The opening weekend of the Edinburgh Book Festival is always special but this year particularly so. For starters, the sun was shining and the lawn was mobbed. It has been at least 3 years since I saw scenes like this.

Ice-creams, sun-bathing and, of course,  pre-requisite noses in newly purchased and signed books.  The Slap very much in evidence on Saturday afternoon as Christos Tsiolkas had the honour of opening the 2010 Book Festival at 10:00 am. 

Three Jim’s launched James Robertson’s new novel And the Land Lay Still on Saturday afternoon at an event which may receive my event of the year accolade.  The standard has been set. You just know that when James Naughtie steps onto the stage to chair that the audience is in for a treat … and the author for a grilling.  Fortunately there is an obvious friendship between Mr Naughtie and James Robertson, so the banter remained good-natured. Naughtie pressed Robertson to explain some of the obvious symbolism in his book after  Robertson read a section in which a tramp gives a pebble to a young boy.  Is it a symbolic act, Naughtie wanted to know, particularly in a novel about the changing political landscape of Scotland during the 50’s and 60’s, a country whose political identity is tied with the stone of destiny.  Sometimes, Robertson replied, an author doesn’t see all the implications of what he has written until after the event.  So maybe it is symbolic, maybe not.  What a cop-out! replied a very naughty Naughtie.  And so it continued.  The third Jim, singer James Hutchison, pitched in with two beautiful songs.  Absolutely exquisite.  The singer and his voice – pictured right – best described by Robertson in And The Land Lay Still.

The singer is a burly, fine-looking character with snowy-white hair and moustache …. Don tries to join in, humming the tune, but the sound sticks in his throat.  So he mouths the words instead, he has them as suddenly and effortlessly as if he sang them only this morning in the shower,but he never had a singing voice like this man’s, slow and rich and gentle and glorious.

Sunday saw another first. Cornelia Funke ‘s new novel Reckless will be released simultaneously in 12 countries on September 14.  The embargo is so strict that the book festival was not allowed to sell copies in advance (which is almost unheard of).  However, the author spoke of it and even read from the first chapter to an enthralled younger audience.  I suspect I’ll enjoy this more than Inkheart.  Funke has created a brand new world, more modern than the medievalism of the Inkheart Trilogy and resonating with the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.  I’ve been meaning to construct a reading trail based on fairy tales for a while.  I suspect this may be the book to start me on my way. 

Adults can learn much from the enthusiasm of child audiences.  At least 40 minutes of the hour was devoted to audience questions and there was absolutely no letup.  None of that embarrassed silence that can prevail – if the chair isn’t adequately prepared –  at adult events.

There wasn’t much time for audience questions at Regi Claire and Ron Butlin’s event.  Normally this is a problem for me but not so here.  Both authors – they are husband and wife – read two pieces – one short, one longer, one from published short stories and one from finished novels, which have now been lodged with their agents.  More literary exclusives, if you will, and all I want to say to those agents is get a move on! I want to read them both …. now!

In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with reading those unscheduled purchases from both authors backlists ….  I know they will be good.  I read Regi Claire’s short story anthology Fighting It!  during last year’s festival.  My review fell victim to time constraints as I dashed back and forth to Edinburgh.  However, a year later, parts of it are still vivid in my memory – evidence of the power behind the words.  I agree wholeheartedly  with this review on Vulpes Libris.  Regi Claire read – and it must be said – acted out the title story in which a convicted murderess is working out her frustrations in an exercise cage.  The story that stayed with me most from last year’s reading is the final one chronicling the struggles of an aging dog.  Very poignant and as the owner of an 16-year old pouch, I can vouch for its accuracy.  Regi Claire confirmed it is solidly based in her own personal experience.  Ron Butlin is the current Edinburgh Makar – poet laureate, but he writes novels and short stories too.   His collection Vivaldi and the Number 3 consists of zany stories in which famous people from the past are pitched into absurd situations.  So we heard how Vivaldi reacted when he was prevented from going on holiday because all flights have been grounded due to the declaration of war.  I see now from the blurb that  the stoicism of Seneca is tested when he moves to 21st century Edinburgh.   I can’t wait to see how he gets on because one day Edinburgh may seduce me into doing the same thing …..