"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Other Hay-on-Wye

Each year around the May bank holiday the literary world descends on the Welsh market town of Hay-on-Wye for the annual literary festival and the town assumes a different character.  But yesterday, as the rains came sheeting down and the river Wye looked very turbulent and brown and dangerously high, the twice yearly Hay Horse Fair took place and I wandered into the auction arena where dozens of these tiny Welsh mountain ponies (left) were being sold.  They are beautiful creatures, full of excited nervous energy and, as the auctioneer put it at one point, "straight off the hill".  The going rate for a small chestnut pony was only £10 but one or two were clearly marked much higher by the cognoscenti and attracted five times that price.  One lot was a mare in foal accompanied by one of her earlier offspring.  "Three for the price of one," declared the auctioneer who had clearly been determined to outdo the marketing tactics of the British book trade which manages only three for two.  His auctioneer's gavel was a marvel.  I couldn't get near enough to see exactly what it was made of but it looked like, if not the jawbone of an ass, then a bone of some kind.  It added to the slightly wild, primitive flavour of the event.  As I cast my eye around the ring there was little sign of the literati and it was definitely an outing for the folks.

As Hay and its puffed-up booksellers (whose absurdly climbing prices are presumably a desperate attempt to stem the tide of loss from rival internet book-dealing) continue on their journey upmarket it was nice to be rubbing shoulders with down to earth people with a practical job in hand who remind you that Hay was a Welsh market town long before it became a synonym for bookishness.

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