Adventures in Hay

Last week I travelled to Hay-on-Wye to volunteer in the Oxfam pop-up book stall at the Hay Festival. I’ve been volunteering at my local Oxfam bookshop for about 6 1/2 years now, but I’ve never been to the Hay Festival before. What better reason to finally go? Plus, as my husband needed to be there for work and our anniversary was on Sunday, so I thought I might as well make myself useful for a few days! The stall was super busy and I was exhausted from being on my feet from 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., but I managed to squeeze in a bit of fun, too. As there was so much, I’m going to have 2 Hay posts – one limited to the festival, and one for non-festival adventures!


I was lucky enough to go to 4 events: Roly Keating, Azar Nafisi, The Staves, and Adele Nozedar. There were also some great stalls, including one for the Cambrian Wool Project. I’ve written about that at the end of this post – if you’re more interested in craft than books, you might want to skip ahead. Trust me, it’s worth looking at.

These copper discs were part of an art project; it is a cell slide etched onto copper. Pretty cool!


Most of the talks I went to were great. Roly Keating, who’s the director of the British Library, was really inspiring. To be honest, a lot of what he said wasn’t news to me, but it was refreshing to hear someone in such a high position reaffirming what libraries do – they are custodians, they support research, they support business, they contribute to culture, they create and support learning, and they play a role in international development. If you’re at all interested in libraries, I’d encourage you to go read Living Knowledge, the library’s intended plans until 2023.


Shepherds is a regional ice cream company that uses sheeps’ milk instead of cows’. Yum!

Azar Nafisi was fantastic. My friend Teri lent me Reading Lolita in Tehran years ago, and I’ve been following her work since then. Her new book’s The Republic of Imagination and is about the importance of fiction. It heavily features The Adventures of Huck Finn. As I grew up in Missouri, Mark Twain’s home state, I never took much interest in it, preferring to read about places I’d never been (like England!). Nafisi was a great speaker, and I’m looking forward to reading this book.

Adele Nozedar was speaking about foraging in your garden. The topic was promising and, to be fair, I did learn a lot. Did you know you can make a lilac drink in the same way as an elderflower drink, or that amaranth seeds can be eaten in the same way as quinoa? It seems like The Garden Forager might be a good reference book to have around. Unfortunately the talk, for me, didn’t quite live up to expectations. It lacked focus, though I did think I’d quite like to be friends with both Adele and Lizzie Harper, the illustrator.


The Staves were, of course, brilliant! We saw The Staves at the Camden Crawl in 2011, and I’ve been a fan ever since. These three sisters have stunning voices, can play instruments well, and are also pretty funny. Their music is folk-rock; the first album was quite folky, but this second album has a little more of a rock feel to it. I think “Teeth White” is my favourite track, and was also one of their best performances of the night. If you like harmonies, I can’t recommend The Staves enough.

The Staves, back in 2011!


The Staves at Hay-on-Wye. It was a seated concert, which was very strange for me!


Finally (and this one has lots of pictures, sorry!), there was the Cambrian Mountains Wool exhibition stall. It was a marvellous, tactile experience. Cambrian Mountains Wool is a project dedicated to encouraging local wool production in the Cambrian mountains, and at the same time encouraging people to think about wool as a contemporary product. The stall was exhibiting the entrants to the 2015 wool challenge, where makers from around the world were asked to come up with projects based around the wool. There were some really creative responses, and all in all the stall was really inspiring! I took pictures of my favourites, but you can check out all of the entrants on Pinterest or the website.

Pendant lampshades, with wool partly dyed blue.


This gorgeous jacket was made by Sue James, who was running the stall when I stopped by. It is my second favourite piece. You can’t see it in this picture, but there were pearl beads on portions of it, and the buttons were shells from a broken necklace.



A book covered with woven wool, then screenprinted. The pages of the book cleverly tell the story of a textile factory using images, and cutouts. It was definitely my favourite piece!




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