If 2016 has taught me anything (other than how irritating election and referendum rhetoric is), it’s that you should never take people whose work you like for granted, because one day they’ll be dead and you’ll be paying tribute alongside everyone else who had forgotten to pay tribute in the previous 40 years, wondering why you never celebrated their work before. Since it’s International Women’s Day I wanted to kick off this series with an international lady who at 92 is still working.
I’ve written a couple of times about Judith Kerr – once when I met her at Hay and again when I reviewedWhen Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I don’t have anything to add about the quality of her writing or art, or about the importance of her novels in educating children about the war, or how the Jewish refugee crisis in the ’30s and ’40s draws parallels with Syria’s. I just want to say that reading her picture books makes me really, really happy.
Her stories are simple and funny, her illustrations are so cute and for however long I’m reading, I’m in Judith Kerr Land. Everything there is simple and relatively easy to understand, the people are nice and until I finish reading, the world is a good place.
Right, pleasantries over, let’s talk about mine. We’ll leave out Monday and today, because I mostly stayed at home and with Fred and Donnie, and I do that a lot.
Let’s chat about the Hay Festival. I was only at the festival and in the town, Hay-on-Wye, for one full day and two part-days (Tuesday afternoon to yesterday afternoon) but I’ve already decided that I a) want to go for the whole ten days as soon as school finishes and b) it’s seriously worth considering calling myself a ‘consulting writer’ or something equally as distinctive/pretentious so I’ll get asked to go there and talk about books in a marquee. It was great.
I mean, we were in a cloud…
… and a bloke who turned out to be Johnny Vegas woke us up when he fell out of a nearby pub Tuesday night…
… and I had to listen to poetry…
But it was read by the bloke in Homeland and Narcissa Malfoy, and they are both excellent actors, so my faith in the art form has been restored quite a bit.
You hear that, AQA? My faith in poetry. Restored. After an hour of sitting still in a dimly lit tent in Wales, in a cloud. Listening to it read. No essays, no highlighters, no “comment on the view that…” Just poetry. Keats, Shelley and Byron, for that matter. My God, it’s not hard. It might be expensive, getting Damien Lewis and Helen McCrory to read the spec to every English class from GCSE upwards, but it’ll be worth it.
I also watched – and part of me still can’t quite believe it – Michael Morpurgo interview Judith Kerr. As in, he of War Horse fame and she of Mog the Forgetful Cat, who formed a large part of my formative years and is probably to blame for my deep love of all cute animals.
I learnt a lot of inspiring things, including the fact that Michael Morpurgo failed his eleven plus and Judith Kerr failed her illustration diploma (does this mean I one-upped Michael at the age of eleven?)… Judith was also a German refugee whose family fled to Switzerland shortly before Hitler was elected because her dad was both an anti-Hitler writer and Jewish. Oh, and she turns ninety around about now. She read Mog the Forgetful Cat, which felt a bit like I was experiencing my life from an outsider’s perspective, and a bit from Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which might go on my holiday reading list. She and Michael also read The Tiger Who Came to Tea between them, which was fun, especially when she had to tell him “that was my bit.” I met her at a signing afterwards and she was lovely. Writers are people too! Oh, and apparently Prince Phillip reads.
I also learnt, from a retired Canadian economist with whom we had breakfast, that the UK’s distribution of wealth is currently at the worst its been since the Victorian era (I foresee a Sherlock episode), and that Rowan Williams’ greatest disappointment in terms of his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury is that woman bishops didn’t get legalised (he knows the people who run the B&B we stayed at, and comes to the festival a lot).
I could have stayed there for the entire ten days, clouds and all, and spent another ten days exploring the town’s bookshops. There were old books and new books and books too heavy to hold and signs asking people to please respect Hay’s source of income by not using a Kindle.