Day 6 At The Edinburgh Book Festival

Alan JohnstonShattered, I got up mega-early this morning more motivated than I have been any other day of this Book Festival brimming week. Why? Because by the time I left for the day job, my intention was to have fully completed my re-working of Hunting Jack.

And I achieved it.

Hunting Jack is now a fresh, new, and complete novel. It has been edited and re-written to a level where I am finally happy with it. The ending is more satisfying, all the loose ends taken care of, and more importantly, perhaps, there is a clearer path out should I wish to work with Jackie again – which I do. In short, it’s a much more rounded novel and I’m very happy with it – well, as much as any author can be.

Of course, this all means that suddenly I have two novels to pitch! I already have a specific market in mind for Hunting Jack, and I have already approached them with a view to a submission, so they know it’s coming. I started putting together the submission package for them over lunch, which includes all the blurbs, excerpts, synopsis, and bio, etc.

For Slick, I need to complete the synopsis for it before I can pitch it to agents and publishers. Notice my use of the word “publishers” there. After some advice from Nicola Morgan at a publishing seminar I went to earlier this week at the EBF, I’ll be splitting my submissions between certain publishers as well as agents.

In the evening I headed up to Charlotte Square for my sixth consecutive day at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Tonight were too biggies, one from the world of foreign journalism, and the other from the world of best selling crime fiction.

First up was a rare public appearance (and probably his last) from Alan Johnston. Alan became a household name in 2007, when on March 12th 2007 he was kidnapped by the Army of Islam while covering the conflict in the Gaza Strip. He was kept captive for 114 days, threatened with death by several methods, and made to wear a suicide jacket on TV, before finally being released after Hamas pressurised the militant group to do so.

Recounting his story, I was amazed to find a man who seems to have found a way to cope with such a trauma, and yet remain entirely humbled by the attention he has received. Because the Army of Islam wanted prisoners in Britain released, he knew the British government would never negotiate and was in for a long haul, yet he compares his ordeal as a “long weekend” compared to the likes of Terry Waite.

While corresponding for the BBC in Gaza, Johnston always sensed he would be a target for the Army of Islam, and despite taking precautions to avoid their attention, he was only 16 days from the end of his tour when he was taken. He vividly recalled the moment the white Sudan pulled in front of his car, and within a moment there were pistols and Kalashnikovs pointing in the window at him. “It all happened very fast, yet very slowly. I was scared, but I knew exactly what was happening because I had been braced for the possibility for so long.”

Among the key moments during his kidnap were seeing his parents on the TV for the first time while still being held. He had been going through heavy guilt at what it would do to them, and for a quiet lad from Scotland to “bring the problems on the world crashing onto their front lawn” was hard for him to cope with. On witnessing his folks’ strength in their eyes and words, it meant a lot to him, and helped him get through the ordeal to the end.

“There were tunnels of bad depression,” said Johnston, “the worst being the final night, during which I thought it was never going to end. I had very vivid dreams while in the room, of being free and back in Britain.” And he laughed when he said: “I used to take Britain for granted and think it was boring, but now I think there’s something quite nice about order, post office queues, and debates about how many lanes the M25 should have.”

On being released, Johnston said the vivid dreams continued: “The first six weeks were the worst,” he recalled. “I had terrible nightmares about being locked up, and would wake up thinking I was back in that small room. But it passes after a while. Only the other night I dreamt I was the kidnapper – which was a lot nicer.”

Johnston’s story invoked more than one damp eye in a captivated audience. And his story is made all the more remarkable given his view on the conflict over the Gaza Strip has altered somewhat since he came home. “I feel a lot of empathy towards those people. They were the worst kind yet they never hit me around or tortured me. I feel sorry for what’s happened, because when I went to the Middle East to cover events, I thought it was a desperate place, and after living there for three years, I think there’s even less hope for those people now, than there was when I first went out.”

After a quick turnaround in the main tent, it was the turn of the UK’s top selling crime writer, Ian Rankin. Once again, the RBS Main Tent was full to the gunnels for an event sponsored by The Times, and saw us all being given special bags to mark the occasion. The pre-event party in the corporate tent didn’t go to plan by all accounts, when Rankin apologised to the sponsors for “forgetting all about it” and not showing up.

Rankin covered a wide amount of topics for a keen audience, including subjects as diverse as the recent 15-minute opera he wrote, the comic book he was commissioned to write (1010 frames), a new novella coming out next month based on last years New York Times serial called Doors Open, and of course, answered the inevitable questions about what plans, if any, he might have for Rebus.

Rankin is moving into a new phase of his career and he seems to be relishing it. Having written about the same central character for 20 years, he admits that although he has been extremely busy of late, it’s good to be working on such varied projects. On his new book Doors Open, he admitted: “my main worry is that people won’t want to read non-Rebus stuff,” but laughs when he reveals a reference in his new book to Rebus, when two policemen are talking and one says: “it sure is a lot quieter around here since that old bugger left.”

Rebus and Rankin will always go hand in hand, but the most interesting question I felt he was asked was if he thought he had it in him to invent another character of such depth and longitude, that readers will be able to enjoy for another 20 years? To that Rankin answered: “I would like to think so,” but one got the impression he’s enjoying the move away from serial writing, and the pressures of producing “one book a year through the sausage mill.”

Afterwards I joined up with some friends went for a few pints in the Grassmarket area. The few pints turned into even more pints, and it was 2am before I finally got to my bed. No rest for the wicked, though, because this weekend is set up to be another busy one, albeit free from the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Next event at the EBF: Mark Billingham (crime author), Trends in Publishing (seminar) – Monday 18th.

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:

Hex Breaker by Devon Ellington – click to purchase

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About Colin Galbraith

Keen runner, thriller author, Madness fan, Mets fan, St Mirren fan/owner, rabbit tamer, outstanding fake faller. Loves cannolis & espressos. #LFGM
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2 Responses to Day 6 At The Edinburgh Book Festival

  1. Congrats on Hunting Jack! Woo-hoo!

    I’m assuming Johnston has a book out? I should hunt it down — I’m writing a play about the same topic right now and am delving into as many of these stories as I can.

    Glad the festival is so inspirational. Look how productive you are with it to fuel you, even though you’re tired.

  2. Adam Pearson says:

    Well done with HJ! Gee there has been so much for you at this festival, from practical tips to inspiring speakers. I am envious! and want to hear more of what makes written stuff come to the public.

    I enjoy your blog and envy what I assume to be a good typing speed.

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