Our monthly 'Meet the Haymaker' series shares stories of the change-makers at the heart of Hay Festival and the impact it has had on their lives. Get to know Sarah Morton, our Make and Take Manager each year at Hay Festival in Wales.
What does Hay Festival mean to you?
For me, the Festival is the culmination of a year-long cycle of collecting, imagining, creating and delivering an eclectic mix of children's workshops using recycled materials. I love stumbling across random things during the year and earmarking them for Hay. Or seeing something that sparks an idea for a new theme and trying it out in my own studio to ensure it can be scaled up for the festival. It’s the highlight of my creative year, it refuels me and allows me to be part of something big, something special and something unique.
I love hearing the stories of the amazing families who come back year after year, alongside the wonder of first timers who can’t believe they’ve not discovered the festival until now. As a primary teacher, I thrive on finding the new children’s authors and hearing who the children have particularly enjoyed on stage. It means I stay fresh and alert to new books and ideas.
What’s your favourite Festival memory?
I have two that I can’t decide between:
Meeting Judy Blume and having her sign my childhood copy of her book that got me through some tough pre-teen years. I met a lovely YA author next to me in that queue and ended up a huge fan of her books too.
In 2017, my first year managing Make and Take, I helped extract a young girl who had somehow got her finger stuck in a plastic chair. She’s been back every year with the biggest grin on her face and comes to find me to be greeted with a cry from me of ‘Oh blimey, trouble is back, hide the chairs’... She’s ace.
Have you ever changed your mind on something having been to a Hay Festival event?
It's definitely changed my perception of authors and illustrators. I always thought of them as big names on book covers rather than actual people. I remember one illustrator in particular, who I took my boys to see on stage, seemed so confident and articulate – yet confided in me after her drawing event in Make and Take that she was utterly amazed at how everyone at Hay recognised her, she felt like a rockstar – it was very endearing. It made me realise how humble and ‘normal’ many of the speakers are off stage. And actually, retelling this story to children I have taught has helped them see that it is an accessible career path for them – the names on the books they read are just ordinary folk you might pass in a supermarket - that’s as revolutionary to them as it was me.
Who was the best speaker or performer you saw on a Hay Festival stage?
Mr Bingo. Absolutely first class. My tummy hurt from laughing so much.
What advice do you have for a first timer at the festival?
Be organised to ensure you see anyone you have your heart set on but also do a lucky dip! Just open the programme randomly and be open to whatever it is. Leave time for new discoveries, just wander the site and see what happens. We were once invited into a panel discussion filming whilst wandering past and it was amazing to see the celebrities, behind the scenes and the various personalities involved in putting a TV show together. It's an experience and an insight we weren’t expecting, and my children still refer to it now.
Sum up Hay Festival in five words or less…
Bookshelves and creative bucket filled.
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