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A bout of early Hay Festival Fever

When the brochure for this year’s Hay Festival plopped onto the doormat, I immediately settled down to spend some time going through it. Living as I do within an hour’s drive of Hay-on-Wye, the book town has a special place in this book squirrel’s heart already. But, for one magical week of the year, it becomes everything that I enjoy in one convivial and joyous event: interesting and stimulating speakers and sessions; books; variety; books; mountains of strawberries, cherries and ice cream; more than ample people-watching opportunities; books; a buzzing atmosphere come rain or shine; and simply having the opportunity of being in the company of people who are neither ashamed of reading, nor find it remotely geeky and, above all, who are not afraid of DOING IT IN PUBLIC.

This year I’m even more excited than usual about the prospect of going to The Guardian Hay Festival at the end of the month because I’ve had more opportunity to plan for it. This year for the first time I’ll be camping (in a yurt, no less!) close to the Festival site for a few days. After years of driving there and back for the day, I finally feel as if I’m going to “do” Hay properly. Those past day trips haven’t been in vain though. Oh no! and I’m putting what I’ve learned into practice, as follows:

1. I signed up to be a Friend of Hay. This only costs £20 (£34 for double membership and, importantly, this is not limited to couples, so you can sign up with a friend and save money) for 12 months. For this, you not only get to see the finalised programme first but you can also book events before tickets go on general sale. Once at the Festival, you don’t have to queue for ages because there is a special Friends’ entrance to each event and you effectively get an all-access pass to the refreshment areas (some being reserved for Friends Only).

2. I’m going out of my comfort zone and have chosen a range of events. Even if you’re clear about the type of events you would like to go to, there is a lot of variety in the programme. The advantage of going with a friend with slightly different interests from me this year is that I’ve booked some events that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with. Past experience of going with other people has shown me that sometimes these turn out to be the best, most enjoyable and/or most memorable ones. So, mix it up a bit and get out of your comfort zone!

3. Stay on or near the site so that you can get to a spread of events throughout the day and you don’t have to miss the evening comedy or music acts. Hay events start early in the morning and go on until late at night so if you only go there for the day you can be thoroughly exhausted by the end if you try and do too much or a full day. Hay days are packed full of goodies. Trust me, I know! If you can afford it and you’ve booked somewhere in good time, it books up fast and some accommodation can be booked a year in advance by Festival regulars, staying nearby is the ideal solution to this. (Accommodation books up fast and some is booked up to a year in advance by Festival regulars.)

4. Allow time between events. It is very easy to try and cram too much into the day so you frantically book up loads within a short space of time when you first go to Hay and then you spend your time running across the site from one thing to the next with no time to stop and savour the atmosphere (and this varies between Dunkirk spirit if it’s wet and muddy or the Great British Summer fete if it’s warm and sunny like last year); chat to the fascinating, and yes, sometimes downright eccentric people you meet; go to book signings of the authors whose events you’ve just been to; and get a drink, ice cream or a meal. All of these are essential elements of the Hay experience and you really should make time for them. (You should also factor in some time for comfort breaks, as well. Even if you think you have a superhuman bladder, you probably don’t.)

So there are my thoughts on how to improve your Hay experience. If you’re there this year, tweet me and say Hi!

For more information on this year’s Guardian Hay Festival, check out the main Festival website which has booking information and the full programme, together with details of the Friends’ membership scheme.

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