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tv   Talking Books at Hay Festival  BBC News  June 25, 2017 4:30pm-5:01pm BST

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we like to get in front of school. we like to get in front of people, play and we read the crowd. we don't even know what our sentence is going to be. all we know is our first song and our last song! you have done a lot of stuff recently. a tour? as part of my foundation charity, we had an event that we hold. we have done our third event in london, which happened yesterday. it was the most magical we have ever had. now that word magical is appropriate, because yesterday was just off the charts, it was equivocal. finally, anyone else you are looking forward to seeing at glastonbury? such a wide variety of artists. i will probably run into a bunch of my friends. i try to look at the schedule and see who i could p0p at the schedule and see who i could pop over and see real quick, see if ican pop over and see real quick, see if i can see them. i don't know, i have got to look at the landscape and see who is close by, so that we can do
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everything that we need to do, because our real response of lizzie is to put a show for the people. they are my friends. i will see them. ijust do recording with everybody anyway, i just saw them all. i wonder what the prospects are looking like for a the rest of us in the days ahead with the weather. hello. whilst many of you finish the day with sunshine, there are showers around parts of the midlands, southern england and eastern wales. most of the showers and the cloud will fade away tonight. showers continue in northern scotland. a cooler night than many have been used to. england and wales have been used to. england and wales have been used to. england and wales have been used to temperatures mid to high teens at night. a fresh morning commute on monday. dry for much of england, wales and scotland. cloud amounts will steadily increase through the day. sun —— sunny spells
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into the afternoon. it will feel quite pleasant after the fresh start. 2a to 25 degrees temperatures. awake rush—hour in northern ireland. rain spreading into scotland, north—west england and western wales. for the week ahead, we are all sad to see at least one spell of heavy rain. breezy at times and cooler than last week. this is bbc news. the headlines: cladding on 3a tower blocks in 17 council areas in england fails safety fire tests, as some residents in north london whose blocks have been evacuated, insist on staying put. the brexit secretary, david davis, says he's not sure the uk will get a withdrawal deal with the eu and that we have to be prepared to "walk away". you can be sure there'll be a deal. but the deal i want, the free trade deal, the customs deal, i'm pretty sure but i'm not certain. more than 140 people are feared
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to have been killed, when a lorry transporting oil burst into flames in pakistan's punjab province. six people have been injured after a vehicle collides with pedestrians in newcastle. police say it's not terrorism. some news just breaking. some newsjust breaking. turkish police have fired rubber bullets to prevent the gay pride activists from carrying out their parade in taksim square. and a fpjournalist is reporting. we will bring you more on that in the next hour. now on bbc news, talking books is at the hay literary festival in wales. hello and welcome to talking books at the hay festival.
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founded in 1987 around a kitchen table in wales, hay has been bringing readers, writers and thinkers together for 30 years, and it has evolved into a global celebration of literature, culture and science. today, i am delighted to be talking to sebastian barry, who is the only novelist to win the costa book of the year award twice. he's one of ireland's finest writers, and his fiction is often rooted in stories passed down through his own family. his latest novel, days without end, is set in america in the mid 19th century. applause i am delighted
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to be here today to talk to sebastian barry, who to be honest, does not need an introduction from me, does he? he is a prolific poet, playwright, and novelist. twice nominated for the man booker prize for fiction, and the winner of countless other prizes and plaudits for his nine novels and ia plays. not bad for someone who couldn't read or write until he was nine. so, sebastian barry, given so much of your fiction is rooted in your own family history, it seems entirely appropriate to start in your childhood. you could not read or write until you were nine. well, let's say eight. 0k, eight! i beg your pardon. why were you such a slow starter? i think i came out of the starting blocks at great speed, but the speed was not anything to do with reading or writing. it was to do with loving my family.
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i was so busy, i think, for those eight years worshipping and adoring them that i didn't think i needed to go onto these dark arts of writing and reading. they were in themselves books, and i have spent the following 50 years trying to prove that to myself. i think i understood language not as this rather recent technique of something written down, but like in those cartoons of the 18th century where there is the ticker tape and the talk is in the tape. it seems like something visible to me. and not only that, but the particular phrases and cornucopia of memory of individual members of my family, like my great aunt annie, for me, represented her. it was an alternative version of her. and because of that, when the day comes, inevitably, the older people in the generations
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ahead of you die, you can bring them with you in this kit form of floating language and i think in those eight years, my whole work as a novelist, at the age of six, seven and eight, was to learn the university of that and not worry about anything else. i have to say, all credit to my mother and father, they didn't bat an eyelid. maybe they weren't paying a huge amount of attention, but no—one ever mentioned dyslexia or anything like that. when i went back to ireland, i suddenly learned to read. well, god intervened, didn't he? god, that catholic irish border. which is of course a very pagan god, actually. in the irish schools, i was... i went to an lcc school in london. i don't know if anybody went to such a school, but i don't think they exist any more. for some reason, i hope it wasn't something as blatant as because i was a poor irish child, i couldn't learn to read in england, that would be too horribly historically apt. but when we went back,
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they presented me in this frightening school, i have to say, because i now had an english accent, cockney accent: i was talking like that, you know. if you want to get beaten have to death in an irish schoolyard, go and try that accent. so i was learning to be irish game, which is a very strange experience for a child because i was irish. but they also had this mysterious book, and might parents were profound agnostics, although my mother, i think, secretly would go to mass because she didn't connect going to mass with religion particularly. she liked going to hear the noises. and this little book was the irish catechism. i don't know if they even do it any more. and it was very useful because it said, "who made the world? and god made the world." and even i, with my inability to understand language, could connect that little word, god, with the sound that i knew already. and in that way, in the marriage of the sounds that i knew and the words i was being pointed out, i learned to read.
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in regards to music, if i couldn't read or write, i could sing as a little boy. i am one of those children who led the procession singing ave maria. and everyone around me weeping. i mean, what could be nicer than that? and people sometimes say, "i did like your book and i was so upset." and i'm thinking, "great!" "you were crying ? " "yes." "brilliant!" at what point did you decide to be a writer, but perhaps it would be better to ask, conceive as yourself as a writer? my mother, while not paying attention to a lot of things because she was a very great actress and was very busy, and in those days, in the abbey, you would rehearse in the afternoon and then do the evening show. this is the abbey theatre? in dublin. you were rarely at home because it was a theatre, but in the moments she had to be
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with me as a child, at one stage, and i don't remember it because i was nine months old, she said that she put a pencil in my hand and said, "there you go, sebastian, you can write or draw "with that as you please." and this was her instruction. so in a tragic sort of way, an upsetting way, i have done what my mother told me to do. your latest novel, days without end, was inspired in part by a story your grandfather told you in bed when you were a boy. tell us a little bit more about that. now you're talking more about books. my grandfather actually... jack o'hara was his name. he actually had a big ledger, and in this ledger, it was probably something to do with his years in africa, i don't know what it was, he always going to write his memoirs. but unfortunately for him, the way he wished to remember his life was just not how it happened.
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so we were in this very draughty, cold victorian mansion outside dublin. it was the time of the oil strike. you're far too young to remember this. you could not heat any of the houses because the oil was too dear, so naturally we were getting to bed together. so my grandfather and myself in the bed, and if you couldn't write down his life, i was content with the totally invented version of his life that he liked to tell me in bed. and, you know, i beg you remember these. these grandparents who are the most important things in a child's childhood, for me, anyway, and it was the savoury of my childhood. and those lovely moments as a child when you feel a certain aroma, aura of irish history as he lets rip a fart in the bed. and he says, "keep the heat in!"
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which was very important in that terrible winter where there was an oil strike. and he would tell me the most incredible things. and in another part of the house, probably in daylight, my mother would be whispering in my ear the actual things that had happened. so i got this wonderful double narrative of the same thing, and i can see now i am still negotiating between those two versions and delighting in the fact they contradict each other. my grandfather had great desires to be considered a gentleman, but he was not a gentleman. his father was a working—class man from sligo. that is not going to stop him inventing himself as a gentleman. so when the war came, he was an engineer and he got a commission in the royal engineers. and that was because he felt he wanted to have status in the world, so it was not such a great reason. but what did he do then? he did bomb disposal, and he was brilliant at it, and he had two medals for two tours of duty in the south
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of england defusing bombs during the second world war. but my other grandfather was an incredible, a nationalist and had been out in 1916. i remember a beautiful moment outside that grandfather's gate when my army grandfather, let's call him that, came to collect me, and they shook hands. they had never met before that or after that, but i thought that was a very important handshake in irish history. so he sparked more or his story sparked this novel which is set in america in the mid—1850s, and essentially it is a gay love story between two young men, one who has, overfrom ireland, and they create a family by adopting a native american girl, and in some ways it is a little bit like your fifth novel, a long long way, which was set during the first world war. these are people trying to find safety amid the horrors of war. and i wondered if you mightjust read just a little flavour to give us a sense of the family,
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i suppose, that they create. when i was a child, there was a very frightening body of people, and i hope there is no descendants of these people here, i don't want to offend you, but there was a thing called the league of decency in ireland which said that the family was the most important thing and the trouble with homosexuality was it was the enemy of family. and as i was writing this book, and although winona is initially given to them as a servant, john cole and thomas take her as their daughter, and she becomes their very reason for being alive. and i thought, well, dear old league of decency, look at this! a family of an ideal source! and there is something very ideal and lovely about it. of course, thomas is telling the story, so he is seeing winona in very ideal terms, as they think it is our duty as parents to do. and somewhere buried in this little passage i think is some of what i feel my own daughter. "john, he was born in december, seems to remember that month, and maybe i remember
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i was born injune. winona says she was born during the full moon. anyhow, we rode all of that into one, and on the ist of may, we have assigned our birthday to the three of us. we say winona is nine years old and john cole has settled on 29. so that must make me 26. something along those lines! the point is, whatever ages we be, we are young. john cole is the best looking man in christendom. and this is his heyday. winona is sure the prettiest little daughter ever man had, beautiful black hair, blue eyes like a mackerel‘s blue back, or a duck‘s wing feathers. sweet, little face, cool as a melon when you hold it in your hands and kiss her forehead. god knows what story she has seen and been part in. savage murder, for sure, because we caused it. walk through the carnage and the slaughter of her own. you could expect a child that has seen all but to wake
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in the night sweating, and she does. thenjohn cole was obliged to hold her trim thing form against him and soothe her with lullabies. well, he only knows one and does it over and over. he holds her softly and sings her the lullaby. where he got that, no man knows, not even himself. like a stray bird from some distant country. then he lies on her bed and she pushes in tight against him like you might imagine bear cub do in the winter night or maybe even wolves tighten likejohn cole was that bit of safety she trying to reach. a harbour. then her breathing slowly lengthens and then she's snoring a little. time to come back to bed in the darkness with the wick of the candle. he looks at me and nods his head. got her sleeping, he says. you sure do, i say! not much more than that
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needed to make men happy. applause i think, to my introduction, i needed to add "actor" as well! that was marvellous. this relationship between thomas and john was in part inspired by your own son, toby, to whom indeed the book is dedicated. just tell us how that happened. when he was 16, you see, we all have this experience of the wordless teenager and we all think that maybe it is hiding criticism. but often at times it is just hiding a lack of words to say what they need to say and they will learn the words again. but anyway, at 16, he was even more in trouble for words. because something was bothering him and he was becoming depressed and when our children are depressed, it beholds us as human creatures to mobilise ourselves and find out
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what is troubling them because in our district of wicklow, in the hills, there had been a number of young man who had taken their own lives, and i was so frightened and not sleeping and afraid of this thing. and i eventually, in the magic of our family life, his elder sister said to toby, "toby, just go in and say it to them." because she knew what the trouble was. "just go in and say it." so in he came into our bedroom, the poor stone effigies of the parents that are rung out by looking after three children for 20 years, exhausted, not getting out of bed as often as we used to and not as quickly either. and he said, "the thing is, dad,..." oh, god... the sentences starting with "the thing is..." never turn out very well. "the thing is, i'm gay." and i said, "oh, thank god."
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i am lying in the bed. "oh, thank god." "you won't have to go through this heterosexual nightmare we have been through all of our lives." and from that moment, there was the beginning of university, you don't need words to teach a student, old, straight man, yourfather, about things — he showed it to me. you have said that everything in the relationship between thomas and john, you learned from toby. i wonder what he felt or thought when he read the book. job well done! i said to him recently, "did you read the book?" and he would not answer me. and then he was talking about something else, and then as if a gesture, a generous gesture, he said, "oh, and dad, you are not gay, but you are an ally." and i thought, "wow." and he said, "i liked your book."
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now, i have to say, when robert mccrum reviewed this book in the observer, it was overwhelming. but only ten times less than the overwhelming moment when your son says, "i like your book." he didn't say he loved it, that it was a great masterpiece. no. "i liked your book." am i right, he's the only one of your three children to have ever read any of your books? allegedly he has read this book. you have, of course, raided family history before, haven't you? your novel, a long long way, i think featured a great uncle another book featured a great uncle, the secret scripture, another great aunt. you touched on this at the beginning, but i would like you to talk to us little bit more about it. why do you do it? i don't really make a raid on it because there is nothing there. what interested me as a child was preserving these people eternally. i had to find some way
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of replacing them, so i also felt as a human being, an irish person who didn't seem very irish, which was quite important in the ‘70s and ‘80s because of the troubles in the north. my family had been in a lot of trouble in the previous troubles in the ‘20s. so what i was trying to do was surround myself with the family, because the mystery is, maybe, you don't actually need real people in your family. for example, roseanne in the secret scripture, if any of you read it, had no name. this is the final indignity you can put on somebody. her family, when she was sectioned in the ‘40s, apparently for immorality. i think for beauty. they sectioned her, the people nearest to her told the extended family that she had died of tb. but she didn't die. she was in this institution for the rest of her life. after that book was published, and we had great adventures
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with it within publishing, of course, but there was a moment where nurses wrote to me and said, "can we name our new lecture hall after roseanne? because we really think we would like to do that, and it's a psychiatric institute." and i didn't have the heart to say, "well, i only made up her name!" so i said, "yes, of course!" somewhere there is this name on a lecture hall. if you ever accidentally find it up there, you know why. i think that is magical, though, that you can make somebody up and somehow they become more real than yourself. we talked about toby's inspiration behind this book, and we did talk about your grandfather and he got very upset about what he saw as you airing the dirty laundry of the family in public, so there are some pitfalls. imagine his horror having carefully fed me the imaginary story of his life with all its glory and achievement and indeed achieved a lot in his life. he sailed around the entire globe as a british merchant seaman.
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but byjingo, when he read that book, it was about gun—running in africa, about drunkenness of his wife and himself, and the horror he inflicted... oh, my god. and i was the grandson he adored, and he was the grandfather i worshipped. and he called me in to 22 mitchell way in dublin, where he lived in the most spartan of circumstances. and he sat me down on the chair and i was terrified because the book was there on the table. and he said, you f... ending with an r. i never heard him curse. i mean, he was a soldier. he said, "how did you know these things?" and we never spoke again until the day he died. you talked about your own childhood being a singular mess. and i wondered if you would ever write about that. i thought i had this happy childhood, then, to be honest, i found out something. this sort of retrospectively dropped
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a bomb on my childhood, this discovery, which of course i cannot discuss — you will forgive me for saying that. i'm saying this as buoyantly as i can, but it was as if all the things i valued, and all the work i had done for 30 years, had vanished away and i had got everything wrong. and then i had the comfort of this incredible dublin protestant woman who has been my wife for 32 years. how did she put up with that? and then my three children. so who am i to say, having had a difficult childhood, was any other thing than a beautiful precursor to the happiness of my adult life? you have been writing for nearly four decades now. i have taken a0 years to write a few little books. and does it get easier? it gets more exciting for some reason. i don't know why that is. maybe it was just this book. what i like about it, actually,
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is i can have that experience at 61. it truly is why it is called days without end, because it made me think, when we were in the heyday of the children, they are not days you often think of as having an end, so they are actually days without end. and maybe they are the best days of your life. we don't know. but it intrigued me and pleased me that, you know, writing a book like this, ok, i am getting a bit older and it is going to get a lot worse quite surely, but even so, i can still do this. and maybe that's the first feeling i had when i was 22. that even though i was chaotic and depressed and unhappy and ridiculous and impossible to live with, i could get up in the morning and write a story in a little room and by evening i would have a short story. that was the excitement of that. i feel we should conclude by asking you to sing ave maria. well... this is schubert as you have never heard it before. and hopefully never will again. # ave maria...#
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that's all i can remember. ladies and gentlemen, sebastian barry. thank you. last week we may have seen the hottestjune last week we may have seen the hottest june conditions last week we may have seen the hottestjune conditions in more than 40 hottestjune conditions in more than a0 yea rs. hottestjune conditions in more than a0 years. the peak in temperatures made high 20s in the uk. the week ahead, they will be substantially lower than where they should be at the time of the year but it does represent a big change from what we have seen. we've see some rain. showers in parts of central and southern england at the moment. overnight, dry, clear and substantially fresher than we have seen. part of scotland and rural areas into low single figures. nothing unusual. it is in the south where we could see temperatures down
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to single figures in the countryside. high pressure and starred in the morning. we will see low— pressure starred in the morning. we will see low—pressure start to develop. most start the day with sunshine. isolated light showers in the north—east. with winds light, science and overhead, it will warm up science and overhead, it will warm up nicely. temperatures... it will cloud over in the west. for northern ireland, we finish with rain. a damp rush—hour through fermanagh, down and armagh. overnight the rimmel spread into central and southern scotland. turning to wet weather as well in north—west england and western wales. cold front on tuesday with fresher air. we drag in humid airfor with fresher air. we drag in humid air for tuesday. storms across
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france. most of the day will be dry across england and wales. the exception being the far west of wales, cornwall and northern england. late in the day, the storms will push in. we could see some heavy rain pushing through tuesday night into wednesday. into wednesday, rain in southern scotland. a chilly breeze. temperatures down. while we see something drier towards the west, it still won't feel anything special. not only cool, wet weather for all of us. breezy at times. and cloudy. this is bbc news. i'm shaun ley. the headlines at five: tests continue on cladding from tower blocks around the country as every one of the 3a samples tested so far fails to meet fire safety standards. the brexit secretary, david davis, says he's not certain the uk will get a withdrawal deal with the eu, and the government is prepared to "walk away". you can be sure there will be a deal, of which the deal i want, the free trade agreement,
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the customs agreement and so on, it's... i'm pretty sure, but i'm not certain. 1a0 people are feared killed in pakistan after a tanker transporting oil burst into flames. two children are in intensive care after a car ploughed into a group of pedestrians outside a sports centre in newcastle. police say they don't believe the incident is terrorism—related. organisers of istanbul's annual gay pride march say it will go ahead
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