Living in Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books, with a self proclaimed king, was a bit of a novel idea. (I pray thee, dear reader, please forgive the unintentional pun) It was an idea that paid off pretty well both for the town and for King Richard, who started it all in the first place. For the town, in that it had developed into a tourist destination attracting 500,000 visitors each year; and for King Richard, in that he was awarded an MBE in the 2004 New Year Honours List for his services to tourism.
Now, the Kingdom of Hay was very serious about its book culture and, I can imagine, not very forgiving of renegade tourists who failed to abide by the rules. Rules such as observing this reading only zone outside Addyman Books Shop:
Gentle reader, if perchance you feel that reading only zones are the vain imaginings of a mad king, take a closer look at the photo below:
People in Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books, are most definitely in the habit of reading on street corners or anywhere in public where the fancy takes them. Reading only zones are therefore probably not as far fetched as some non-citizens of Hay may at first think.
Methinks that what should be instituted in Hay-on-Wye, the noble Town of Books, alongside the reading only zones, are penalties for stopping on the streets and reading outside of the designated reading zones. So strongly do I feel about this that methinks I will attend the very next town council meeting and raise that proposal myself! With any luck, this man caught red-handed here will be the first person in Hay to be slapped with one of those fines.
Anyone knowing this culprit’s whereabouts, and who can assist in apprehending him, may also be given a reward: in all likelihood a free book, any title of their choice from any one of the thirty or so bookshops in Hay. And anyone found harbouring this man will be charged with aiding and abetting and will have all the books in his or her house confiscated and sold at public auction.
Another reading rule in Hay-on-Wye is the non-use of kindes-for a kindle is not really a book anymore than an under-baked supermarket loaf is really bread!
And in this Town of Books, you’ll find this sign in the road directing lovers of mystery and crime stories to the Murder & Mayhem Bookshop, which specializes in such:
So serious are the rulers of the Kingdom of Hay-on-Wye about the Kingdom’s book culture that there’s even an unmanned bookshop in the town. It’s inside the castle grounds, and customers are meant to pick their books and leave the money in a box provided.
Actually, there are a few honesty shops in and around Hay, and even a bit further afield, going out towards Hereford proper, such as this one:
and I saw one that sold eggs along a lonely country lane when I first arrived and was helping Lisa from Leominster to move to her new house.
Now, gentle reader, given the all-encompassing book culture in Hay, you can imagine the utter sense of high drama that struck me when shortly after my arrival here, my Mom texted me to say that I had won a silver medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s (JCDC) annual Creative Writing Competition. Not only that, but I was awarded the trophy for the best children’s story submitted! What! I was elated, to say the least.
The exciting thing about it all was that the organizers were a bit hush-hush about who the winners of the special categories were. So, all I knew before the actual ceremony was that I had won a silver medal. My Mom attended the ceremony on my behalf because I was now in Hay. She collected my silver award. And then when the announcements came for the other categories, and for the best children’s story (junior category), she heard, ‘Joy Roxborough’ over the microphone, she said she almost jumped out of her seat too quickly!
“I’m so sorry you were not here to walk up and collect your trophy yourself,” my dear Mommy told me. I could feel the pride she felt in me and that made me happy, very happy indeed.
Wow! They liked my story. I sat on the edge of my bed in a tiny attic room in Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books, this very real, make believe Town of Books, letting all this excitement wash over me. It didn’t matter about the silver medal. It didn’t matter about the best children’s story trophy. It didn’t matter about the goodie basket that the Excelsior Biscuit Company was giving me. It didn’t even matter about the $5,00o prize money. (well, dear reader, if it was 5,000 U.S. dollars and not Jamaican dollars it probably would have mattered a bit)
What mattered to me was that readers in yet another arena liked what I wrote. Isn’t that all that writers ever really wanted? To know that the words they put on paper have the potential to make a difference in somebody’s life, to change the world? To know that readers can escape into a world they have created and experience life in another time or another place, that perhaps they would not have experienced had those words not been so eloquently presented on paper? Yes, dear reader, these are the things that I daresay most writers hope to achieve.
I looked through the attic window at the fantasy world that King Richard had created: the Town of Books that 500,000 people escaped to every year to read or relax or write or to do whatever it is that people come to Hay to do. And I thought, what would this place have been like had he not acted? What if I had judged my work not yet good enough to enter the JCDC Creative Writing Competition this year?
“Don’t let mental blocks control you. Set yourself free. Confront your fear and turn the mental blocks into building blocks.”
I would add to this by saying, don’t even let fear into the equation because what does the Bible say? “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
And that, dear reader, is the note on which I shall end my chapter for today.