Dan Davis’ latest book The Beautiful Cure was shortlisted for the 2018 Royal Society Science Book Prize and was voted best book of the year 2018 by The Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail. The Beautiful Cure is a meditation on the importance of our immune system and the variety of things it controls, including its capacity to heal and sustain. Dan answered nine questions related to his upcoming talk at the festival.
1. What are you in Hay Festival to talk about?
Ostensibly, I’m coming to Hay Festival to talk about my book The Beautiful Cure. But I would have come to Hay Festival anyway; my family and I have been coming every year for over a decade and it is always fun and inspiring. My most recent book, The Beautiful Cure, tells the story of how our immune system works and how this knowledge is paving the way to a revolution in medicine and health. It’s also about how ideas develop; how we’ve discovered what it takes to be healthy.
2. What do you want the audience to take away?
My book is about the immune system, but it is also about what it takes for someone to do something great. Charles Janeway was one scientist who discovered some very important things about our immune system. For writing his story, I asked someone who knew Janeway very well, if he had any particular trait which allowed him to have such wonderful ideas. Janeway’s friend told me, ‘Many people have one big idea which they stick with throughout their entire career, but Janeway, like all creative people, had many ideas, and above all he was never afraid of being wrong.’ So there’s a gem we can all take away – be bold, have many ideas and don’t be afraid of being wrong.
3. What’s the best question you’ve been asked in an event and what answer did you give?
I was once in a queue for coffee with Jude Law behind me. He asked me if I knew what time the astronomer Lord Martin Rees was speaking and what stage it was on. I did – because I was the one about to introduce Lord Rees on stage. It just felt wonderful that Jude Law wanted to hear Lord Martin Rees. Why not of course: science, art and culture are all entwined at Hay Festival, as they should be.
4. Which events, other than your own, have you seen and what stayed with you?
I’m always looking forward to many things at Hay Festival. Michael Morpurgo and Simon Schama are often at Hay Festival, and always inspiring. John le Carré, Carrie Fisher, Bernie Sanders and Tracey Emin were all hugely memorable, and we’ve seen Stephen Fry several times; his talk about Shakespeare was especially wonderful. Plus there are always new things to be discovered: I remember our family seeing Liz Pichon years ago, and thinking her event wonderful long before her Tom Gates books went on to sell in the millions. It can be hard to spot what’s going to be good if you haven’t heard of, or read about, the speaker before, so here’s my top tip: any of the events that Hay Festival Director Peter Florence chairs are almost certainly going to be great. Presumably he has the pick of whatever he wants to chair, and knows what’s going to be good!
5. If you could sum Hay Festival up in a sentence, it would be …
It’s impossible to sum up something you love in a single sentence.
6. What was the last book you read and loved?
Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh.
7. What is the book you’ve most often given as a gift?
My own (as I was sent a bunch of free copies).
8. Which book has most inspired you?
The Mighty Walzer, by Howard Jacobson.
9. Which piece of advice do you wish you could give your sixteen-year-old self?
It’s OK to say ‘No’ to things you don’t really want to do, and always remember that career status is irrelevant.
Daniel Davis and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talk to Hannah Critchlow at Hay Festival Wales 2019 on Friday May 24th. Buy tickets here.