Rain clouds loomed menacingly over the Hay Festival this bank holiday, but it did not dampen the spirits of the bibliophiles rifling through books and crowding into tents to listen to thought provoking talks. My first event was Andrew Davies discussing his current work in progress, an adaptation of Les Miserables. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I book my tickets in a fit of enthusiasm and by the time the festival arrives can remember only what a handful of the events are about. This leads to some nice surprises when the event gets underway.
Davies spoke of his background in teaching and his passion for conveying the joy of literature to others. In adapting so many classics he has continued to do this on a much broader scale. When asked how he goes about adapting such epic tomes as Les Miserables he spoke of boiling them down to their essence, finding the main themes which then allows you to know what you have to keep in. Les Miserables being a complex tale with many tangents and jumps in time he decided to rearrange events to show them in chronological order. Currently filming on location in Belgium and due to air early 2019, it’s sure to be one to watch.
Next up was Tessa Dunlop discussing her book The Century Girls, a study of six centenarians’ lives.
We had the added treat of one of the ladies, Helena Jones, on stage with Dunlop. Naturally the focus fell on Jones’ story but the other subjects were mentioned where appropriate. What came across strongly was how important family duty was when she was a young woman, keeping her eventual husband waiting six years so she could help look after a younger brother. It is clear that she was always an active, hardworking member of her community and that she reveled in her work as a teacher, which she successfully juggled with household duties and a number of community projects. She remains a well known figure in Brecon and at almost 102 is going strong, delivering two poems from memory for us.
Dunlop highlighted how innocent young women were in the early twentieth century, their mothers not explaining the facts of life to them leading to some alarming situations. What was also painfully apparent was the dearth of men after the war, which meant many women remained unmarried and childless. The thoughtful sentiments of one of the other subjects, that there’s no point worrying about what you don’t have but rather appreciating what you do, is advice that perhaps we should all try to live by.
Rounding off the day was Rowan Williams and Dr Hannah Critchlow discussing consciousness. They talked of the difficulty of defining consciousness but came to an agreement that it is the ability to form your own unique view of the world. They also pointed out its relative infancy and its relevance as something that works for us. The need for a sense of agency has been proved by studies mentioned by Critchlow whereby taking away a sense of free will led to people behaving much more selfishly.
We also had the unusual experience of seeing Rowan Williams’ brainwaves being measured during the conversation, physical activity, and meditation.