It’s raining, it’s pouring, there are quite a few old men snoring. But nothing, not torrential rain or even a hurricane, could have torn the British reading public from Sunday’s rock-star writer lineup at Hay.
There was a fly on the wall in the Green Room at Hay yesterday having the time of his life. Sunday morning began with Former Editor of i-D, now Editor-in-Chief at British GQ, Dylan Jones discussing the future of books and digital publishing with Head of Books at The Daily Telegraph Gaby Wood, Director of Waterstones James Daunt and Google man Simon Morrison, who we all felt sure was from the future. From paperbacks to hardbacks to Kindles, now sold at Waterstones, the discussion admitted the risks and explained the reaps of digital publishing, “You don’t know if you’re investing in beta map or mini disc” said Jones, “…but it’s the most exciting time in publishing for years and years and years”. Google man from the future commended the spectrum of the Internet in that it feeds the fast social behaviour our ‘angry bird generation’ craves but also offers full texts, from out of print books scanned from obscure libraries around the world. The panel decided that the book wasn’t dead, and that its future is bright and not necessarily 2D. Then we all hurried off, speakers included, to get a good seat for Ian McEwan.
All in white, the Lord of Literature took to his seat, very normally. In conversation with fellow author Timothy Garton Ash, McEwan spoke about his new novel Sweet Tooth, unpublished as yet. The book is about a young writer in the early 70s whose work is funded by MI5, but of course, he doesn’t know it. McEwan treated the packed out crowd to a reading, enunciating every sss and ppp perfectly, with perfect pace, dramatic pause and comic suspense. If only every Sunday in life could start with a morning sermon by Mr McEwan. Though you could practically see his brain pumping, McEwan had several very simple answers. When asked how he found out enough about MI5 to write the novel, he replied ‘I just made it up’, and when asked what the significance of his leading lady being called Serena was, he answered, “My wife and I went to look at a house in The West Country and there was a very nice lady who made us tea and she was called Serena and I thought ‘hmm I’ll remember that’”.
McEwan is a tough act to follow, unless you’re Salman Rushdie. Screened in Cyprus, Norway, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Dublin, and online to the world, Rushdie spoke to Hay Festival Director Peter Florence about all of his books, from Midnight’s Children, to Shame, to The Satanic Verses to The Enchantress of Florence. It was like when a famous band have a gig and they play all their greatest hits, not just the new material. Coming in soaked from the rain, we dried off with Rushdie’s sense of humour. Solid gold one-liners included: “India’s not cool. It’s hot. I wondered what cool but hot writing would sound like”, “I like a good fat read”, and “When you’re young you have to fake wisdom, when you’re old you have to fake energy”. One very well-read chap who wanted everybody to know it asked for Rushdie’s thoughts on Proust, to which he replied, “It takes him 19 pages to get to bed. Fuck that! There is a ‘get on with it’ problem in Proust”. Finding a quote to tweet post-talk was child’s play. And that was when we saw his Twitter description and the love grew fonder, “Salman Rushdie… in the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor Man: I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam”.
The final act was Helena Kennedy QC in conversation with Labour public hero Tom Watson, talking about what the world is talking about, the Leveson Inquiry. It was the most heated debate at Hay yet, but another story for another day.
Hay Festival runs until 10th June 2012.