Note: remember to scroll down to the bottom for picture highlights from the day.
And so the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival has kicked off, and in fine style too. The gates opened at their usual time this morning and the sun blessed crowds poured in, to be greeted with the colour and exuberance of a Samba band.
Not arriving myself until just after noon I missed all of the delights of the opening ceremony, but I was still greeted with the most electric of scenes. The green was packed with people – children and adults all enjoying the sun, and each other’s company. Others were dipping into their book.
First day recce
When I turn up on the first day of EdBookFest I always like to do a quick tour to make sure that all is as it should be. Every year the festival village is set up pretty much the same way in terms of where everything can be found, and I wanted to reassure myself that everything was in order (what can I say, I’m a sucker for consistency ). It was like I’d never been away; as though a veil had been put over Charlotte Square at the end of last year’s festival before being quickly whipped off for 2012. Everything was in place as it should be, so I finished my first ‘recce’ happy and contented.
That said, I did notice a couple of new addditions. An extra concrete Chesterfield chair, a retro wire patio set next to the bookshop, new deckchairs decorated with quotes from authors, and extra walkways on the grass, with the most important being the one that dissects the green in half, offering a handy short cut from one side of the square to the other. Should the heavens open, and they inevitably will, this walkway should keep any quick dashes one has to make across the grass, mud free.
There is a larger addition this year, situated in a corner of the green. It’s something that can only be described as a plinth, or a makeshift stage. What it actually is is a display of the ‘mind map’ that was designed as the graphical theme for this year’s festival (you can see the theme most prominently featured in the festival programme). A display it might be, and people can get a lot out of reading it, but mounted on a plinth it begs to be interacted with, in any way that people see fit. On this first day many were letting their children use the feature as a kind of ‘run around’ stage, while others were using it as a convenient ‘pit stop’ on which to eat, chat or read. It’s going to be interesting seeing what other usage ideas people come up with over the next few days.
Another new feature of the EdBookFest village can be found in my favourite of ‘hang out’ spots – the Spiegeltent. Just inside the entrance sits a large bookcase dedicated to the Guardian Edinburgh Book Swap (#gdnbookswap). An offshoot of their Autumn 2011 national book swap initiative, this Edinburgh-based project which runs the duration of book festival, is in celebration of The Guardian’s sponsorship. Judging by the amount of people swarming around the bookcase, the Guardian Edinburgh Book Swap is going to be a popular thing.
A convergence of beautiful minds
One of the things I love most about EdBookFest – and this is something true of all literary festivals, as bookish types know fine well – is the fact that people are so warm, friendly and talkative. It’s definitely something to do with the mindset that comes from having a profound appreciation of literature, and one finds that book people are almost always non-judgemental, significantly more articulate, and of the most delicious character. And around this time Charlotte Square Gardens is overflowing with them.
There I was settled in the Spiegeltent, awaiting the first of this year’s Edinburgh City of Literature’s #StoryShop sessions, when I struck up a conversation with two lovely ladies, who themselves didn’t know each other at this point. The first woman, who lives in Edinburgh, is a lover of poetry. She’s also one of the beautiful people behind StAnza, the St. Andrews poetry festival. Even during such a short exchange the passion that this woman showed for the written word was awe inspiring.
The other woman, who had that morning travelled down from her country estate in Perthshire, was as equally articulate, and very cultured. It seems that never a day passes by this woman without her being at something deeply soul nurturing, be it jazz festivals, art events, opera, theatre, and of course, EdBookFest. These ladies are not only the kind of beautiful souls that make my EdBookFest experience all the more enriching, but they help to restore my belief that humankind isn’t solely on a one-way downward spiral towards hell.
All these beautiful people together, and I’ve not even began speaking about the authors who were appearing at EdBookFest today. So let me talk about them, even if it will be brief because I was only attending one event today – an intriguing get together between Canadian author, Linden McIntyre and the Dutch writer, Gerbrand Bakker. This event went really well, and aside from the distraction with the Tattoo setting off fireworks at the castle (that’s Edinburgh for you ) both authors interacted well together, showing much intelligence and a huge flair for humour.
As I said earlier, I also attended Edinburgh City of Literature’s first #StoryShop of 2012. If you have the opportunity and have never been to one of these FREE 15 minute events which have become a major feature of EdBookFest, then I urge you to do so (schedule).
Every day a rising author is featured, reading one of their stories. The thought of going up on a stage and reading something that I’ve written, to an audience, terrifies me beyond words. Yet every one of these writers seems to take it in their stride, reading with both colour and confidence.
Today’s featured author Mary Mowat, was no exception, bringing the Edinburgh dialect of her story to life. The theme of The Trams is obvious from the title, but it is also so much than this. Mowat’s story has a deeper, mournful side to it, and is actually rather good. The good news is you can go along yourself to the Edinburgh City of Literature website and see Mary and read her story for yourself. I recommend that you do.
Old friends and friendly faces
The Festival is of course also about catching up with friendly faces and old friends, and on this first day is was very much about reconnecting with the people who I haven’t seen for a while. What a joy to sit in the sun and chat with fellow lit reviewers, Sarah and Marcia. What a motivator to once again see the busy staff of Charlotte Square working their magic, and proving time and time again that nothing is too much trouble. What a joy also, to see Chris Donia – photographer of the literati – skulking around the boardwalks, capturing the kind of photos that most of us (and especially me) can only dream of. Rumour has it he captured one or two of me today. Here’s hoping that these photos never see the light of day .
Who’s who of the literary scene
And every year just sitting in Charlotte Square Gardens, one can, even without going to any events, see some of the most recognisable faces in the world of books, just simply wandering around. On this first day, the always charming and accommodating Jacqueline Wilson, put the biggest smile I’ve seen on any child’s face today (even bigger than the kids getting ice creams), when she revealed to her that this was the first ever copy of her new book that she was signing for her.
The great Scottish author Alexander McCall-Smith could also be seen sitting in the sun, being interviewed by a French film crew, fronted by an interviewer who had the most captivating of smiles. It’s at times like this that a writer must feel that he has the best job in the world.
Then there was Simon Callow, whose event on Dickens was, I’m told, a rip-roaring success. Even though I didn’t attend Mr. Callow’s event I quickly wished I was, when I spotted him en route to the main theatre, engaging warmly with his entourage.
And this for me was a quiet day; a day where I prefered to spend time connecting with old friends instead of packing my day with too many events. For those who have never visited, are you beginning to see now why EdBookFest is so special?
So yes, the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival has most definitely kicked off, and if the next 16 days are anything like this first, then it’s going to be one hell of a fortnight. If I’m being honest though I don’t expect it to be anything less than amazing, whether this nice weather keeps up or not.