On certain days I wonder whether posting a dairy entry is of any worth. I ummed and awwed over posting one today because my day at EdBookFest was, until evening at least, largely quiet and uneventful. And then when things did liven up – and boy, didn’t they just – the eventfulness was really only relevant to me. In the end though I thought that I would keep diarising the days I spend at EdBookFest, because aside from offering a very personal perspective of the festival, I’m showing others the glory that can be found in the more ‘niche’ side of EdBookFest. And through diary entries such as this, I can do that in a more informal and relaxed atmosphere. I’m able to show my feelings in a way that I can’t when I’m writing more formal reports.
So as I say, up until the evening time Day #6 was largely uneventful for me. There were certainly plenty of thrilling events running (Claire Tomalin, Patrick Ness, Alexander McCall Smith and Ruth Rendell for instance), but as you know I prefer to concentrate on less ‘highlighted’ events. As such I was only scheduled for one in the evening, featuring Kevin Barry and Etgar Keret, which was more than enough excitement for my short story loving heart.
Regulars will know just how much I love both of these short fiction writers. They are masters of the form. Their stories are intense and rich and beautiful. They stand as examples of how glorious and vibrant and creative the short form can be. I’d heard Kevin Barry read often, but I’d never had the pleasure of hearing, or indeed meeting, Etgar Keret. Today was the day though, and it’s a memory that will live with me fondly, always.
The event itself was everything that I could have wished for. Barry and Keret worked magnificently together – the brash directness of Barry’s fiction played off beautifully against the quieter surreal stories of Etgar Keret. Both gave inspiring readings. Barry was as deliciously theatrical and as booming as always, whereas Keret was more mellow in his delivery, yet utterly sublime.
One could feel true love for the short story form during this event. Where in the Sarah Hall and Tessa Hadley event it sounded like two novelists talking about the short form, tonight it was two writers showing how hopelessly in love they were with short stories. And at the end Barry chilled me when he said that short story writing was a ‘sacred craft’. If there were ever any author that I wanted to hear say that, it would be Kevin Barry.
Off then to the signing tent with my daughter (who had come along especially to meet these two authors), and what a joy of joys to be able to reconnect with Kevin Barry again. I haven’t seen him since last EdBookFest and I was able, finally, to pass on my congratulations to him for winning this year’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. If you’ve ever met Kevin Barry then you’ll know how amazing it is to be in his presence. Kevin is always so warm, friendly and accommodating, and he is an inspiration to be around. There are brief moments in life that we treasure dearly – moments that fuel and inspire us – and every meeting with Kevin has stood out as such moments.
Then came a new treasured moment – an opportunity to meet and speak with Etgar Keret. I will be forever indebted to Etgar’s publicist Bethan (who I also finally had the absolute pleasure of meeting face-to-face) for introducing me to him, and for telling him just how much the short story form means to me. It’s difficult to put into words what it feels like to stand in front of a literary genius such as Keret, but it’s a feeling that will never leave me. It’s rare to meet a human being who simmers with genius while remaining humble and unpretentious, but Etgar is one such person and my brief meeting with him will live with me for many months and years to come.
And what a joy it was to also meet Kevin Barry’s wife Olivia again. They say behind every good man stands an even better woman, and that’s definitely true in this case. In fact it’s true twice over because I also got to meet Etgar’s wife and she is as captivating and as charming as her husband is. And let’s not forget their son, Lev who was also in Edinburgh with them. He was engaged with helping his Dad sketch pictures in the books that he was signing. I’ve rarely seen a more bright and articulate personality in a child so young, but then, look who his parents are .
And the good times just kept rolling after the signing, with the Unbound event in the Spiegeltent, featuring a host of Irish writers and performers. Every time I go to one of EdBookFest’s Unbound events it amazes me as to how they can stage them for free. They’re ridiculously entertaining, and if you get the chance to go to one then you really MUST. Tonight, Kevin Barry was performing alongside an Irish comedienne (sorry, I can’t recall her name), while novelist Keith Ridgeway did an ingeniously creative set with Irish jazz singer, Jaime Nanci, with Keith reading from one of his novels and Jaime following up with a song. Absolutely amazing stuff! Regrettably I couldn’t stay right until the end because I (we) had a train to catch to catch (made all the more regrettable because I missed Kevin Barry reading the second half of his story, Across the Rooftops), but the Irish visitors rounded off an incredible an unforgettable evening for me.