The Magic of the Book Festival

14 08 2011
Kick Off at Charlotte Square
Image: Colin Galbraith

When I arrived at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday morning, the atmosphere around the Square was of excited trepidation.

For many, it was their first time at the festival and for others a chance to be reacquainted after one year away. As I turned the corner of Castle Street into George Street at around half past nine, the sight of the white tents and the book festival sign partly hidden by the branches, my excitement swelled at the thoughts of what was to come over the next 3 weeks.

Walking through the main door, past the ticket office and foyer then into the sheltered gardens, it is akin to being welcomed home, to being cuddled into a bosom of literary love.

I was back and it felt great!

A samba band were playing drums and dancing on the grass, entertaining the early arrivals with a loud hypnotic beat, only serving to up my pulse rate that little bit more. I had a quick scout around; I like to make sure everything is as I remember it or some things have evolved in any way.

Walking clockwise, the Spiegeltent was first on my left, standing proudly and always different from the rest. But that’s fine, because it is different—somehow. It’s where I usually go for a break, a chat or a pint.

Next up is the toilets—no need to describe that very much and I can assure you they do remain the same—before I got to the bookshop, always the one place I tend to spend most ‘between event’ time. All the usual publisher stalls were there, and reems upon reams of freshly unpacked books sat proudly on tables and shelves just waiting to be bought.

With the Guardian the new sponsor of the book festival, there’s a new addition to the bookshop: an internet portal where you can don a pair of headphones and interact with their dedicated book fest website.

Past the children’s bookshop and round the bend, the RBS Corner Theatre and Peppers Theatre form the far away side of the festival square. Both tents are smaller but have grand memories of special events I’ve attended over the years, as they do also as I round the next corner and look up to the Writer’s Retreat, hidden away in the farthest corner, a place where I’ve attended many workshops and readings in the past, and plan to again.

Then it’s the biggie: The RBS Main Tent where I’ve seen the biggest and best read and talk about their work: William McIlvanney, Sean Connery, Seamus Heaney, the list goes on.

Source of my coffee stream is next as we come to the London Review of Book signing tent, a place where I’ve never once managed to find a table to sit at, and then next door is the Scottish Power Studio Theatre, a smaller replica of the RBS Main tent, but one where much magic has been spun over the years.

Then it’s mystery corner. Peering down the path one can just see into the press tent, where words of reflection and inspiration are penned to the greater masses, and further beyond that, the author’s Yurt. It’s the writer’s Mecca, the holiest of holies, a place where I’ve promised myself, one day…

And so I was back in Charlotte Square; nervous, excited, relieved. I attended several events (reviews will follow) such as the Ten at Ten, the eccentric and wonderful Scottish literary giant, Alasdair Gray, Simon Stephenson talking about his book about the brother he lost to the 2004 tsunami, Lin Anderson and Tony Black discussing why Glasgow and Edinburgh make such great cities to write crime fiction, the Story Shop, and then an hour with Alexei Sayle to finish off.

It was an exhausting day, but we got the sun in places and we got some drizzle. It all went as well as anyone could have dreamt – me included.

You can find photographs from the book festival at my live image feed:




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