You may have heard of the Hay Festival. You may even have visited Hay this year and gone to see the likes of Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Michael Morpurgo talk about their latest work… but did you know that on the other side of the famous town of books another festival was running at exactly the same time?
No? Well you’re not alone. Despite being in it’s fourth year How the Light Gets In is still something of a fringe event… and that’s probably a good thing. Conceived as a philosophy and music festival by the folks at the London-based Institute of Arts and Ideas, How the Light Gets In is a festival that fosters an open and vibrant intellectual culture, and positively encourages everyone who attends to get stuck into a good debate.
It is this challenging, stimulating and very often rather rowdy atmosphere that sets How the Light Gets In apart from the Hay Festival. Rather than bland discussions of past work, new projects and ‘where do you get your ideas from?’, the speakers not only present the audience with scientific, cultural and artistic challenges, the audience have a tendency to give as good as they get – as Ewan Morrison found out this year, after his talk on ‘Publishing and the Future Shape of Capitalism’ in The Ring (notorious for producing the most lively and challenging debates between speakers and audience members alike) During the Q&A, he found himself under attack not only from the audience but also one or two of the festival organisers – who don’t even balk at challenging the people they’ve invited to speak.
People who do visit the Hay Festival and then stumble upon How the Light Gets In tend to say the same things… they marvel at the cosy, community atmosphere, the personal touch of tea and coffee being served in china cups and despair at the increasingly commercial nature of the Hay Festival proper… they speak of crowds and litter and make allusions to cattle… not really what you’d expect of an independently run festival.
Blackwell’s in Cardiff has been the official booksellers for both How the Light Gets In and its sister festival of art ‘Crunch‘ since the beginning in 2008, but for 2012 we not only set up a little bookstall, but a full on miniature bookshop housed in a cheerily decorated yurt… it truly was beautiful to behold (and exhausting to set up!)
Armed with over 200 different titles by 150 speakers, it was truly on a whole different scale to anything the Cardiff shop had undertaken before… and despite some truly appalling weather, wet feet, wind that actually blew some of the stock away, it was a roaring success! Of course, being booksellers our commercial aims could not be completely forgotten, and we did the usual book signings and festival discounts – but to look around at the customers sitting on a three seater sofa, sipping tea, nibbling on cake and reading the mound of books they just couldn’t resist, you’d think you were in someone’s living room…
I truly believe my earlier assertion that How the Light Gets In being a fringe event is perfect. Audiences are small, venues intimate, and speakers are both challenging and challenged. There is alcohol and gorgeous food aplenty and when the sun goes down the party doesn’t stop as at night the venues are turned over to the best of new talent in live music and comedy.
So next year, if you happen to be in Hay, wander down to The Globe Field and discover How the Light Gets In for yourself…