A Wild Hay Day by Dom Conlon

There are stars above my head and a few hundred faces waiting for me to leap into a talk about hares, sharks, global weather systems and the power of our sun. I’m standing on the Starlight Stage at Hay Festival and only a few deep breaths before this I was waiting backstage wondering what I’d got myself into.

It’s a tricky thing to design a talk for a festival and, it seems to me, a post-pandemic one even more so. Even that phrase ‘post-pandemic’ is fraught with problems. Is it safe to mix in these big open-air festivals again and if so then how comfortable will the audience be when I ask them to come up on stage or pass objects from hand to hand.

The Wild Wanderers series is all about connections and here at Hay I’m asking the audience to connect with each other as we look at how species have adapted to different environments and how they struggle to keep up with the changes humans are making. It’s not a big ask, children are more aware now than they’ve ever been and if ever I’m feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the problem I just have to look at their faces and I know the future is in safe hands.

Which is exactly what I take a moment to tell myself up there on stage.

It helps.

I’m not a person at ease with being in front of an audience but I love the subjects I write about. This helps enormously with knowing I won’t run short of things to say even if it does sometimes lead me to worry I’m not pitching it at the right age group. Luckily I have the incredible art of Anastasia Izlesou to keep me on track. Her beautiful, rich, evolving illustrations speak to everyone – young and old and from every background. I’ve done talks with children who are just starting to learn English and the artwork unites us and helps them to access their own experiences.

At Hay my talk seems to go down well. The giant globe I throw into the audience is passed around, questions are asked, a child volunteers to leap across the stage (in a mighty leap which threatens to upstage my claim that hares are brilliant at jumping). One of the reasons the atmosphere feels so great is undoubtedly because of the location itself. Hay-on-Wye is a spiritual oasis. I’d be surprised if anyone doesn’t feel the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders, both by the setting and by the army of volunteers who make events like mine run so smoothly. I wonder if this is how presidents feel. It’s certainly a feeling which carries me through the rest of my time there, as I blink like a hare beneath a canopy of stars, and a sea of faces, knowing that wherever he leaps there will be people to catch him.

You can enjoy a clip of Dom reading Swim, Shark, Swim! at Hay in the video below. Thank you so much to Dom for writing this brilliant feature, and to Graffeg for the opportunity to work together on this fantastic blog post.

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