Monday, August 22, 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival

It's festival time again, and Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile, with a castle at one end and a palace at the other, becomes a madhouse of impromptu bands, jugglers, open air cafes strung with fairy lights, bearded men in pink tutus, students dressed in top hats and tails pushing fliers for a twenty-minute performance of the complete Ring Cycle – you name it, you can find it. The pavements are so crowded you have to walk in unison and if you are wearing normal clothes you look more out of place than the gorilla that just walked past hand in hand with a giraffe. Sober Edinburghers going about their daily business try to pretend it isn't happening: it's too much like seeing an elegant, dignified dowager suddenly flashing her knickers and starting to do the Can-Can.

On the more refined side of the city, amid the elegance of the Georgian squares and terraces, the crowds are culture vultures, going from concerts with some of the world's most famous orchestras and soloists to art galleries to experimental theatre - like King Lear, performed by one man in Japanese, which is playing to enthusiastic if possibly somewhat bemused audiences.

Then, of course, there's the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The tented village is once again cheekily in place in Charlotte Square, the crowning glory of Robert Adam architecture. And yes, I'm afraid once again the lawns are quagmires covered by protective matting and the now-traditional yellow plastic ducks are floating in their puddle pond in one corner. But spirits are high, as authors from all over the world jet in – or in the case of our own Alexander MacCall Smith, bus in from Morningside on the No.23 - to allow readers the chance to see the creators of the books they love in the flesh. As authors, we're all delighted to be asked to come face to face with our public.

But Margaret Attwood, a regular visitor, once said that wanting to meet an author because you liked a book was like wanting to meet a duck because you liked pâté, and I suspect many authors would nod agreement with a rueful smile. Some brilliant writers are disappointingly poor performers; our trade is in the written word and the authentic voice is found there, rather than in the real life personality.

It may also be better not to discover your literary heroes' feet of clay. I've been sadly disillusioned when favourites of mine have been revealed on the EIBF stage as pompous or arrogant, and I haven't fancied the books thereafter. They're still the same, it's just – well, I thought I knew them through the book and I feel cheated. It's a high-risk business for both reader and author.

On the other hand, there are the writers like Sandy MacCall Smith who is exactly what you'd expect him to be, with a wonderfully waspish sense of humour, or my own particular idol, PD James, who when you meet her is warmer and wiser and even funnier than I could have dared to hope.


hannah dennison said...

How lucky to be in Edinburgh!! Thank you for bringing the Festival to light. I've never been but I'm longing to go. I know what you mean about "authors revealing themselves" - it's so disappointing when that happens.

Aline Templeton said...

Let me know when you plan a visit, Hannah. It's a unique experience, right down to the Military tattoo at the castle - I can hear the explosions and see the fireworks even as I write this - we haev a view of the castle from our house. Oh, and now a chopper doing a fly-past!


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