Day 6 at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Day 6 at the Edinburgh Book Festival
Image: Porto & Fi

I started my day off at the coffee shop, easing my way into what I knew would be a long one. I sat with a large cappuccino and read (electronically) more of Andrew Raymond Drennan’s The Immaculate Heart. It’s a most enjoyable read so far.

And then it was off to the day job; I’ve gotta pay that mortgage somehow!

By lunchtime though, I was back up at the Edinburgh Book Festival in Charlotte Square. Rain was threatening but managing to hold as I walked into the RBS Main Tent for my first event of the day: Simon Hoggart.

Simon Hoggart
I’d selected Hoggart as an event based purely on his Guardian column. He often makes me laugh and nod at his astute observations, but occasionally annoys me with some of the opinions he holds. So I wanted to hear him speak to see if I was maybe picking him up wrong on things—I wanted to see if I liked him or not.

He’s older than I realised, certainly he’s older than the photoshoppers at the Guardian have made him look in his column avatar, but he does have a killer sense of humour. It’s in the good old-fashioned British/Radio 4 vein, in fact, he reminded me of a more political Terry Wogan in some of his tales.

John ByrneAnd that’s pretty much what he came to do. He’s written a book that contains anecdotes and stories about his time as a journalist, and he spent the whole hour hand picking stories about politicians we would rarely get to hear about. He’s met every Prime Minister since Harold MacMillan, so he had plenty to tell us from his book, A Long Lunch.

For example, before David Cameron became Prime Minister, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell always drew him with a condom over his head. When asked by the then candidate to take over from Gordon Brown, Bell said it was because of “your smooth skin, your texture—it just didn’t work with cling film somehow.”

The Guardian told Bell to stop drawing the condom, but many months later when the two met again after the re-appearance of the condom on the now PM’s head, Cameron was more forced with his demand as to why it had returned. “Because there were so many complaints from readers that it had been removed,” said Bell. Cameron turned away muttering: “You can push the condom too far, you know.”

If you’re into the idiosyncratic humour of Westminster, this book by Hoggart will very much be for you.

Blog Spot
After the event I shot home in a mad dash to get freshened up, changed out of my work clothes, and grab some lunch before heading backup to the Square. I wandered around taking some pictures then popped into the Press tent where I bumped into my pal Rob Burdock of RobAroundBooks.

We chatted for a while about blogging and some of the authors we’d seen so far, and I showed him yesterday’s Guardian Book Fest Blog written by Michael MacLeod. Rob had yet to see it, so was delighted as I was when he saw that we’d both been mentioned in that day’s column.

You can read yesterday’s blog round-up here, and The Guardian’s excellent book festival coverage is here:

John ByrneJohn Byrne
From the Press tent into the RBS Main Tent I went, my next event the Scottish cult artist and playwright, John Byrne.

Byrne, who remarkably is now 71 but doesn’t look a day over 65, entertained us first with a reading from his new children’s book, and then by discussing his life in art and writing. Which one holds the stronger call? “They both offer just as much and mean just as much to me,” he said.

Most famous in Scotland as being the man behind Tutti Frutti, only recently just been released after 22 years since its first showing “because of paperwork,” he is also known worldwide as the man who penned the West End spectacular, The Slab Boys Trilogy.

Slouched in his seat with hands in his pockets and silk scarf tied around his neck, he occasionally twiddled his trademark moustache as he remembered his early days growing up in Paisley, and with his deep rustic voice, delighted the audience with confirmation of new works to come.

Meeting a Friend
The spare hour until my next event was filled by meeting up with my writer pal, Diane Parkin, who has come up from Barnsley for a couple of days to take in the book festival. It’s the first time we’d met having only ever conversed online, but despite all concerns I knew who she was as soon as I spotted her.

I showed her around and then we grabbed some coffee and something to eat, hitting it off immediately as we tried to take in how weird it was to finally be talking face to face! Unfortunately her guesthouse only just meets the bare requirements but it’s liveable, but with a full day today and tomorrow morning we still have a lot of catching up and talking to do before she goes.

Val McDermidVal McDermid
Diane had also bought a ticket for the same event I was going into at half past six, the awesome crime writer, Val McDermid.

Val revealed that although it had been advertised she would be talking about her last book, that wasn’t what was going to happen. Instead, copies of her fresh-off-the-press novel, The Retribution, which isn’t available anywhere yet, WOULD be on sale after the event for her to sign. A clever PR move that had her fans drooling at the prospect.

Val was as great as she always is: forthright, funny and overflowing with great sound-bites. On Oxbridge she urged people to “look past the image portrayed of it, because in her experience it wasn’t your background, your school or who your daddy that mattered, it was your mind,” and when asked by Peter Guttridge if she fancied slowing it down and taking a couple of years to write her next novel: “I’d only end up farting around for a year.”

But perhaps her most compelling comment came when she talked about the books she read when she was a child, that helped shape and form her into the acclaimed novelist she is today, she said: “the books we read as kids shape our lives in ways we can’t imagine at the time.”

Coffee Break
I had plenty of time to time spare in between events (Diane had gone into the packed Iain Banks event) so I popped back into the Press tent for some coffee and to see who was about. Lizzy Siddal (of Lizzy’s Literary Life) and Rob were already there so we had a laugh and a chat, and while there the subject of my final event of the evening, Candia McWilliam, came in to meet a journalist. She was accompanied by the queen of Scottish broadcasting, Shereen Nanjiani, and to my utter delight paused to say hi when I greeted her with a cherry “hello there!” My heart remains in a flutter 12 hours later.

Candia McWilliamCandia McWilliam
And so to my final event with Candia McWilliam. Candia is partially blind after having an operation to try to overcome blepharospasm, a condition that causes functional blindness through the sufferer being unable to open her eyes. The operation involved cutting away the eyelids and introducing tendons sourced from the back of the knee, in order to allow some sight to be possible.

Through this enforced blindness, Candia McWilliam wrote her award-winning memoir, What To Look For In Winter. “I never wanted to write a memoir,” she said. “It was thrust on me by the specificity of going blind.”

But through this blindness she has seen the world in a new way. “Any deprivation of the senses leads to a new way of seeing things,” she explained, before going on to describe every day things such as police car lights and the sound of a cat in the most beautiful spoken prose. As for the word to describe the sound of car tyres on a wet cobbled street, “I have yet to find a book festival audience that can give me one.”

Iain BanksiMac
I bumped into Diane again in the signing tent and we took some snaps of Iain Banks (still signing) and Candia, before I walked her partly back down the route towards her guesthouse. I saw Diane off and then jumped on a bus back to Leith; it had been yet another cracking day at the book festival.

When I got back home, I discovered to my utter delight that my new iMac had been delivered. I was too tired to take it out of the box though, and to be honest I don’t know when I’m going to get a chance to set it up. I’m so busy with the book festival and the day job, that it could actually be the start of September before I get a chance to unpack it and see what it can do!

If you want to tune back in later this evening, my Annual Goals, Dreams and Resolutions review of 2010/11 will be online at 7m (BST). This is the biggie!

Book Fest Media
Catch up on all my reviews and articles on my sister site, the Edinburgh Book Festival Blog

For visual enjoyment of the Edinburgh Book Festival, click over to my constantly updated photograph feed at

For audio enjoyment, why not subscribe to my Book Festival podcast on iTunes or listen to the stream on SoundCloud.

Ciao for now!

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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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3 Responses to Day 6 at the Edinburgh Book Festival

  1. I wish I could have been there with you!

  2. Rob says:

    Excellent round-up Colin. See, this is what I’m on about when I talk about brevity. You nailed your day, in about a tenth of what it takes me to do it. I have a lot from the master 🙂

    And cheers for the mention. All plugs gratefully received.

  3. Rob says:

    I’m an idiot. The finalt sentence in my first paragraph above should read – I have a lot TO LEARN from the master.

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