Standing outside the Feros Marquee in the pouring rain for unpublished historical non-fiction at this year’s Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, we spoke with James Grant Hay.
Par Avignon: Thanks for being here. You’re something of an unknown to publishing, people know about you but they don’t really know you, or do they?
Grant Hay: Who you are and what the people think you are, are two very different things. Everyone has a private life, which is private to tell.
PA: Describe your childhood.
JGH: Privileged. Broken around the edges. A fairytale.
PA: You went to boarding school in Australia and lived in Paris, what was it like?
JGH: Well, I was constantly trying to run away from boarding school. We had a house in Melbourne, but my father died and my mother decided it was best for us to live away from home. It was a cold and dreary wind-swept place built on a volcanic shale limestone cliff overlooking a polluted tidal sea inlet and oil refinery. I didn’t go to Paris until much later. It was a great time. A great city.
PA: You’ve talked a lot about television. What’s happening in television right now?
JGH: Nothing is happening in television that hasn’t happened before, except it’s evolution. When we talked about connecting TV to the internet four or five years ago, people got really excited and began to imagine what it would be like. It followed the trend of connectivity, but the stumbling block has been the OEMs lack of innovation and willingness to open the box without a clear vision to market what people can do on their TV sets. We can do anything. But the lobbyists, regulators, advertisers and even their clients want to keep the status quo. So the only person who really understood where television was going, was Steve Jobs.
PA: But what about your vision? You’ve sat on a plan for years that nobody even knows about.
JGH: That’s right. When you’ve got the best ideas, better than anyone else’s, you don’t share them with anyone, until you’re in the room with the right people at the right time. That’s the great advantage of being relatively unknown, people constantly underestimate you.
PA: OK. In the meantime, you’re a collector. What exactly do you collect?
JGH: I invest in rare things (grins). Because a thing of beauty is so rare these days. It comes along maybe once or twice in your life and maybe never again. Books are interesting. First editions. Stamp covers pre-war. Etruscan coins. Things like that.
PA: Are women as rare as books?
JGH: (Laughter). Well yes. There are beautiful women. Aesthetically. But a beautiful female soul is the rarest thing of all. Some can be ancient. Very few men understand this about women or possibly even themselves. Perhaps one in a million do.
PA: You’ve begun to write about history, what’s so interesting about period history?
JGH: Its origins. Because I truly believe all of us are the sum total of our parents and ancestors past before us. So narrative and story I find fascinating. This combined with genealogy, ancestry and archaeology is what makes us human today.
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