It is said that the book is dying, but as I sit in bright sunshine at Hay Festival looking around at thousands of book-lovers crammed into one tiny border town, I think its demise has been exaggerated.
As far as the eye can see people are talking about books. A group near the bar are loudly discussing the merits of one author over another. A middle-aged woman is becoming strident. Her friends allow her the floor for some minutes and then gently blow her out of the water. A man, possibly her husband, goes to buy another round.
A young man to the table to my left has his nose buried deep in a book. One hand is partly stretched towards a long-forgotten cup of coffee while he turns a page with the other, totally absorbed.
A child is enthusiastically telling his mother about meeting his hero who signed a book for him. The awe in the child’s voice is heart-warming. In a world where footballers, pop singers and celebrities seem to dominate children’s fantasies, it is good to know there are enough children clutching their treasured books to keep us in work a while longer.
Then there are those, god bless them, who don’t read, but think that they should. They turn up to festivals, nod off during the talks, but still buy the books. Earnestly, they queue up to have them signed and reverently display them on the bookshelf at home, unread.
Finally, there are the writers. Some have written long manuscripts that will never be read by anyone but themselves, while others will tell anyone who stands still long enough that they have written ‘a book’. There was one man who stood up after Phillip Pullman’s talk and offered to co-write a book with him! I’m not joking. When Mr Pullman did not jump at the chance, the man coyly admitted that he had written ‘a book’ and offered it to Mr Pullman to read. To quote Noel Coward, ‘The sheer bloody audacity of it!’
Yesterday, while I sat at my table, tapping away at my ipad, a white-haired, straight-faced woman struck up a conversation and quickly dropped in that she was a ‘published author’. She told me the name of her book and explained the plot at great length, but omitted to mention the publisher. When I asked, she couldn’t remember, but her friend supplied the name of one of the more virulent self-publishing schemes. ‘The sheer bloody audacity of it!’
I am one of the hundred thousand people attending the festival. I bought my tickets and am enjoying the talks. I even queued up for Maureen Lipman to sign my newly acquired book and, I’m embarrassed to admit, asked her to pose with me for a photo. I sit and failed to drink my tea while my nose is stuck in a book. I talk to friends, old and newly-made, about the merit of one writer over another. I do not admit to being a very, very minor author. Instead, I sit in the Telegraph tent when it is chilly, or outside when it is warm, drink in the atmosphere and write.
I am pleased to report that the book industry, as far as this book festival is concerned, is alive and well.