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Wednesday, 9 June 2010
On Thursday the 17th of June there's really only one place to be:
Balloon celebrates a host of valleys talent in one of Cardiff's most iconic venues with Harder, Better, Faster, Rhondda, where I will be unleashing Sixteen Shades of Crazy
on a Cardiff Crowd. Expect psycopathic hairdressers, smokey-eyed Cornish lotharios and dream-filled looks towards New York City.
Alongside me you will find a veritable feast of young, gifted performers and musicians including Samuel Bees, Jimmy Watkins (Strange News from Another Star
and Future of the Left
), Matt Jon, punk-country band Fatty's Leg
and Aberdare psyche popster's The Broken Vinyl Club
. There's also a pub quiz, a raffle and huge merch stall.
£3. Doors 8pm. Supported by the Academi
Posted at 11:21 |
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Tuesday, 8 June 2010
For me the Guardian Hay Festival 2010 starts here, 10am, on the Saturday of the opening weekend. I've just arrived on site wearing a dress. It's raining, yes, but this isn't the Hay festival of old, when you needed waders that went up to your tuchus
. D tells me they have flood defences these days. Still, I'm an hour early for my radio interview and I don't want my hair to go frizzy so I have no choice but to go in the green room. Time was the Hay Festival green room was situated in the staff room of the local primary school, with the little girls' toilet next door trimmed-up to serve as the dressing room for the female guests at the festival. We used to have some fun in there; there was that time Benjamin Zephaniah practiced his Maya Angelou intro on us, and that other time Ray Mears sat on D's lap.
Nowadays, green rooms make me feel like a fraud. To walk in is to invite a silent assessment on the level of your celebrity, and I'm not a celebrity, I'm a writer. Could I just get an annex where nobody looks at me and wonders who I am? Or is that megalomania turned around a 180 degrees? Yes, I know that there are writers who would gladly take my place, and yes I know that I have a book to promote, but honestly I'd rather be writing. I circumnavigate Grayson Perry (in full Bo Peep get-up), Ed Miliband, Robert Peston, Oliver James and manage to get hold of a cup of coffee. We sit in the corner until the Radio Wales people come to collect me. They aren't able to do the interview in the green room they tell me, because that is where celebrities go to get away from journalists and their prying microphones. The green
room? Really? However, they mention they managed to interview Sting last year. It was the last day of the festival, too late for security to throw them off site. So we go to a nearby cafe where the interviewer tells me he enjoyed my book, describing it as 'Gavin & Stacey gone bad.' Talking of Gavin & Stacey, Rob Brydon has arrived by the time I get back to the green room. So has Dmitry Bykov, the Russian author with whom I am sharing a stage.
Our chair, the lovely Kathryn Gray
takes us through the protocol and it's off to the Emley Foundation Dream Stage, our Hay festival aide carrying the roses that she will graciously hand to us at the end. The end
. What a lovely thought. Actually, allow me to be nostalgic again for a moment and mention that the roses used to be whiter. They used to have a smell. Nostalgia is something I warn the audience about when Kathryn is questioning me about my new novel. The south Wales valleys aren't much about coal mining anymore. Don't expect a coal mine in the story. Elsewhere the very erudite and entertaining Dmitry Bykov laughs so hard at his own responses the whole stage bounces and I feel like I'm going to topple out of my chair. Soon it is
the end, and a man in the bookshop gives Dmitry and I miniature boxes of my favourite chocolates, as a thank you for signing his books. What was it Leonard Cohen said about a box of chocolates and a long stemmed rose? Hmm. My publisher and agent drag me to Ascari's for lunch where I tell them a story about the time Owen Sheers tried to help a bag lady across the road. It's interrupted by the arrival of the softly spoken Bill Bryson who comes over to say hello to my publisher. He is swiftly handed a pristine copy of my novel. 'He doesn't read fiction,' my publisher says when he's left. 'But he'll give it to his daughter.'
Later at the Summer tent, a kind of Wendy house for adults, I launch said novel with the help of a few close friends and a trunk of booze. The sun comes out and my publisher gives a little speech about sheep-shagging. The party slowly drifts up to Kilvert's Hotel and D and I crawl back to the HarperCollins cottage circa 2 a.m. As a reward for getting myself through day one, D and I go to see the remarkable Tim Minchin on Monday night. Highlight of the show is The Pope Song. "And if you don't like the swearing that this motherfucker forced from me/And reckon that it shows moral or intellectual paucity/Then fuck you motherfucker, this is language one employs/When one is fucking cross about fuckers fucking boys." 'Yes, it's a bit wordy,' he says. 'But I thought it'd be OK. It's you guys afterall.'
My day two begins almost a week later on Friday 4th June, having tempoarily popped back to the Rhondda valley for my brother's birthday celebrations. I'm at Hay Library this time to talk about Merthyr and the Library of Wales
with journalist Mario Basini, author of Real Merthyr
. Mario reads from Jack Jones' Black Parade
while I explain why I dedicated Sixteen Shades of Crazy
to The Dark Philosophers
author Gwyn Thomas. Then we both have a go at criticising How Green Was My Valley
. The event has been examined in part by Plaid Cymru Assembly member Bethan Jenkins
. Next, I want to see poet and novelist Nick Laird but I get back to the festival site late and time slips away as I catch up with Marella Paramatti, my host at the Mantova Literary festival way back in '02, Christopher Meredith, one of my creative writing tutors at Glamorgan University from even earlier, Catrin Dafydd, this year's Scritture Giovani
participant and Tom Anderson
who is writing a daily blog from the festival. The atmosphere in the green room is relaxed. The only celebrities in sight are Alastair Campbell and Rachel Johnson. And so I make the mistake of asking one of the festival assistants what I think is a very sensible question: 'Since I've done two events, do I get two crates of Cava?' (Standard payment for an appearance at Hay is a rose and six bottles of fizz and I've got two roses now.) He looks at me like I'm Maria Carey without the tits, or the ability to hit an F note, and suddenly I'm back to my default position; rank outsider with a fluctuating inferiority complex. Appropriately perhaps, I take myself off to see Ruby Wax's Losing It
, which tells me that even people who've been on TV feel like frauds. Depression, she says, isn't a blues song about having lost your baby, it's about not knowing whether you should go get a manicure, or throw yourself off of the nearest cliff, something I've known all along. She also says that we're all capable of rewiring our brains. That's something I'm learning gradually.
And so now, back at my little west-facing writing desk, the sad news of Stuart Cable's death is finally sinking in. Word Gets Around
was an incredibly important album for me, as it was for many people who grew up in the south Wales valleys, and though I didn't know Stuart exceptionally well, we often found ourselves at the same openings and parties in Wales, the last time at the closing night of Mal Pope's Cappuccino Girls
in late 2009. Once, at an exhibition at Washington Gallery I returned to the room after using the toilet only to find Stuart stood on a chair reading aloud from my diary. '15th October 2003. Period due. Buy tampons.' It was his way of reuniting the handbag left on the table with its rightful owner, and fast. It worked. God bless you, man.
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