (there isn't any!), where is the nearest bank? (across the road), where can I get a cup of coffee? (lots of places), was that... (name of any person appearing at the Festival) I just saw? etc, etc and some, thankfully, even ask about books! Each day is exhausting but fun and there is usually just enough time to tidy the shelves each morning before the next crowd comes flooding through the door.

So if you want a day out in (sunny) mid Wales, come along to the Festival - and don't forget to visit us in Rose's Books as well!! 

For further information on the Festival visit the website at

Contributed by Catriona 

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