Hay Festival founder is sure books' future secure

Mon May 31, 2010 7:05am EDT
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By Sharon Lindores

HAY-ON-WYE, Wales (Reuters Life!) - For all the talk of a bleak future for books, the founder of one of Britain's largest literary festivals held each year in a small town in Wales is confident the written word is secure.

Peter Florence has turned the Hay Festival into a major cultural event, which this year features authors like Bill Bryson, Roddy Doyle, Philip Pullman and Tom Stoppard and speakers ranging from President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed to British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

About 100,000 people are expected to come to the festival in Hay-on-Wye, a town of 1,500 souls nestled in the Black Mountains of Wales which, with 42 book stores, has more per capita than anywhere else in the world.

"The first festival was held in the back of the British Legion in a room that had space for 40 people," he said, sitting in the marquee tent Green Room, in a farmers field, where the likes of Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and Booker award winners Ian McEwan and Roddy Doyle go to relax.

"Now we're on this ludicrous 25-acre site."

Florence started the festival, now in its 23rd year and running until June 6 this year, with money he won from a poker game, a loan from his mother and a love of good writing.

"It grew largely because of the great fortune of living in this place," he said, adding that luck also played a role.

Poets Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke spoke at the first festival and Florence persuaded playwright Arthur Miller to come to Hay for the second festival.   Continued...