After the year we’ve all had, I was honoured to be invited to Hay Festival to deliver the inaugural Jan Morris Lecture, and IN PERSON. Not a little daunted, too, given I’m a first-timer at the Festival and have done very few live events full-stop. (Zoom, yes, live, no. )

Nervous? Naturally! So I put aside all my other work, googled past sessions by the pros, and spent many weeks writing and re-writing my talk. I wanted to share the journey I’ve taken in life and through my book, Wanderland, to discover magic in the landscape – and by that I mean magic of a more spiritual flavour –  not only in the UK but abroad, too. 

I was keen to tell stories and share perspectives not traditionally given airtime within nature and travel writing and I wanted to speak from the heart. I’m aware that women like myself  are under-represented in both genres. And as someone who is not a natural performer, I needed my words to carry me through.

The Hay organisers were delightful and kind, helpful at every turn, and the logistics brilliant and smooth. (Why are you lot not running the country?!)

I loved Hay-on-Wye itself. I was put up at The Swan Hotel with its beautiful garden, a proper haven and to steady my nerves went for a walk down to The Warren, a little slip of beach, on the morning of my talk. Such a gorgeous setting, through the woods and meadows, and I was lucky with the sunshine. I dipped my feet in the icy-cold river, and that gave me courage. I returned for a walk through the fields that evening as well, and tried not to alarm the sheep. (I was with a friend who lives nearby and raises them, and the talk of Ryelands, a rare breed, made me feel like a proper countryside dweller!) 

My event,  held in a studio at Richard Booth’s Bookshop went OK, I think. It felt good to be sharing. My throat didn’t dry up, and half way through I began to relax. After it, I  enjoyed having a conversation with the lovely Stephanie Merritt, who chaired my event. An  accomplished novelist of best-selling historical fiction, Steph is a Festival veteran and, she told me, has been coming for 19 years. I was slightly awed when I heard that:  imagine 19 years of books and authors and talks and merriment.

The next day I stayed on. I returned to the river and sat on a bench in the pouring rain, then wandered through the town, had lunch in the (charming) Old Electric Shop and bought two books at Richard Booth’s Bookshop (natch!). The combination of book-browsing heaven and cafés, all of them independent, as well as the surrounding natural landscapes, and welcoming locals, means I’ll definitely be returning to Hay-on-Wye, and likely not only during the Festival.

Now that I’m home, I’m looking forward to catching up on events on Hay Player – I’ve got my eye on Raven Leilani, Jay Griffiths, Brit Bennett and Sathnam Sanghera.  

I’ll end with a heartfelt thank you to all at Hay, for making me feel so welcome. You offer so much to so many. You’re the best!  

Jini Reddy delivered the Jan Morris lecture at Hay Festival on Thursday 27 May 2021. She has contributed to anthologies, written a guidebook, and her texts and poems have been displayed in exhibitions at London’s Southbank Centre and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As a travel writer, in 2019 she was named a National Geographic Woman of Impact. Watch the event again on Hay Player