Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith on her Life in Hay blog
Oliver Balch, who lives in Clyro, is a travel writer. He’s written about Latin America and India, broad sweeping books covering whole subcontinents – but for this book he’s narrowed his focus to one tiny bit of the Welsh Marches – Clyro and Hay.
And he’s got it spot on.
At the beginning, he talks about local drinkers at The Rhydspence, and the members of the Young Farmers Club, while wondering if it’s possible to put down roots in a village. He doesn’t have the same memories of the area as the local men. He isn’t a farmer, either, but as he interviews more local people, or people who have moved into the area, like the owners of the Majestic Bus, he starts to think it might be possible.
In the second half of the book, he turns his attention to Hay – the Festival, and the Council, and Chamber of Commerce – he’s there in the shop as Andrew and Louise of Eighteen Rabbit move into Lion Street, for instance. Here, he started talking about people I know as well – and he’s got a very good eye for character.
At the same time, he’s comparing his experiences with those of Rev. Kilvert, over a hundred years ago – also an incomer, with a position in society that meant he was able to talk to anyone. He visited cottages, and was invited to the big houses, and he observed everyone.
So the book also compares Kilvert’s countryside to the countryside today, and looks at the changes there have been.
I enjoyed it immensely – and was delighted to find that I’m mentioned! Near the beginning, Oliver and his wife Emma are looking for a place to settle, and they find this blog:
“In the months before we moved, Emma’s hesitations about rural life were further alleviated by her close reading of Life in Hay, a well-informed blog by an idiosyncratic local bookseller. The site includes a profile picture of the author in historical re-enactment garb as well as links to websites such as Hay Feminists, Brilley Buddhist Retreat and Cosy Under Canvas.”
I was very kindly sent a copy of the book by the publishers, Faber and Faber, who said that Oliver had mentioned me to them.
Oliver will be reading from this book at Addyman Books on Lion Street in Hay on Saturday 7th May, along with five other writers: Tom Bullough, Jay Griffiths, Nina Lyons, Ben Rawlence & Richard Skinner. This is a Vanguard Readings On Tour event. Free entry, all welcome. The doors/bookshop/bar open at 7pm and the readings will start at 7.30pm.
Pre-order copies of Under the Tump here.