Fife Readers' Day-arama

The hotel restaurant is slightly more crowded for breakfast than it was last night. Then it was just me, on me tod, with the occasional visit from a young lady waitress / barperson who's tan makes her look like she's been dipped in creosote. Donny O'Rourke - with his magnificent hair hidden under a hat Donny O'Rourke was supposed to be staying here too, but he found out I would be and did a runner instead. Oh yes, he blames 'last minute commitments' and 'standing in for someone who'd fallen ill at another event', but we all know the truth. The irony is that while I have family in the Kingdom of Fife -- She Who Must and the In-Laws of DOOM come from Pitlessie, not far up the road from here -- right now they're all up north at Casa MacBride while I'm down here. And when I go back home, I'll probably pass them on the dual carriageway heading the other way. It seems that Donny isn't the only one with a cunning plan to avoid me. Swines.

In a bizarre inversion of every other UK hotel I've stayed in for years, all the guests are foreign and the staff are local. Normally it's the other way around. But the table next to me is groaning with Polish workmen in overalls trying to order 'mixed eggs', the one in the corner has Italians debating the merits of black pudding with the waitress -- not the one from last night, this one seems to have avoided the whole fake tan thing -- and a couple of Norwegians next to me wanting bacon, eggs and mushrooms, but none of that sausage or pudding madness. Being a patriot I go for the Full Scottish: eggs, beans, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tattie scone, and grilled tomato. Well, it would be disloyal not to.

For me hotel breakfasts always have to be large and fried. It's the only way I can get through the day, given how crap I sleep in these places. Last night was a shining example -- my room had been designed by a sadist with a radiator stuck on full blast. Even with the window open it was like trying to sleep in a sauna. By the time six am staggered its blearily arse into view I'd given up all pretences of being asleep and went back to reading my book instead. Fun, fun, fun.

The drive to Glenrothes is... interesting. I don't remember ordering the fog, but there's a hell of a lot of it, making the motorway look like it's been submerged in rice pudding. A fraught 20 minutes later I get arrive at the venue, having negotiated half a million roundabouts, only to get lost in the multi-storey car park. Ah yes, I am man.

The day kicks off with an intro from Donny -- which is where the extent of my shortcomings become readily apparent. Everyone else on the panel is, like, you know, clever and stuff. They can remember the names of book they've read for a start. Which is more than I can do. James Robertson - thinking about all the extra cash that booker prize longlist has made himIt probably doesn't help that I'm sat next to James Robertson who was longlisted for the Booker Prize this year. Very nice bloke, as are the other panellists, just a lot brighter than I am. Bastards.

"So, can you tell us what book had a profound influence on you as a child?" says Donny. Everyone else comes out with all these classics they've read while I just have a go at OF MICE AND MEN being forced down my throat for O Grade English and hating every minute of it.

After that it goes rapidly downhill. My shining moment of stupidity when I'm asked if there's any literary bubble that needs pricked. And like a halfwit I answer it. Every other bugger on the panel's bright enough to demure, or talk round the subject, but I'm the first to be asked and I say: HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.

Why? You ask. Why have a go at the world's best-loved author? Eh? Eh -- fat beardy boy? Well, I'll tell you. I think JK Rowling is a good writer; worldwide phenomenon; has got loads of people reading again; made more money off her own bat than the Queen. Good luck to her. BUT -- I think her editor should be taken out and given a damn good spanking by a drunken Irish dustbin man dressed as a wizard. I know JKR can write good books, because both THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE and CHAMBER OF SECRETS were just that. But it seems to me that as soon as she started making them a lot of money. Bloomsbury became more interested in counting the cash than editing the books. And as so much of the company's fortunes are dependent on the next Harry Potter hitting the shelves that everything's done in a rush. It's all money now. They're letting their author down by not editing her work.

Anyway, so having attacked a much beloved children's author, we break up for the first Reading Group Sessions. My lot are doing my favourite book: A TOUCH OF FROST by RD Wingfield. Nearly everyone has seen the TV series and they all seem to like the book, except for one lady who's not got round to reading it before the session -- but says she's really looking forward to starting it now she's heard us all waxing lyrical about it -- and William, a slightly elderly chap who likes the TV version better.

I have to admit that I've never really discussed another author's work in depth before. At least not since secondary school, where I hated having to do it. But the session seems to go OK. Lots and lots of interesting input from the reading groups. Which makes me worry about the afternoon -- when it'll be DYING LIGHT on the menu.

After lunch Donny reads some of his poetry and sings a song. Talented bastard. And then we're off again -- me and my afternoon group following Tracey through to the same room as the morning. Three questions in and so far so good... and then the statement every write-ist dreads:

"Well, I didn't like any of the characters."
"Ah... OK." Stuart goes for a disarming smile, but the reader carries on relentlessly.
"And it could have done with a lot less weather."
"Right... anything else?"
"Too many similes. They were all over the place." Clearly not a big fan then.
"I see."
"And the last hundred pages read like they were written by someone else. They were actually quite good."

Which is a bit of a challenge. I'm used to people telling me my work's shite from the safety of an review. But everyone else seems to like the book, though one lady thinks I should ditch Logan and write about DI Steel instead, as she's a lot more interesting. Just goes to show you -- you can't please all of the people all of the time.

But all in all, I'm pleased with the way the session goes, even the less than positive stuff, because it makes for an interesting time. Afterwards no one asks me to sign their naked body parts. And I've been warming a pen in my pocket specially all morning too. *sigh*

After that it's back to the main hall for a Q&A and the last readers' testimony -- where someone stands up and tells us how they got into reading and what books mean to them. Brilliant idea, and each of the three people who stood up and did them got huge rounds of applause. Which was nice.

I have to say that Fife Libraries, under the steely, watchful eye of the lovely June Souter and her excellent team, lay on a damn fine event. I'm putting a hat on specially, just so I can take it off to them. If you get a chance to go to the Readers' Day, I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Now, I think I'm going to curl up and sleep for a week.