As more towns add book fes­ti­vals to their event cal­en­dars, it’s an ex­cit­ing chap­ter for Alexan­der McCall Smith

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

Book fes­ti­vals are spring­ing up across Scot­land to the de­light of Alexan­der McCall Smith

About ten times a year I pack my bags and go off to a book fes­ti­val. The fes­ti­vals may take place in very dif­fer­ent places, but the for­mula, and the au­thors, are usu­ally quite fa­mil­iar. There is a well-used cir­cuit in the lit­er­ary world, and au­thors are ac­cus­tomed to meet­ing one an­other all over the place. I have made friends with peo­ple whom I only ever see in that con­text. There are some au­thors, in­deed, whom one sees at just about ev­ery lit­er­ary fes­ti­val. They are con­demned to trav­el­ling be­tween fes­ti­vals in a never-end­ing loop, stay­ing just one step ahead of repetitive strain in­jury in the hand they use for sign­ing books. The growth of book fes­ti­vals over the last twenty years has been re­mark­able, and there are few sel­f­re­spect­ing towns these days that do not have a book fes­ti­val or are not think­ing of hav­ing one. Scot­land is full of them, rang­ing from pre­mier league events, such as the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Book Fes­ti­val, the Bor­ders Book Fes­ti­val, or Glas­gow’s Aye Write, to tiny de­lights such as the Colon­say Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val, founded and di­rected in its early years with such en­thu­si­asm by Dilly Em­slie. Some of these have be­come spe­cialised, con­cen­trat­ing on a par­tic­u­lar cat­e­gory of book. Bloody Scot­land, which takes place in Stir­ling each au­tumn, is a fes­ti­val of crime writ­ing. There is a great ap­petite for that sort of fes­ti­val. Peo­ple like read­ing about mur­der, for some rea­son, and rel­ish meet­ing the usu­ally rather well-be­haved and in­nocu­ous peo­ple who write about that gory sub­ject. Some years ago I was in­vited to a crime fic­tion con­fer­ence in the United States where the au­di­ence, mostly mid-Western ladies, sat through hair-rais­ing dis­cus­sions of blood-drenched do­ings while – and this was an as­ton­ish­ing thing – they did their knit­ting. Mind you, there were the tri­co­teuses… Some of the in­ter­na­tional book fes­ti­vals are very lav­ish. The su­perb Emi­rates Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val in Dubai in­volves sig­nif­i­cant en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing trips into the desert for par­tic­i­pants, and au­thors brought from the four cor­ners of the globe. Then there is the Jaipur Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val in In­dia, one of the guid­ing spir­its of which is the much-loved Scot­tish au­thor Wil­liam Dal­rym­ple. Willy and his col­league San­joy Roy suc­ceed in putting on what is prob­a­bly the most in­ter­est­ing and var­ied lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in the world. Peo­ple flock to this fes­ti­val in their hun­dreds of thou­sands, and it re­mains free. Won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tions are to be had with the au­di­ence, and in the evening there are par­ties on a mag­nif­i­cent scale. There are painted ele­phants and camel-mounted troops; there are fireeaters; there are fire­works and ir­re­sistible In­dian bands; danc­ing breaks out spon­ta­neously. And of course there are books, and dis­cus­sions about books, all con­ducted with that spe­cial en­thu­si­asm that makes In­dian oc­ca­sions so re­ward­ing. On one oc­ca­sion at Jaipur I was way­laid by an earnest, but en­tirely charm­ing young man who asked me whether he could re­cite to me a poem he had just writ­ten. I agreed, and sat for 20 min­utes in the Fes­ti­val’s venue, the an­cient Diggi Palace, while he in­toned, from mem­ory, his poem about Lud­wig Wittgen­stein. Such meet­ings might not hap­pen in Colon­say, but are pre­cious and won­der­ful. And now Tober­mory – an ob­vi­ous place for a book fes­ti­val – is get­ting in on the act. Late Oc­to­ber will see the first of the West over Sea fes­ti­vals. This fes­ti­val, which at present con­cen­trates on non-fic­tion, has been dreamed up by the Ed­in­burgh pub­lisher Hugh An­drew, along with Dun­can Swin­banks, the Mull book­seller, and Hugh Raven, of Ard­tor­nish. Dun­can’s shop in Tober­mory, Tackle and Books, sells, well, fish­ing tackle and books. It is al­ways a good sign if a busi­ness has a name that re­veals ex­actly what it does. Any fes­ti­val tak­ing place in Tober­mory is bound to be good, and I am look­ing for­ward to hear­ing the speak­ers and go­ing to the lit­er­ary din­ners that are planned. Adam Nicol­son, au­thor of that re­cent mas­terly study of sea birds, The Seabird’s Cry, will be speak­ing. Other speak­ers in­clude Paul Mur­ton, the tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and au­thor of The He­brides, and Colin Mac­In­tyre, also known for his mu­si­cal ca­reer in The Mull His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. There will be a whisky tast­ing (of­fi­cial and tu­tored) and, one as­sumes, sev­eral un­of­fi­cial ones as well. No painted ele­phants or in­fec­tious In­dian bands, but there is al­ways next year.

The growth of book fes­ti­vals over the last twenty years has been re­mark­able

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