The welcoming committee were on hand – lined up, all spick and span ready for the next 17 days of bookishness. The rubber ducks are iconic – they are as much a part of the festival as the books and authors themselves.
In an unusual start for me, my first event was a non-fictional one. Having spent the last 4 weeks removing all traces of myself from the office, discarding 20 years worth of notebooks, files and the like, the title of Alexander Masters latest A Life Discarded proved quite intriguing. It is a story of discovery, a story of how Masters pieced together the identity of an unknown diarist having studied 148 diaries that had been discovered in a skip. Not as easy as it sounds because diarists speak more of others than themselves, there being no need to reveal their names, gender or details of their appearance. Masters told of the surprising numbers of wrong assumptions he made and false trails he followed to identify his diarist. And then after 4 years of research, he made a discovery that threatened publication … When he revealed it to the audience, there was an audible gasp of astonishment. The fact that the book has appeared means that disasters have been averted, but the whole story shows that fact can be just as fascinating as fiction.
The book festival is as much about discovering new authors for me as about listening to established favourites. And Geoff Dyer has been on my radar for a while, and, as I have plans for significant amounts of travelling during my “gap year” – i.e 1st year of retirement – his latest White Sands will be the first of his I read. But what is White Sands – travelogue, fiction, non-fiction, a collection of essays? Dyer wouldn’t say, but playfully hammed it up, reading from an anecdote (?) in which his wife Rebecca has been renamed Jessica. What is that all about?, he asked. He was merciless to his chair as well. The chair was once Dyer’s publisher at Hamish Hamilton. Remember that funny little book The Missing of the Somme asked Dyer. The one that didn’t sell? Not surprisingly really that Hamish Hamilton are no longer publishing me. This was the event of the day – ascerbic wit and sardonic commentary, plus the honesty to talk about how expectations of place don’t always converge with him to produce a piece of writing. I can’t wait to read White Sands now.
At my final event of the day, it was lovely to welcome Rosie Goldsmith, champion of translated fiction, to the Edinburgh Book Festival stage. She was chairing an event with multi-million-copy-Girl-on-a-train fastest-ever-adult-novel-selling Paula Hawkins together with Turkish crime writer Esmahan Aykol, author of 4 Kati Hirschel crime novels, 4 of which have been translated into English. (As it’s Women in Translation month, I’ll focus on Aykol in a separate post.) The discussion was wide-ranging, and lively and reminded me of just how good The Girl on The Train is – although I can’t remember much. (That’s what happens when I read on a Kindle.). In addition, Rosie Goldsmith fearlessly asked the question that we all wonder about. To Hawkins: So what’s life like now you’ve got all that money? As Hawkins stared at her in stunned silence, Goldsmith added, surely all your friends have asked that? Yes, agreed Hawkins, but they’re not usually that direct! I loved it, and hope that I attend more of Goldsmith’s events this year.