It’s the penultimate day of the Edinburgh Book Festival. It’s all beginning to get reflective and a touch sad to realise that after today it will all be over for another year. That doesn’t mean for a moment, though, that things are starting to wind down; there is no wind-down period. Not until the doors (gate) finally slams shut, the tents are removed and the grass replaced.
My first event yesterday was an early one. Well, early for me as much as a 10am start is beginning to resemble a struggle. It was the ‘Ten at Ten’ taster event in the Writers’ Retreat, and as always seems to be the case there was another surprise was in store.
Tracey S. Rosenberg
This morning’s free Ten at Ten was a remarkable vignette of historical fiction, that proved as inspiring to readers as much as it did for aspiring authors.
Tracey S. Rosenberg read an extract from her début novel, The Girl in the Bunker, with rays of confidence and talent, but her story is unique in that she is an ex-employee of the Edinburgh Book Festival.
“It’s great to be here as the local girl that did good,” she joked with her early Sunday morning audience, before launching into a ten minute long, polished performance.
Before heading off to fill the gap I had until the Liz Lochhead event at half past eleven, I began asking people for interviews. I’m writing an article with combined podcast to wrap up the festival (it’ll be published once the festival is over) and in order for part of it to work, I began the process of interviewing some of the festival staff. It’s working well and should be a cracking review of the last two weeks in Charlotte Square.
After a coffee and blueberry muffin in a local Costa, I headed back into the Square for a massive event with the new Scottish Makar, Liz Lochhead. Here’s the article:
Liz Lochhead’s appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival had been eagerly anticipated since she was appointed Scottish Makar in January 2011, and she wasn’t about to disappoint.
Promoting her latest collection, A Choosing, but reading from a selection of other books she brought along, Lochhead showed just why the nation holds her so high in it’s heart.
Modest and unassuming, she is a woman with a huge heart and a massive amount of talent, and she thrilled the full house by revealing that although her new collection wasn’t published until next month, it was being made exclusively available to this book festival audience as a one-off from publisher Polygon.
A Choosing is largely a biographical collection, “that if it had been written on another day in another time would be entirely different,” she said. “Poets have a bad habit of singing the songs of themselves and I wanted to avoid that.”
Lochhead read some poems about the first things she ever wrote, which reminded her of her earliest memory when she was four years old. She had got her head trapped in her Gran’s railings and had to listen terribly gloomy music being played on the radio while the adults tried to figure out how to free her. The music was only broken by the announcement: “The King is dead; Long live the Queen.”
Lochhead seemed unsure at times of her position in Scottish literature despite her accolades. “I’m more active since I became Makar,” she said. “But I don’t deserve the job. There are far better poets out there than me. The job is only for five years so at least the younger ones will get a chance to do this later.”
Her new set of commitments will see her travelling more and she indicated she wants to get a lot more involved in schools, but the only impact seems to be on her actual collection publication. “It’ll be the end of my Makarship before my next collection comes out.” And her playwriting? “Oh, that’s not affected in any way,” she assured us.
Lochhead told the audience how she had tried her hand at short story writing but was never any good. “They were all in first person so contained dramatic monologue anyway. I always get pulled towards how I can make something into a play or a poem.”
She hates the “poetry voice”, that drawl that poets often put in when they change the way they talk to deliver a poem. “I always think they sound like a vicar talking, trying to make something sound poetic that isn’t.”
Joyce McWilliam who chaired the event, summed up the nation’s thoughts to end the show with perhaps the loveliest tribute I’ve heard of Lochhead: “Language shapes our world and Liz Lochhead is a true shaper of words.”
I managed to bag two big authors in the one go afterwards, because not only was Liz Lochhead signing in the LRB Tent but next to her was the kids favourite, Jacqueline Wilson. Her event had finished over two hours earlier but there she was, still signing away. Unfortunately she received some unfair flack from a few parents as the signings had to be carried out by a well advertised ballot—Jacqueline normally has to sign for four to five hours at a time—but most kids looked delighted that I saw running around the Square from having just seen her.
I was thirsty again by this point and luckily bumped into Rob Burdock as I was leaving the Lochhead event. He generously offered to buy me a coffee in the Spiegeltent, but as I was following him I spotted an opportunity to interview someone else for the podcast, someone who’s usually much more busy when I see him so I was lucky to get the chance. He obliged and I joined Rob afterwards for a long chat and a fairwell for him as yesterday was his last day.
I also met another blogger that has managed to avoid me these past two weeks. It was great to meet Janette Currie (@BookRambler) who runs the Book Rambler website. Check it out after you’ve read this post!
As the festival has worn on I seem to be drinking more and more coffee and less and less alcohol. It’s a sign of the times I fear, but I think overall I have to be quite happy with my levels of stamina. Adrenalin appears to have got me through much of it, which is just as well because it feels now like it’s been a very long 17 days.
When I returned home only my wife was in but she wasn’t very well so I put her to bed. I had the full intention of writing up all the events from the previous day that I’d fallen behind on with my afternoon, but it wasn’t to be and I ended up falling asleep myself. It’s all starting to take a toll!
With Gail not too great we had to cancel a wedding reception we were supposed to attend near Glasgow. With everything so mad as it is at the moment it’s probably just as well, but there was no way we could have gone. A shame, but I’ve seen some photographs and video already (the happy couple set up a Facebook page) and it looked to be a cracking day and night.
I did eventually catch up with all my writing and reviews, links to which you can find in the section just below this one. As I move into today, the final day, day 17, I do so with a tinge of sadness, tired eyes and brain fatigue, but with the resolve to see the last day out with a bang.
Today I have AN Wilson, Keith Jeffrey, Barry Miles, Fiona McCarthy, possibly Caro Ramsay and Craig Robertson, then to top everything off the grand festival finale: Alasdair Gray’s Fleck, which will be performed by a host of authors including, Will Self, Ian Rankin, Alan Bissett, Liz Lochhead, Janice Galloway, Louise Welsh, AL Kennedy and Alasdair Gray himself.
It promises to be quite a day.
Book Fest Media
Catch up on all my reviews and articles on my sister site, the (Unofficial) Edinburgh Book Festival Blog
For visual enjoyment of the Edinburgh Book Festival, click over to my constantly updated photograph feed at flickr.com/colinthewriter
Ciao for now!