Fascinating, Fantastic and Fun: Trudeau, Heaney and McCall Smith

Fascinating, Fantastic And Fun: Trudeau, Heaney and McCall Smith
Image: The List

Things conspired against me yesterday leaving me unable to post my blog entry. That’s twice in less than a week it’s happened and I am less than pleased with myself. Therefore, I voluntarily stick out my virtual bottom and drop my kegs for you all to heartily spank my plump little cheeks.

Monday was a bit of a disaster. I slept in big style and never made it into work until 10:30am. Not good, but then again, I was on a half-day for the afternoon so it made it one heck of a short working day. Then it was off to the book fest.

I neglected to mention I could have sworn I saw Dianne Abbott at the book fest prior to the Roy Hattersley event on Sunday. She was sitting at the entrance typing out a text message into her mobile phone, and if I hadn’t been so unsure if it was her or not, I would have approached her. I think she’s great—she’s the best reason to stay up late on a Thursday night for just to see her spar with Portillo.

And as if to reinforce the positive effect that Twitter has had on my book fest experience this year, just check out my statistics for week 1, which came in on Monday:

  • 706 visitors to my site last week, that’s 300 more than average
  • Sales of FRINGE FANTASTIC and POOLSIDE POETRY both up by 20%
  • Daily blog registrations and newsletter sign-ups both more than doubled
  • Many new writing friends made and contacts throughout the industry

It is indeed a remarkable thing that is the power of Twitter. As a result of seeing the benefits of engaging in social media this past week and a half, I’m going to invest in an iPhone to see where I can take it. I have plans for all sorts of things that, had I seen these benefits beforehand, would have had an even larger impact. As it stands, I think it can help my year-round promotion no end.

Of course, you know what’s next – Apple Mac!

The main event for me on Monday was Garry Trudeau in the RBS main tent. I got there early and wandered around the book shop. The Square was practically deserted due to the heavy rain we’d had during the afternoon. Large puddles dominated, one of which even had a couple of little rubber ducks flowing on top! Ian Rankin popped into the signing tent while I was waiting for a coffee. He was hoping to catch Trudeau as well but I knew he would never make it when I saw the length of his signing queue.

Gary Trudeau was interviewed by the Guardian’s award-winning cartoonist, Steve Bell. The event was a total sell out (although Rankin’s seat remained empty). Trudeau was fascinating to listen to. Bell, who was clearly overjoyed at finally being able to meet the man, hardly need ask him any questions as Trudeau began to talk in a laid back yet wonderfully informative style.

He told us of the time he was at school and knew George Bush, who after a photocopying prank admitted to his habit of “torturing undergraduate students” to the New York Times. This led into an analysis of the previous US administration, where we discovered that “Dan Quayle is a gift to everyone in my business” and that he “didn’t have many friends in the first Bush administration,” after their first term in office.

Trudeau went on to explain how he felt America had “behaved like it owned Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf conflict, which was where our later problems were born,” after he was whisked out of a line-up to get into the country on the command of a General. And thus we cut to the root of why he was there in the first place: Doonesbury.

Doonesbury “began as a way to explain a generation” explained Trudeau and although he struggled to sell it at first, within five years it had been sold to several hundred newspapers. “The wide differences in newspaper standards tripped me up a lot in the early days” he continued. “I once lost three papers in one day.”

Reflecting on the current situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, Trudeau became very humbled as he described his encounters with returning wounded soldiers. “Humour is the membrane between soldiers and the darkness,” he explained. “I am deeply anti-war.”

Last night’s evening at the book fest was, remarkably, even better. Things kicked off with the most amazing reading of poetry I’ve ever experienced. So moving and so spellbinding was the hour between 6:30pm and 7:30pm, the hour passed like only a few short minutes.

Seamus Heaney captivated a sell-out audience as he read various poems, spending time talking about the inspiration for each one, where it was written and why. Such was his calming, and I use this next word in no way lightly, intoxicating manner, the audience sat in total silence and as still as rocks as we followed his every single word. It was a truly awesome experience, akin only to the time I went to the theatre with my mother and saw Sir Ian McKellen performing in Waiting for Godot.

Only one man could follow such a breathtaking hour of poetry and match it with his own brand of literary insight, humour and joy: Alexander McCall Smith. Unfortunately Andrew Sachs had to cancel at short notice, who as the orator of many of Smith’s Corduroy Mansion series in The Daily Telegraph, was to have also have interviewed him. The amiable Gaby Wood stood in as his replacement.

Smith was on top form as he talked about his workload schedule—he’s currently on five novels per year—and how he manages to remember which book he is writing at any one time. Unsurprisingly, when asked what he and near neighbour Ian Rankin talk about over drinks, he explained that not anything really that interesting. “Certainly not much literature or work, but more what might be in that day’s paper—The Daily Telegraph, for instance,” he said, poking fun at Wood who is the Book Editor for the paper.

Smith gave a reading from his latest book, The Dog Who Came In From The Cold, which not only had the audience in stitches, but Smith himself could hardly complete it when he broke down into uncontrollable laughter on the stage as it came to a hilarious conclusion.

Smith introduced a man from his orchestra, the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra), who gave us a rendition on the cello, of the kind of music he might listen to when writing about Precious Ramotswe. The musician then played Somewhere Over the Rainbow using his bow and a saw much to the elation of Smith and the audience.

And so, over the past two evenings I’ve been fascinated to hear about the life and work of Garry Trudeau, utterly swept away by the man and poet, Seamus Heaney, and entertained into tears of laughter by Alexander McCall Smith. If you ever needed an answer to the question: “why do you like the Edinburgh Book Festival so much?”, I’ve just answered it for you.

I’ll sum up today’s epic post with the final quote Seamus Heaney gave us last night when closing his event: “At the end of art is peace.”

Today at the book festival:
Mark Billingham
Jackie Kay

Peace, out!

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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 Books, Edinburgh, Fiction, Poetry, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fascinating, Fantastic and Fun: Trudeau, Heaney and McCall Smith

  1. Garry Trudeau is one of my heroes, and an example of how someone with intelligence and integrity can make it.

    I like Jackie Kay’s writing a lot; I’ll be fascinated to hear about her appearance.

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