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It's that time of year again

posted 1 Aug 2016, 14:21 by Fran Brady   [ updated 1 Aug 2016, 14:38 ]

‘Over 800 authors from over 45 countries in 750 events for adults, teens and children.’ That’s straight out of the Edinburgh Book Festival programme, which looks more like a heavy-duty glossy mag than an events list.

If you live within striking distance of Scotland’s ancient and beautiful capital city and you like/love/read or write books, then there is no keeping away in August. Charlotte Square Gardens, in the west end of the New Town, becomes a tented village with auditoria, bookshops, coffee/ booze/ food outlets, picnic tables, benches and loungers on the grass in the middle of the square, posters of authors who have graced the Square with their presence over decades. Names like Muriel Spark, Solzhenitsyn, Brendan Behan . . . And more lately, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and J K Rowling (all three of them residents of Edinburgh today). Sounds idyllic.

Except that this is Scotland and it does rain quite a lot, stopping for some fog and wind occasionally. I have sat in sessions where the interviewer and author have had to shout to be heard above the rain thrumming on the canvas roof; I have felt as if the whole tent - chairs, table, author, water-jug, lectern and all - was about to be scooped skywards on the (strongly) prevailing wind; but I have also fallen asleep in the stifling, greenhouse-like heat of a tent on a real summer’s day. We have it all, sometimes all in one day.

Every so often, the cry goes up for a new venue, a proper building, all indoors, sheltered from the vagaries of the Scottish summer. But then, we all remember how much we love the leafy quadrangle, the duckboard paths across the muddy grass, the wee yellow plastic ducks swimming in the larger puddles. 
Above all the sense of stepping through the pavement foyer into another world, a magic, once-a-year world, where the book is king and the talk is all of what authors have said and readers have read.
Elderly folks snooze on deckchairs beside the statue of Prince Albert on a horse - the impressive centrepiece of the Square - newly-bought, author-signed books slipping out of nerveless hands. Children issue forth from an hour with their favourite author, clutching things they have made or written or drawn or bought, a gaggle of excited voices and wriggling bodies. Wonderful to see that every generation, even this tech-saturated, over entertained one, still loves a good book and the thrill of meeting its writer.
Me?  I’m booked for six events:
‘The Brontës in their own Voices’ with Juliet Barker (and my granddaughters who are period-drama mad)
‘Culloden, the Battle and the Myths’, with historian, Murray Pittock
‘Play with Putin at your Peril’, with former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (a catchy title), Richard Shirreff (and my husband, who loves political stuff)
‘The Fountain of Eternal Youth’ with Erica Jong launching her new novel, ; ‘Fear of Dying’ (because I remember the thrill of reading 'Fear of Flying' in the 70s)
Sarah Leipeiger with ‘The Mountain can Wait and Ron Rash with ‘Above the Waterfall’, both wide-open-spaces novels.
And I’ll probably succumb to a couple of others that have cancellation tickets available at the last minute. Then there’s the free late night gig in the pub tent with authors doing stand-up and Indy bands showcasing . . . Plus my writing group’s now-traditional, posh, pot-luck picnic. Amazingly we have never been rained off, though it has been touch and go sometimes.

If you’re anywhere near Edinburgh this month, don’t miss it. And look out for me. I might even buy you a coffee - or share my umbrella!

Check out the programme at: