Edinburgh Festivalities

MacBride Does Edinburgh

I’ve never set foot in a yurt before. It feels a bit like a tent and a wigwam have had drunken sex, and nine months later out pops the special, secret, private yurt for the writers attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Lin Anderson and Alex Gray – my fellow panellists – are already here, chatting to Paul Johnston who’s going to be in charge of this evening’s event. Alex, who writes police procedurals set in Glasgow, has a copy of her latest book under her arm. She’s come prepared to do a reading. Bugger. I’ve not come prepared to do anything. Readings were verboten on the panel at Harrogate, so I kinda assumed that they’d be verboten here too. I’ve not even brought a copy of Cold Granite with me. Lin’s also ready to do a reading from her book (she does a series of thrillers featuring a forensic scientist). Again: bugger. Paul can obviously see the panic in my eyes because he tells me that I don’t have to do a reading if I don’t want to, but it might look a bit odd if I don’t. “I haven’t brought a copy of my book with me.” I tell him, stalling for time. “It’s OK,” says he, “you can borrow mine.” And thrice more bugger. So this means that while they’re all chatting and getting comfy, I’m desperately scrabbling through his copy, trying to find something I’m not going to make a bloody mess of. Scrabble, scrabble, scrabble…

By the time I’ve found it, it’s time to go, so no chance to give it a quick once through. The book festival has set up shop in Charlotte Square at the west end of George Street. It’s a little tented village with covered walkways a café, a children’s bookshop, another for the grownups and a huge beer tent done up to look like the Moulin Rouge. Our event is next door to the yurt and the audience is already seated, little knowing they’re about to be subjected to an unprepared bearded write-ist. Bloody idiot.

The Panel
Paul, Alex, Some Bearded Bloke and Lin

There’s some sort of Belgian Jazz playing as we walk in and get set up, which makes it feel oddly artificial, like we’re about to tape a game show or something. Paul kicks things off, does the introductions and says nice things about all three of our books, and then it’s into the readings. Alex is first – we’re going boy, girl, boy, so I’m up next – and does a fine job of it. Then it’s me. Deep breath, tell the story about having to do a reading in Norwegian, and off we go… No one throws anything. People laugh at the right bits. Round of applause at the end. Sigh of relief. Then it’s Lin’s turn and all is well with the world.

Lin and Alex have obviously done this before, because they come across as relaxed, friendly and interesting. But then they’ve been friends for years, go so far as to attend a forensic medicine course at Glasgow University together – resulting in a very funny anecdote about a crime scene, an Alsatian, a snake, and a man with an axe in his head. And not only are they funny, they’re both really nice too. So is Paul, who handles the panel like a man born to wrangle rabid hamsters.

After the readings it’s time for Paul to ask questions, bit of banter, then it’s the audience participation segment. “Who’d like to ask the first question?” says Paul, smiling at the crowd. Silence. Tumbleweed. Eventually a tentative hand is raised at the back and we’re off again. When the questions are done the Belgian Jazz is faded up again – and we all sit there like boiled melons, waiting to get our mikes unclipped, all we need is a set of credits rolling across the screen to make the whole game show thing complete.

A lot of the audience come through to the signing tent afterwards; some have even bought my book! Nice people, lovely people. “Would you like a drink?” Paul asks Lin and Alex and me before we start signing. Being a good Scottish beard I say thanks very much and ask for a wee nippy sweetie. There is nothing wee about what arrives five minutes later: it’s a massive Glenmorangie, I could have a bath in it, there’s that much. Hurrah!

One of these people has just broken wind
One of these people has just broken wind

After that it’s off to the Moulin Rouge for a post signing beer with Alan and Debbie. Nice couple. It’s the first time I’ve been able to have a sensible conversation about the gastronomic merits of Hooters Bars and Frank’s Hot Sauce (why the hell can’t I find a shop over here that stocks it?). Mmm, buffalo wings… The effect is only slightly spoiled by the bar’s switch machine being up the kybosh, so it’s cash only. Fiona and I scour pockets and handbag to come up with enough change to buy a round. All four of us are still there come closing time, the conversation having drifted from books to cats to corpses to flying squirrels to my John Rickards impersonation. With nary a badger in sight.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go paint the house.