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The new voices and hidden gems of Hay Festival 2024

The new voices and hidden gems of Hay Festival 2024

For any book lover, the constantly growing “to be read” pile is an eternal problem. So much to read, only so many hours in the day. Hay Festival, the biggest festival on the literary calendar, presents a similar conundrum for readers. With over 600 events across 11 days, it can be impossible to know what to see – and tricky to ensure you’re not missing out on the many expertly curated, “only at Hay” discussions.

With that in mind, we’ve taken a closer look at Hay’s programme with our trusty Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass to uncover the hidden gems of the festival programme. Below we share the up-and-coming voices to see before they dominate the bestseller lists, and some of the fascinating, eclectic panels you might not have seen at first glance.

Kaliane Bradley

Kaliane Bradley will be talking about her much-anticipated debut novel with Francis Spufford (Sceptre/Robin Christian)

You will look like the cool, erudite friend if you go to see Kaliane Bradley talk about her debut novel, The Ministry of Time. Because who doesn’t love to look ahead of the cultural curve? A mix of time-travel thriller and romance, it’s set to be one of the year’s runaway hits, and a drama series based on the book has already been commissioned by the BBC. Even better, she will be in conversation with one of our most imaginative novelists, Golden Hill author Francis Spufford. Sunday 26 May, 5.30pm

Hay Festival all-star cricket match

Take a break from the books to watch a team of authors, actors and actual cricketers face off against the local Hay Town cricket team, in Hay’s inaugural all-star cricket match. Stephen Fry will be on umpiring duties, with Johnny Flynn, Azeem Rafiq and Marcus Brigstocke among those preparing to bat and bowl. Wednesday 29 May, 1-4pm

Coco Mellors

Coco Mellors will discuss her second book, ‘Blue Sisters’ (Zoe Potkin)

Coco Mellors’ debut novel Cleopatra and Frankenstein was the ultimate chic beach read a few years ago. She’s back again with her second novel, Blue Sisters, another compulsive pageturner about beautiful young Americans with big emotions and slightly broken lives – expect it to be just as popular. The rising star will be talking to YouTube’s favourite bookworm, Jack Edwards. Sunday 26 May, 7pm

Uncovering Orwell

Anna Funder and Sandra Newman will discuss Orwell’s legacy (Getty)

Two of the most talked-about books last year were Anna Funder’s Wifedom, which revealed that George Orwell wasn’t an A-star husband to his first wife Eileen, and Sandra Newman’s Julia, a retelling of 1984 that put Winston Smith’s lover at its heartSo it will be intriguing to hear the pair in conversation, discussing how we read Orwell’s work today in light of what they both discovered about the author in their separate projects. Sunday 2 June, 11.30am

Get your garden blooming

Hay visitors will feel their green fingers tingling as they walk between stages nestled in the idyllic leafy surroundings of Hay-on-Wye. Capitalise on that sense of inspiration by going to see Gardener’s World presenter Sue Kent and queen of pots, bulbs and seeds Sarah Raven discuss how to make your garden look beautiful. The event will also be available online. Thursday 30 May, 11.30am

Holly Gramazio

And you thought modern dating was hell? Imagine if you came home and found a man claiming to be your husband lurking in your attic – and endlessly multiplying. This is the weird, surreal scenario at the heart of Holly Gramazio’s satirical novel The Husbands, which The Times called “one of the funniest debuts in years”. Gramazio is also a game designer, so she’ll have a fascinating conversation with fellow game creator, and author of futuristic novels, Naomi Alderman. Wednesday 29 May, 5.30pm

How does a book become a book?

Find out more about the publishing industry at the British Book Awards salon (Sam Hardwick/Hay Festival)

Get a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of book publishing with this salon from the British Book Awards. Baillie Gifford-winning biographer and children’s author Katherine Rundell will be among those sharing some insights into what it takes to get an author’s book from inside their brain onto the shelves of a bookshop. Friday 31 May, 2.30pm

Andrew McMillan

Two poets in conversation – heaven. Scottish poet Jackie Kay will be talking to Andrew McMillan, who is a star of the poetry scene himself but this year became a debut novelist with Pity, his book set across three generations of a mining family in northern England. Thursday 30 May, 5.30pm

Making friends with an octopus

Remember in lockdown when we all sobbed over a Netflix documentary about a man who befriended an octopus at the bottom of the sea? Craig Foster, star of My Octopus Teacher, will be at this year’s Hay to talk more about the strange, beguiling connection he found with a sea creature. Friday 31 May, 8.30pm

Creative writing workshops

Get in touch with your creative side at Hay’s workshops (Sam Hardwick/Hay Festival)

There are lots of brilliant new voices on the Hay lineup. But could you also be one of them? For budding authors – or anyone just looking to do something fun and creative – there are writing workshops running throughout the festival. Authors Sarah Crossan, Laura Dockrill and Emma Carroll will lead various events, all of which are suitable for varying age groups.

Given it’s a rare opportunity to gain some personal tips from published authors, the events are mega popular and are all currently sold out – but keep an eye on the website in case any space becomes available. And there’s still room to join Clover Stroud’s memoir-writing masterclass, or poet Roy McFarlane’s workshop, in which you’ll take a walk along the river to pick up inspiration. Various dates across the festival

Hay Festival runs from May 23 to June 2. Book tickets at hayfestival.com and read our highlights guide for more of our recommendations

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