I am so happy that Regi Claire agreed to this interview. Because her events were on those days that I stupidly agreed to work! Her anthology of short stories, Fighting It, inspired by a recent battle with cancer, was published by Two Ravens Press earlier this year. There is a very personal account of her illness on the Vulpes Libris blog. Today, however, we are concentrating on more positive things, delighted that Regi is now well and can present at the EIBF 2009 where she was sharing the stage with Andrea McNicoll, whose novel Moonshine In The Morning won the 2009 Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust First Novel Award (formerly known as the Scottish Council Award!).
LS: How did you become part of the 2009 Programme?
RC: It’s a simple story. I was invited by the organisers.
LS: If you’re part of a double-bill, what do you think of the book you’re paired with?
RC: Moonshine in the Morning, by Andrea McNicoll, provides an interesting glimpse of village life in Thailand, focusing on ‘ordinary’ people. Similarly, the stories in my new book, Fighting It, are mostly set abroad (Switzerland, where I grew up, France, the Canaries, the Middle East) and they all give voice to men and women who seem otherwise condemned to suffer in silence.
LS: How did you prepare for the EIBF event? Have you obsessed about your ticket sales?
RC: I had two events this year.
For the Amnesty reading, I very slightly edited the texts (a prose letter and two poems) that I’d been given, then practised reading them several times. I always prepare a lot more when it comes to performing other people’s work as I am keenly aware of my responsibility towards them.
For the reading with Andrea, I knew I’d have to edit the story I’d chosen so it would fit the time slot of 15 to 20 minutes. I started preparing the day before the gig, cutting quite a bit and rewriting a few sentences, reading the text back to myself in a whisper, then performing it aloud – a couple of times to myself and once more to my husband, Ron Butlin, and our dog. I did some final editing on the bus to and from an evening event, then fine-tuned the story one last time in bed, after midnight.
I don’t think it’s worth spending time (and energy!) worrying about sales.
LS: It’s the morning of your event – what happened beforehand? Are there any rituals to be followed before you step on the stage?
RC: A mad dash as usual. For my own event (at 10.15 am): getting up too late, then running to the bus stop, putting on the earrings and final touches of makeup on the bus while scan-reading the story one last time, then another sprint from the bus stop in George Street to the authors’ yurt.
Can going for a quick pee and brushing my hair be called rituals?
LS: How did the events go?
RC: Both events went really well. Pretty much a full house each time, and lots of books sold.
The Amnesty reading was very moving as, thanks to the charity ‘The Medical Foundation for the Care and Resettlement of the Victims of Torture’, the authors of the texts were present and introduced themselves to the audience before we read (‘we’ being Moris Fahri, Otto de Kat, Ron Butlin, and myself). One young man, from Iran, struck us all as exceptionally gifted, and I’m quite sure we’ll hear more of him. His pen name is ‘Dusk’.
The event with Andrea worked very well as we seemed to complement each other perfectly, with respect to both our work and our style of performance. The literary agent Jenny Brown was excellent at introducing us and then chairing the Q and A session. So, only happy memories!
LS: How did you choose which extract to read?
RC: I chose a story that was listener-friendly – with dialogue, vivid descriptions and action – fun to perform and which I hadn’t read at a venue in Edinburgh before.
LS: Book-signing – love it or hate it?
RC: I enjoy interacting with my readers, and find it a rather humbling experience. I always make sure to have a quick word with them rather than just sign their books like a machine.
LS: What did you do after the book-signing?
RC: My husband and a very good Swiss friend of mine went back to the authors’ yurt for a chat with Andrea and Jenny, and a celebratory drink with some other writer friends (even though it wasn’t quite lunchtime yet…).
LS: How do you feel about book festivals in general? The EIBF in particular?
RC: I love book festivals, both as a performer and as a reader. They provide a wonderful opportunity for authors to meet their audience as well as fellow authors. Having lived in Scotland for the past 16 years, I’ve got to know many of the writers based here, but the EIBF (with its magic authors’ yurt) has allowed me to make the acquaintance of authors from (much) further afield, which has been really exciting. This time round, we made friends with a writer from New York, George Dawes Greene, who set up ‘The Moth’. We ended up going out for dinner with him and some friends three evenings in a week.
LS: Did you attend any other book festival events?
RC: Yes, quite a few. My husband’s events, of course, but also several others. So far Margaret Drabble, Ian Rankin, A L Kennedy, Alasdair Gray, (The European premiere of) The Moth, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes (the latter was held during a power failure, which meant that the chairman, judges and winners had to speak/read by torchlight, without mikes – quite an experience!). I enjoyed them all and hope to have learned from each of them in a different way. And I’m looking forward to hearing Dubravka Ugresic, Frank Gardner and Margaret Atwood over the coming days.
LS: Thanks, Regi. Would you mind telling me (in comments) the title of the story you read? I’ll be reading your anthology during my Short Story September and I’d like to relive the atmosphere in the Spiegeltent at Charlotte Square.