I attended Hay Festival this week, the annual literary festival in the Welsh countryside that attracts authors and bibliophiles from around the world. I was invited to speak about my book Are Dolphins Really Smart?. As one of the authors at the festival, I received a kind of special status that I certainly don’t experience at home (where my main skills include not putting away the laundry, a trait no one would consider special). At Hay, I had handlers to tell me where to be (like the lovely Kayleigh), and the supremely affable publicity guru Kate from Oxford University Press to give me a crash-course in Hay life, to stop me from wandering around aimlessly looking like a lost puppy (my typical large-crowd-navigation technique).
Kate was awesome, and as she led me to the venue where I’d give my presentation, I was amazed that anyone was there at all! I had expected perhaps a dozen people in the audience, but I had severely underestimated the taste for dolphin science at Hay as well over
one two hundred people filed into the tent. After strapping me into a headset microphone that made me feel (but not act) like Justin Bieber, I waltzed onto the stage and shared my enthusiasm for dolphin science with the audience. I had many amazing questions after it was all over – especially from young kids – which was truly enjoyable. Then it was off to a book signing where I met a lot of wonderful people, including Dr. Rhys Jones – a BBC presenter and herpetologist who came up with a hypothesis as to why dolphins can understand the human pointing gesture that was more or less the same thing that took me several years of PhD research to work out. It only took him about 30 seconds.
I was also introduced to the inimitable John Mitchinson, one of the two main dudes responsible for the QI books and television show. It was a big honor for me, since I am a huge QI fan. Even more of an honor when I learned that he had read (and enjoyed) my dolphin book. Amazing! Through my brief time at the festival, I met a number of wonderful authors (like Justin Somper) and book-lovers; it’s rather hard to find uninteresting people at Hay. And all the Hay staff, including the supremely charming festival cab drivers, were both pleasant and fun to talk with. The vibe of the place was exactly my cup of tea: people interested in knowledge, stories, books, good conversation, and enjoying the good/simple things in life. It was, and this is a rare word for someone like me to use, inspiring. I am now inspired to write more books, so I get invited back a second time!