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Unter deinem Stern (Flights of Angels) by Victoria Connelly

I always thought one of the benefits of becoming proficient in a foreign language would be that I’d be able to read another country’s literature in the original language, rather than in translation. (In fact, if I chose the language wisely, I’d be able to read that of more than one country.) I never thought for a moment that it would enable me to read a novel set in England, originally written in English by an English author but which has, so far, only been published in translation.

OMG! I’m a teenager again!

Please see pic for Exhibit ‘A’ – Della Says: OMG! – a book that I would not normally pick up to read the blurb on the back cover, let alone buy and read cover-to-cover in one sitting. Why? We-ell, there’s shocking pink and fluorescent green on the front cover, for starters, the book title contains text speak (even though, yes, I use it myself. Guilty as charged) and it’s a book aimed at the teen market.

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.

Leaving the Promised Land

Tulip beds outside the National Museum of Wales
Tulip beds outside the National Museum of Wales

I didn’t know when I set out yesterday that my second outing to The Promised Land was to be my last. For Poetry on Tap, at any rate. (As far as I know, they’re continuing to operate as a pub and there will, therefore, continue to be beer and other beverages on tap.) Poetry on Tap, the monthly event which only started back in November 2009, is now so successful and well-attended that it needs to move from its starter home to a bigger pad. As of May, the event’s new venue will be Old Orleans in Church Street, Cardiff.

So what is Poetry on Tap? Well, it was founded by the dynamic duo of Mab Jones and Ivy Alvarez, who are tireless in their promotion of poetry and spoken word events in Cardiff and the surrounding area. It’s an afternoon programme showcasing two guest poets (Sunday’s poets were Jackie Cornwall and David Woolley) reading or performing a selection of their work, followed by an Open Mic section, and then a second session from the guest poets. It works incredibly well and the two afternoons which I’ve attended so far have been both interesting, stimulating and a great way of sampling (for me) new poetry and poets. I haven’t braved taking part in the Open Mic yet but I admire anyone who has and does and again, it’s an opportunity to listen to poetry and poets that you might not be familiar with. If you’re interested in taking part in the Open Mic, you need to get to the venue early and sign up (places are limited and fill up fast). The organisers run a lucky dip for those not ‘lucky’ enough to make it onto the running order. This ensures that one poet is picked out of the hat to take part in the Open Mic and there’s an element of anticipation for both those waiting for their name to be chosen and the rest of us in the audience wondering who’ll be up. I think this is such a great idea and adds a little extra frisson to the afternoon’s proceedings. Of course, I might think differently were my name ever to be in that hat and I was the one waiting to see if I had to go up and read or not. I’ll keep you posted on that one!

Thanks to the vagaries of Cardiff’s meter parking, I had to disappear before the winners of the Open Mic were announced but I was thrilled to later find out that Susie Wild (whose poetry so impressed me at the Seren/Poetry Wales event back in February) and Leeum Johnson had both won. I’d heard Leeum’s poetry before at the first Poetry on Tap I’d attended and, rather fittingly seeing as how Poetry on Tap was held on Valentine’s Day, had loved it. He didn’t win on that occasion, so I’m very pleased that he came out on top this time around.

I’m already looking forward to seeing Poetry on Tap in its new home in a month’s time when the guest poets will be Mike Jenkins and Thaer Al-Shayei. And who knows, I might even be closer to venturing up to that Open Mic?

Poetry on Tap is Cardiff’s freshest monthly poetry and spoken word series, co-curated by Ivy Alvarez and Mab Jones. It provides a showcase for electric experimentation and lively risk-taking through poetry, with exciting and uncommon pairings between poets and spoken word artists. To find out more, check out Poetry on Tap’s blog or join its Facebook page.

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