I love autumn, but I always feel nostalgia for the summer, and a little stab of apprehension about the dark days ahead. It feels important to have something to look forward to. And it's hard to imagine a better way to spend a few dark winter days than at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend.
When it’s on
Hay Festival Winter Weekend is a feast of conversations, storytelling, comedy, music, and family workshops, and is a smaller version of the larger Hay Festival which is held in spring. This year it's being held 23–26 November.
The historic town with it's atmospheric market square is a hive of activity during the festival. On the Friday, the Hay Christmas lights are turned on, transforming the town into a winter wonderland brimming with festive cheer.
What to do locally
A few years ago I was given a wonderful opportunity: I was accepted onto the Hay Writers At Work scheme, a workshop which nurtures and supports emerging writers. Here, at the festival, I started writing my first novel, and made friends and memories to last a lifetime. I got a bit lost too, in a good way. I went to events not only to see people I knew I loved, but others who I had never heard of, who talked about things I'd never thought of. All of which taught me something new.
The Hay Festival holds a special place in my heart. It's a place where the magical and unexpected happens."
Wander. Get a bit lost. Search for treasure, in the town as well as at the festival. This is a small town with a huge heart, with over twenty bookshops. There's the gorgeous Richard Booth's Bookshop with its rich-red wooden interior, or the labyrinthine Hay Cinema Bookshop, the largest in the UK, or shops that deal in specific genres such as the delightfully named Murder and Mayhem. Search for vintage clothes and vinyl, jewellery and trinkets. Stop for lunch or drinks in the The Old Electric Shop and browse its grotto of curiosities and delights.
A perfect day
The Hay Festival holds a special place in my heart, the place where my dreamed-of novel writing career became a reality. It's a place where the magical and unexpected happens. I remember Amanda Palmer coming to talk to us at Writers At Work. She was warm and generous – and then she said she wanted to sing. She put a call out for a ukulele, and to our surprise and delight a ukulele duly arrived. She sang for us, and then we all sang ‘Perfect Day’ together.
Which seems like the perfect song for this festival.
What to expect at Hay Festival Winter Festival 2023
Now in its 24th year, events will take place in a new 350-seater marquee in the grounds of Hay Castle, tripling the event’s previous capacity. Additional events will also take place in the Castle’s Clore space, plus venues around town, including St Mary’s Church and The Poetry Bookshop. At Hay Castle, audiences can enjoy full-day writing workshops, drop-in crafting sessions for families, and a special panel discussion around their current Dark Skies exhibition.
Julie Finch, CEO, Hay Festival
Hay Festival Winter Weekend marks the season’s change and year’s end with a celebration of community, bold visions and hope."
Many of the speakers will be launching their new books and discussing their inspiring life stories. With the UK election on the horizon for 2024, Wales today and the role of Britain in the wider world comes into focus in conversations with politicians, journalists and geographers. Expect lots of laughter and seasonal joy as well as discussions about the natural world and live music.
Speakers include actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Bonneville; farmer Helen Rebanks; lexicographer Susie Dent and Sarah Ogilvie; historian David Olusoga; writers Sebastian Faulks, Louis de Bernières, Kim Sherwood, Ava Glass, Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Daniel Morden, poet Nii Ayikwei; politicians Chris Bryant, Rachel Reeves and Lisa Nandy; journalists James O'Brien, Jennifer Nadel, Afua Hirsch and Louise Minchin; geographers Tim Marshall and Danny Dorling; cyclist Lee Craigie; sailor Suzanne Heywood; scientist Adam Rutherford; Welsh former international rugby union referee Nigel Owens; Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates; biologist Lewis Dartnell; historian James Holland; wildlife cameraman and Strictly winner Hamza Yassin; broadcaster Kate Humble; mathematician Marcus du Sautoy; classicist Adam Nicolson; comedians Matt Lucas and Reginald D Hunter; food writer Grace Dent; wine writer Oz Clarke; the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist; and more…
And, to add that final bit of Christmas sparkle, the Hay Festival Book of the Year will be announced.
How to get tickets
Tickets for the next event can be purchased from the Hay Festival website, where you can sign up to the newsletter to find out the latest information about what's on.
If you aren’t able to join in-person, you can watch from the comfort of your own home, as many events will also be streamed online, accessible with an Online Festival Pass for £20. You can also watch past events on Hay Player (currently £15 per year subscription).