|This writing business will be the death of us.|
Even out of season, Hay-on-Wye is the Shangri-La of book lovers and writers. Here, it is unusual to see someone who isn’t reading, or carrying books around (possibly for effect – Jack Kerouac man, you know who you are). There are also numerous others, scribbling feverishly into their notepads (the paper kind), lifting their heads momentarily to snatch at inspiration as it does a runner down Lion Street. Judging by the clientele seen in the cafes, if the town isn’t sponsored by The Guardian it’s missing a trick.
There is competition among the bookshops, certainly, but there is also a sense of community. Collectively, they are greater than he sum of their shelves. Everyone knows why they’re here – books – and that somehow gives the place a sense of tranquility. It’s probably helped by some shops flying the anti-technology banner and proudly proclaiming, ‘Kindles are banned here.’
To be honest, being confronted by so many books and bookshops is overwhelming. There’s a part of me that wondered what the point is of writing books, when this deluge of literature already exists. And yet, there’s also a poetry and magic about seeing books I have known and loved, at different points in my life, still up on the shelves for others to enjoy. Those treasured titles are time capsules for me, drawing me back not only to the book itself, but to all the personal circumstances surrounding it as well – who recommended or gave it to me, what was going on in my life at the time, and what my emotionalexperience of the book was (and is now). My elegant commentary aside, there are a lot of crap books there too.
Facing the sheer volume of new and used books, as we wandered from shop to shop, is also strangely liberating. If any of my books make it to print – and I do mean print– I hope they will one day find their way to a dusty shelf where an inquisitive reader might discover them. And if I happen to be giving a talk at Hay-on-Wye, about the launch of my eighth consecutive bestseller, so much the better. (Second would be fine, at this point, along with the bargain bucket.)
Hay-on-Wye reminds writers that there really is room for everyone is the book is well-written and has the courage of the author’s convictions. Not everyone will get your book, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
I particularly loved Richard Booth’s Bookshop, with its tiled exterior, its interior head-butting cat, the lovely wide staircase and the library-like high ceilings. My favourite bookshop, however, was Murder and Mayhem. For me, it epitomises what I love about good writing – whatever the genre: distinctive, true to its genre and unapologetically enthusiastic about it as well.