Day 2 At The Edinburgh Book Festival

Day 2 - The entrance to the tented villageMy second day at the festival brought a contrast of learning and some great ideas to incorporate into my own writing process. I attended a workshop on self-publishing and then followed that up with a highly entertaining hour with Val McDermid.

Thankfully, the weather was somewhat kinder than it was yesterday, although we did have some brief showers, so I managed to make it to Charlotte Square dry this time. I got there in plenty of time for the workshop so took a wander around the book shop to while away the time.

The workshop itself was fully booked, but for the first time in my EBF history, I found myself to be one of the youngest present. It was a largely older audience that listened for 90 minutes as Keith A Charters took us through the reality of self-publishing. His approach was to talk about it from the “traditional” self-publishing route, i.e., non-print-on-demand, and minus any form of Internet marketing, which were two of the reasons I went along. That said, he did through up a few points with regards to distribution and marketing that have never occurred to me.

I found the workshop rather disappointing. Charters knew his stuff all right – he published traditionally before going into self-publishing, and then started his own publishing company – but I was hoping to get more interaction and more actual tips and methods to take away and try for myself. I wasn’t the only self-published author there, but I got the impression it was mostly geared to children’s authors and novelists with a lot of money to invest in the process.

I met up with my mate Paul from yesterday and we grabbed a coffee and continued our discussion on writing courses and EBF events. When we started our coffees it was warm and sunny, by the time we had finished them it was windy and wet. Kid you not.

Then it was in to the RBS Main Tent to see the Queen of Crime Fiction, Val McDermid. I’ve seen Val at the EBF over the last couple of years, the first time with Denise Mina, and each time she has been hugely entertaining and fascinating to listen to. She’s honest, humorous, thoughtful, intelligent, and forthright, and while one may not agree with some of her opinions, one has to respect her because she backs everything up unbreakable belief.

As a writer, listening to her speak is wonderful, because she opens up about her writing process very easily, and as a result, she is a fountain of useful information.

Today she began her discussion with Brian Taylor (BBC Political Correspondent) by talking about how, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, everyone could be driven to murder. She challenged the audience to deny anyone that hadn’t fantasised about killing someone, and backed this up by saying there were “more than a few news editors” she had.

Her latest novel, A Darker Domain, is set against the backdrop of the national miners’ strike of the 1980s, and with this she delved into the feelings that period in British history had on Fife community life. Fifers, too, have a strong identity since before the Forth road bridges were opened in the 1960s, they were to a large extent cut off from the rest of Scotland. “Inward and parochial,” she described Fifers, “while being outward and radical” at the same time.

Now living on the Northumberland coast (where a lot of my novel, Gatecrash, is set) seems to have agreed with her since she has a strong connection with the sea.

Of her inspirations she said: “A writer’s inspirations are often more apparent to the readers than to the writer,” but cited Robert Louis Stevenson and Ruth Rendell as the two authors who had the most impact on her. Stevenson’s “fantastic story-telling ability, and how he kept a reader engaged and wanting more,” and “his variety from children’s poetry to suspense novels,” being the two main reasons. She said: “writing about the same central character in a series of books is something I can’t understand anyone wanting to do,” and said that was probably because of Stevenson’s diversity that washed over her. Of Rendell, she said it was her “ability to get right under the skin of her characters” that appealed most. She also said that all crime writers should read Agatha Christie, because although people find it easy to take a swipe at her, you could find worse ways to learn how to construct a fine crime novel.

McDermid gave hope to me in my own work when she said: “you don’t have to know everything about how the police work in order to write about them,” and concluded that was probably for the best, too. Her writing process has change a lot over the past few years, moving from working from a synopsis to the “writing by night” method, and admitted she never worked to a them, and that “the story always comes first; themes seem to come in from the sides afterwards.”

McDermid strayed into slight controversy – controversy if you’re a politician, perhaps – by telling the audience how easy it was to make a bomb these days (she found that out researching a book) and so made the point that if all these terrorists were going about wanting to destroy everything, why weren’t they doing it every weekend? It’s kind of hard to disagree with her on that one. On Thatcher’s proposed State funeral, she said she “can’t believe a Labour government are even considering the idea,” to which Brian Taylor quipped, “so it’s not so much the details as opposed to the date?”

She finished up by giving three tips to all budding crime writers: “Just keep writing (you’ll never write the perfect first chapter); don’t get bogged down with research; and try to be coherent about your point of view.”

Excellent stuff, but by the end of the day my brain was buzzing from so much stimulation. I went home and sat down to a beautiful Mexican meal made by my lovely wife, then typed all this up.

Nicola Morgan (from last night’s How To Make a Publisher Say Yes! seminar) sent me the expanded notes of her presentation. And they are MUCH more informative now I have them in front of me than my notes ever were. There is a whole lot of very useful information about how exactly to go about things, so thanks Nicola for sending that through to me.

Ther was also a kind invitation to a book launch in my email, which did look very tempting indeed. The good news was that the launch included free comedy, cheap beers, and lots of industry types to mingle and network with. The bad news was it is in West Hollywood, California. Guess I won’t be able to make it then.

Greener is the Grass (Writing)
Greener is the Grass (Writing)

Hunting Jack (Editing)
Hunting Jack (Editing)

PLEASE DONATE – For full details of my Abseil off the Forth Rail Bridge in October for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, please go here:

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About Colin Galbraith

Thriller author, music fan, St Mirren fan, fluff chucker, rabbit tamer, outstanding fake faller. Loves cannoli.
This entry was posted in Edinburgh, Food, Drink and Bevvy, Publishing and Marketing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Day 2 At The Edinburgh Book Festival

  1. Diane says:

    I think it’s time I visited Edinburgh again. I’ve not been for years – 25 at least. Perhaps next year’s book festival …?

  2. adam says:

    Good story. My mother’s family came from Fife – Falkland – and I still have cousins there. Or maybe they have died off …

    Maggie Thatcher has snuffed it? Did not hit the news down under as far as I know although I do not read the papers, it is all the same every day as it was all these years ago, anyway my wife keeps me up-to-date bless her.

    Quite the worker are you not, beavering away like that?

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