Today is the last day of March and looking back, we can only say what a fantastic month it has been! For those of our readers who wonder why the last 30 days were dedicated entirely to interviews with our favorite published authors, we would like to explain that World Book Day in the United Kingdom and Ireland takes place each year in March, almost a month and a half earlier than the rest of the world (usually around April 23rd). We do not know the reason why for this change, but the book-loving celebration is a huge one. This year, World Book Day occurred on Thursday 6th of March and we thought that it would be a great idea to go with the flow and try to introduce you to some seriously talented writers: Helen Stringer – a genius behind Belladonna Johnson Adventures young adult book series, Nathan P Butler – Star Wars fandom guru and Jana Oliver – a multi award winning creator of Demon Trapper’s Daughter saga.
If you have missed the interviews before, please use the links below to read them:
Interview with Helen Stringer: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/the-reading-hour-helen-stringer/
Interview with Nathan P Butler: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/the-reading-hour-15-uneasy-questions-for-nathan-p-butler/
Interview with Jana Oliver: https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/the-reading-hour-15-uneasy-questions-for-jana-oliver/
We have stated many times on our blogs that books are very important to us. The printed word had a huge impact on our childhood and we try to promote reading in any way that we can. Good book is a malady for sadness, boredom, ill health and depression. Scientific tests confirm this very obvious truth – the more you read, the more you discover, the happier you are! England takes International Book Day (and sometimes Book nights) very seriously. In 2014 publishing houses prepared many hot premieres especially for March while local libraries organized big open days and meetings with writers. The government, harshly criticized earlier for closing down libraries and cutting art-related projects, subsides special Book Day program that gives each elementary school pupils a token worth exactly one pound. Pupils can exchange the tokens for books in traditional stores or receive one pound off while shopping for books and eBooks online. Charity organizations like Oxfam Books or Healthy Planet help university students by handing out exam preparatory books for free and even the local communities have something to say – one stop libraries (usually located in old converted red phone booths or inside private sheds) are growing quicker than the green mold on rooftops after the glorious British rain 🙂
Keeping to the book related theme, today we want to take you to a small town located exactly at the Welsh-English boarder. The town is called Hay-on-Wye and is known for the internationally acclaimed Book Festival annually organized in the late spring/early summer. Last year we had a pleasure to participate in winter book-loving celebration entitled Hay Festival Winter Weekend. The smaller version of the summertime festival took place from 29th of November to 1st of December 2013 and drew huge crowds. Every car park in 5 miles radius has been packed tight and people were literally fighting over few remaining free spaces. And when we say literally, we mean it – two gentlemen came to blows after one of them parked his huge Chelsea tractor in the only remaining space in the city center. We were forced to park our car in front of a local hotel, but luckily the owners didn’t mind. If anybody from the organizing body is reading these words – please make sure that you are providing more parking spaces next time! We do not wish to scare the children by walking about the town with panda eyes and bloodied noses!
Now, complaints are over and we can concentrate on what we love the most – reviewing the events! Hay-on-Wye is known as the used book capitol of the United Kingdom. According to our friend who has been living there for several years, there are exactly 24 second hand book stores that can provide you with everything you can dream of: steamy novellas, erotic fiction from 1950’s, pulp magazines from 1930’s, unique comic books, junk books that nobody wants to read and masterpieces in all language versions and editions. Each genre has its own place: if you love poetry, The Poetry Bookstore (http://www.poetrybookshop.com) is a place to go, avid gardeners have to shop at C Arden Bookseller (http://www.ardenbooks.co.uk), parents must take their kids to The Children’s Bookshop (https://childrensbookshop.com), fantasy and science fiction fans should go to Addyman Books (http://www.hay-on-wyebooks.com/) and the legions of Benedict Cumberbatch fans must stop at Murder and Mayhem to buy Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels. To be perfectly honest with you dear readers, Mal and Rita love this small store dedicated to crime and detective fiction. The store is very easy to be located – you just cannot walk past the body line drawn near the entrance and simply miss it. Once inside, you have to climb delightfully old wooden staircase that cracks and moves with your ever step. The biggest detective legends are watching you from the walls (and the ceiling!) and upstairs a true heaven awaits those who long for blood, jealously, murder, suspense and other cardinal sins. Did we mention a big black cat painted near the doorway? If that sounds like a cool place to go, you will know where to find us next year!
Hay-on-Wye Festival started in 1988 as a small literature event organized by Norman and Peter Florence. According to rumors, the father-son duo came up with the idea for literary festival in Hay while eating a family dinner and later used their winnings in poker to make their dream come true. Truth or not, the idea proved to be an excellent one. From the very beginning Hay-On-Wye festival had an unique atmosphere that could only be compared to summer music extravaganza. In 2001 Bill Clinton even compared it to Woodstock for book lovers and writers.
The first edition of the Festival of Literature and Arts gathered only a handful of writers (with famous playwright Arthur Miller as the leading star) and the audience was limited to local townsfolk, passerby’s and tourists. Norman Florence, theater manager by pprofession, served not only as a spokesman, leading organizer, but also a s a driver, handy person, rigger and journalist. He had to use all his charm to convince Arthur Miller to arrive to the UK and give a small talk. Before attending the festival, the neurotic genius didn’t even know what Hay-on-Wye was. He thought it was some kind of sandwich – true story, we swear!
With each passing year, the festival grew larger and larger. 26 years later, Hay-on-Wye Festival is known far and wide. Nearly 100.000 people visit this small Welsh town each year for ten days of meetings, talks, stand up comedy, film screening, concerts, art exhibitions and God knows what else. Tickets are selling out faster than fresh buns and internationally acclaimed stars and writers submit their own applications to be considered for future events. Peter and Norman Florence received Medal of British Empire for their contribution to English culture and the festival itself has been nominated for numerous awards, including the prestigious Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. To go or not to go in summer, that it the question! To help you decide we can only say that Carrie Fisher, Stephen Fry and Steven Moffat are confirmed to speak to the audience this year…Hey wait! Don’t rush off now! The festival starts on 22nd of May and will last until the 1st of June 2014.
The main reason why we arrived at the Winter Weekend was not because of arts and crafts event taking place in the high town, or the street band playing carols near the Hay Castle ruins, but sorely to meet an excellent writer Jaspen Fforde. We have been big fans of Jasper’s talent for years and since meeting him nearly two years ago in Hereford, we were longing to learn more about his best selling Dragon Slayer saga. You don’t need to convince fantasy fans twice when one of their favorite authors is going to do a rare reading from his latest novels. Tickets were booked months in advance and when the moment arrived, off we went.
The meeting took place on Saturday, 30th of November 2013, exactly at 5.55pm in beautiful Victorian Dining Room at the Swan Hotel. The Swan is a family run business that looks like a building taken right out of Mr Fforde’s book: it has a cozy restaurant and pub with huge fireplace, a narrow corridors leading to beautiful reception area and an impressive meeting rooms – a perfect place for any Wizarding agency to do business with non-magical citizens (we wouldn’t be surprised if the Potters or Weasleys decided to spend their holidays there either!). Jasper, a resident of Hay-on-Wye, arrived on foot carrying a big suitcase of books, notes and even a dictionary! When asked why he needed an old Oxford English dictionary the size of a large brick, he gave us a stern look, winked and told us to mind our business! Those writers, so full of secrets!
Talking to Jasper is a pure pleasure. He is exceptionally funny, intelligent and kind to his readers. He answered all questions (the room was packed full and he had to answer a lot!), read few passages from an unpublished book entitled then “The Return of Shandar” and even revealed that he was approached by BBC to pen the anniversary episode for Doctor Who! He sadly had to let this opportunity pass because of conflicted schedules, but you have to admit, it is a big honor nonetheless. Fans of Jasper’s book “Shades of Grey” will be delighted to know that he is currently writing a sequel that should be released sometime next year.
***UPDATE April 15th 2014***
The book three in The Last DragonSlayer saga has been released on 10th of April 2014 and we already own a copy. The title has been changed since the December meeting to “The Eye of Zoltar” and the whole series has now been extended to 4 books! Fourth book is probably going to be entitled “The Great Troll War” and is scheduled for Summer release 2015.
You can order your copy of The Eye of Zoltar here:
or visit Jasper official website at: http://www.jasperfforde.com/
The Eye of Zoltar received rave reviews from readers and critics and almost all 5 star ratings on Goodreads! (it’s not easy to please this particular internet community!) We shall not spoil you what happens next to our brave Jennifer, but she is now tasked with finding a rare artifact to save the lives of the dragons. Will she succeed? Grab a book and find out!
American fans will have to wait till October 1st 2014 for the official American edition. We feel sorry for you guys!
Have a great day and don’t forget that on 23rd of April the world will be celebrating International Book Day. Please visit your local library and support them. In times of crisis the reading community should stick together and spread the word about good books that are being released.
Long live the written word!
Rita and Mal Dabrowicz