Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 30 May 2017

The Hay Literary Festival 29th May : witnessing something special

Anyone who regularly attends events at literary festivals will have become accustomed to being part of an audience whose average age is probably nudging the late 40s or early 50s – considerably older in some cases. So it’s always something of a shock when you stumble into an event where expectations are confounded.

The event starring Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry on stage together really was the hot ticket of the day and probably halved that average age profile. This was something closer to a rock concert audience – a sea of tattooed flesh and pink hair desperately keen to see their literary hero. A slogan on a t-shirt close to us in the queue captured the spirit of the event:

I’m a party guy – when I say party I’m mean reading books

Inside the main tent, which was rammed to the gunwales, we had another unexpected treat awaiting us – children’s laureate and all round good guy, Chris Riddell, joined Gaiman and Fry to illustrate their session in real time.

Gaiman was talking about his new publication, The Norse Mythology, while Fry was promoting his upcoming retelling of the Greek myths. This wasn’t really an interview, more a mutual appreciation society. Each of the authors read an episode from their book – each having 10 to 15 minutes with Riddell providing a constantly developing backdrop.

It was an innovative and audacious session and I personally would always want the authors to read from their books for longer periods in the way Gaiman and Fry did – it’s not often you get that luxury. I’m not entirely sure the live time drawing was a complete success – not because Riddell wasn’t brilliant (he was) but because it was really confusing to know where you should focus your attention. I’m a simple soul and I found myself in a sort of sensory overload.

I suppose Gaiman is now such a massive celebrity that he’s used to huge crowds but I would have been rather daunted by the prospect of a signing session for so many adoring fans. The session finished at 6.30pm and judging by the length of the signing queue he must have been scribbling away for at least a couple of hours – he did, however, try and limit the demands made on him by restricting the number of books he’d sign.

By the time we left the site the sun had broken through the clouds and we felt we’d witnessed something quite special.

Terry Potter

May 2017