10 Tips for Planning a Successful Visit to the Hay Festival

Hay Festival LettersImagine a whole site dedicated to books – a programme filled with talks by your favourite authors, the biggest bookshop tent ever, deckchairs made for lounging, fresh food from all around the world…well that’s the Hay Festival and if you’re a book lover then you have to add it to your travel plans immediately!

We visited this year after dreaming about it for decades. There always seemed to be an excuse – not enough cash, a small child, other holidays, but now that we’ve been it’s going to be a firm fixture in our family calendar.  This time we only booked a few sessions over three days – Cressida Cowell, Andy Stanton, Joe Todd-Stanton and Judith Kerr – all child-orientated but fun for adults too.  The loose structure also gave us a chance to work out the logistics of the event – not quite as easy as the venue can get VERY busy.  Here are my top tips for making your visit as enjoyable as possible:

  1. Book your accommodation early.   Staying in Hay can be expensive so unless you are camping, it’s best to look outside of the town. We booked a weekend at the lovely Canal Boat Cottage in Crickhowell and were glad of the peaceful surroundings after the buzz of Hay.  Sugar and Loaf have a whole selection of cottages on their website (2019 Hay Festival will run 23 May to 2 June).Canal Boat Cottage Kitchen Crickhowell
  2. Join the Hay Festival mailing list for ticket notifications. We booked as soon as the programme was released as big names sell out very quickly. Prices average at £7 – some more, some less.  If you want to get in before the crowds you can pay extra to become a Friend of Hay Festival.
  3. When packing for the festival include wellies, umbrella, sunglasses and suntan lotion. We saw all sorts of weather during our short stay. Take fold-up tote bags to minimise baggage.
  4. There’s plenty of parking in town, but we booked the parking via the Hay Festival website when we purchased tickets.  It’s more expensive than other options but part of the fee is donated to Macmillan and it’s right next to the venue.
  5. The festival suggests that you arrive at least half an hour before an event, but I’d recommend getting there an hour before if you’re driving.  Traffic can be slow-moving near the town and there are bag checks at the entrance.
  6.  If you need to buy books for signing then visit the shop straightaway and purchase all of them in one go.  The queues can be long, especially after headline talks.  The signings take place in the book tent too so try to get there quickly after the author session has finished.  You can buy pre-signed copies but the big names sell fast!hay book tent childrens
  7. If you have kids then there are free crafting activities available in the Make and Take and Mess tents. Our daughter is 5 and was just old enough to enjoy the experience, but I’d say that kids aged 7+ would get the most out of the programme.
  8. The food hall is fantastic with dishes ranging from pizza to paella to falafel but incredibly busy.  If you decide to go, then try to avoid peak times and find a seat beforehand – either in the tent or under one of the canopies outside then send out a foraging party!Food Hall Hay Festival
  9. If it’s simply too busy to order in the food hall, there are little snack shacks on the road into Hay-on-Wye. There are also water fountains on site so you can fill up bottles.
  10. You have to visit Hay-on-Wye while you’re at the festival.  It has tons of fantastic bookshops and is very pretty.  My favourite is Addyman Books and everyone pops into Richard Booth’s bookshop at least once.  The town is a good 15 minute walk from the venue but you can catch a shuttle outside the festival entrance for £1.50 each way.Hay on Wye StreetWe are already excited to start planning for next year.  Do you have tips that you’d like to add?

 

How I Choose My Holiday Reads

holiday reads

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently as we’re due to go on holiday to the Isles of Scilly soon and I want to make sure that my travel reads are as satisfying as possible.

It would be significantly easier if I was happy to rely solely on e-books , but the truth is I prefer physical copies – the turn of the page, the weight in the hand. In a perfect world, I’d be able to take a little library of my own – just like the photograph above that I made for my Instagram account, but as that’s not possible, here are some of the factors I’ve considered so far.

Number of Books

First and foremost, I’ve tried to realistically work out how much time I’ll have for reading, but I usually overestimate.  I’m not the kind of person who can lie on a beach for hours – I like exploring so if I’m honest, 3-4 books is probably the maximum that I’ll manage in a week and if I need more I can swap with family or find a local bookshop.

Book Length

Sometimes going away can be the ideal opportunity to finish a huge tome and if so, I’d aim to take one book only (unlikely in practice though!). I like to return home having finished mine so I’ve decided to go for a mixture of medium (300pp max) and short titles. Luggage weight is an obvious factor but I’m more likely to take out clothes than books.

Book Subject

I always try to take one book that’s connected to the area I’m visiting. After that it’s all about mood. Do I want a light, easy experience, or do I want to use the time to drill deep? Sometimes I like a mixture of the two – it totally depends. This year, I’m feeling upbeat so I want to sustain those positive emotions.

E-Readers and Audio Books

Most of the time I’ll take my Kindle as back-up, but I often don’t use it. As a family, we’re starting to get into audio books so will trial listening to one on the drive down the UK.  I’ll aim to share our feedback in future posts.

Final Selection

So taking all the above into account, my first choice is The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor.  I hardly ever read humorous non-fiction, but I’m up for a laugh and will give me an insight into island living.  Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson because I fancy channelling my inner pirate. For my third, its The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey as this will connect in nicely with a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens and my current manuscript.  For my final choice, I’m taking Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert for creative inspiration.

The round-up is fairly ambitious, but I’m feeling excited about it. I’ll let you know how I got on when I return.  In the meantime, I’d love to know which books you’re taking on your Easter holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Cull Your Books

2018-03-17 07.43.49 1.jpgIf you’re a long-time bibliophile, chances are that you have had to cull your book collection at least once.  We hit this point on a yearly basis – usually when we’ve reached the point where piles of books have begin to breed and take over the floor space, as well as countertops, drawers and chairs. For much of this time, we’re in denial – hoping that we can somehow re-arrange our bookshelves to stop the flood of printed pages, but eventually it becomes obvious that we’ll have to force ourselves to do that most dreaded of deeds and part with a few of our precious titles.  At first, it seems impossible, but on closer inspection, maybe there is a little scope for whittling down.  These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves and hopefully they’ll help you too:

Would I reread this book?

I think this is a pretty good indication of whether you should keep a book or not. If it’s an absolute no, don’t let it take up your shelf space.

Have I read this book at all?

The to-be-read (TBR) pile is a constant in our lives, but sometimes we have books that gather dust for years.  If you still haven’t got around to picking a title up, then give yourself a deadline of say – three months to finish it.  If it still doesn’t hit the mark, then maybe it’s time to pass it on.

Do I have multiple editions?

Guilty as charged! And I’ve only just realised this while writing this blog post. The answer is obvious – unless collecting editions is your thing.

Am I only holding onto this for sentimental reasons?

Ugh! Another one which gets me every time. I keep books because they’ve been written by people who I vaguely know, or because I’ve received them as a gift – even if they didn’t completely rock my world. I know I should be more ruthless but when heart enters the equation, it’s a much more difficult decision. Do you find the same?

Would someone else I know enjoy this more?

Gifting books is a pleasure and if you haven’t read The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane, go buy or borrow it now! You may be uncertain about a title but someone else may love it so why not give it to them? That way, the book gets a good home and you make someone’s day. Win-win!

Of course, the ideal is not to get rid of any books at all, which means more bookcases or wiser purchases – both of which I hope to cover in future posts.  If you have any other tips for streamlining your collection then please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tour of Scrivener’s Books & Bookbinding

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetOne of the reasons we started our Instagram account was to shout out amazing independent bookshops.  When we go on our travels, we always try to visit a bookseller and buy a couple of titles so we’ll be posting about those trips on here, but before we get started, I’d like to give you a tour of one of our local bookshops, Scrivener’s Books & Bookbinding. Situated in the UK spa town of Buxton, it has five floors of full of second-hand books ranging across a huge variety of subjects from fiction through to conjuring to caving.  The shop also sells rare titles online via Abebooks.

When you first walk in, you’re greeted by shelves of first editions and a busy bookbinding workshop. I always get side-tracked by the collectible children’s books next to the counter.

There’s an immediate sense of discovery and anticipation which continues as you climb to the first floor past a small, yet well-curated stationery section to my favourite room which houses fiction, children’s books and a little tea station complete with comfy armchairs. Don’t forget to stroke the tiger!

Scrivener's Books - First Floor

If you can tear yourself away from the snug and take the stairs to the second floor, you’ll be rewarded with yet more treasures.  On the way, there’s a bookcase full of Folio Society editions, followed by a series of rooms containing sheet music, plays, poetry and sheet music, as well as a harmonium that you can play if you fancy having a go.

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All good adventures involve an attic.  This one’s no exception.  Filled with maps to everywhere, travel guides, boxes containing strange and wonderful tomes, it’s worth the ascent.  After a good browse, it’s back down to the bottom, most likely with a pile of tottering books!Processed with VSCO with l4 preset

But don’t leave before checking out the cellar. There’s a surprise waiting down there for you – a tiny Victorian museum with the original range cooker as well as more books, this time history, art and sport.

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You can easily spend a few hours in this wonderfully rambling bookshop, but Buxton has lots to do if you’re planning a full day or a weekend away.

Here are some other places of interest that we recommend:

 

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Build a Book Collection on a Budget

When we first met, Al and I both decided that we wanted to create a library.  It’s taken decades to reach that point, but a few years ago, we finally achieved our aim of having a room that is entirely dedicated to books.

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I estimate that we have over 2000 titles now and we’re still collecting.  We like to mix our purchases up, regularly paying full price (someone has to fund the publishing industry and bookshops!) but very often finding bargains – particularly as I’m taking a short career break to retrain at the moment. If you’re prepared to put a bit of work and time in, then you should be able to find great books without shelling out.  Here’s our top tips:

Charity shops (or thrift stores)

I’m always surprised at the amount of premium titles available.  It’s possible to pick up newly-published works for a fraction of the cost if you can spare the time to forage.  Occasionally you might even discover a first edition, although these tend to be snapped up by the retailers themselves.

Second-hand booksellers

Not always the cheapest, but good for sourcing classics at a lower price and of course, essential for building a vintage collection. We try to support indie bookshops wherever we can.

Competitions and giveaways

The bigger publishers and booksellers such as Penguin and Waterstones run competitions constantly, but you’re likely to have more success with smaller giveaways on social media. The bookstagramming community is really generous so if you haven’t joined and you love books, then I would highly recommend it (be careful not to only enter giveaways though as this makes your account look spammy!).

Reviewing

This involves a bit more work, but it’s very rewarding. I reviewed books for a website few years ago and built up a good chunk of my YA section. Look out for openings on social media, follow a couple of bookbloggers or if you’re super confident about your writing skills, apply to magazines such as Kirkus. If you want to go down this route, it’s best to start your own blog or have some samples at the ready so that you can share your work.

Gifts

For those mega-expensive treats, why not compile a gift list for family and friends? We collect Folio Society editions but tend to save these buys for birthdays and Christmas. Patience required but it’s worth the wait!

Do you have any tips that you can share in the comments below?