Added on Wednesday 17 Mar 2010
I know I've said it before, but doesn't time fly! It doesn't seem like a year since I sat with my old friend Larry Butler, listening to Esther Wolfson and Sara Maitland in the Mitchell library. I didn't bump into Larry this year but I did take in some great events with other very good friends. I went to Willy Maley on Irvine Welsh on the Sunday with Pat Byrne. Billed as 'one of Scotland's leading literary commentators' Willy Maley was to provide an 'entertaining introduction' to Welsh. I'm sad to say that I didn't find the event entertaining at all. The talk resembled an academic lecture more than a book festival event. Willy Maley read from written notes, with repeated emphasis on what I assumed were bullet points. His language too, was that of the lecture theatre with references to Derrida and Kierkegaard, and terms like strident critique and specificity. He also read long passages from what, by now, had become the texts. When comparing James Kelman with Welsh, Kelman's 'individualism' became the 'enemy of socialism'. Long passages from Welsh's books were read aloud and I found the whole tone and timbre of the talk tedious in some parts and confusing in others. However, perhaps that was just me. I'm sure not everyone would agree.
Later that afternoon, I went with my friend Donal McLaughlin to hear Andrew Greig discuss and read from his new memoir 'At The Loch Of The Green Corrie'. Part memoir, part adventure and part tribute to the late Norman McCaig. Shortly before his death McCaig had asked Greig to find and fish for him at his favourite place, the Loch of the Green Corrie in the north west highlands. Andrew Greig told us of his first meeting with McCaig When he was still at school, he sent the great poet some of his poems and in return received an invitation to visit. McCaig gently told "these poems are quite like mine. Could you not do some of your own?" The packed audience listened as Andrew read passages from the book and told wryly humorous tales, including the one about travelling in the prawn lorry to London with his band mate to see a music producer and ending up as John Martin's support act. I enjoyed every minute of this event and couldn't wait to read the book. But it looks like I'll have to. It isn't out until April 1st. There were thirty advance copies on sale after the event but as the queue for signed copies snaked down a long corridor and round a couple of corners we knew we hadn't a hope of getting one. I had coffee with Chris Dolan a couple of days later and he had a revue copy. Could I get it off him? Decided that mugging him in the Atrium cafe maybe wasn't a good idea, so roll on April 1st.
I went along on my own for more memoirs on Thursday at the Granta Biography Panel with Janice Galloway, Rupert Thomson and William Fiennes, chaired by Stuart Kelly. I'd already read and enjoyed Janice Galloway's This Is Not About Me and William Fiennes The Music Room. Rupert Thomson read a beautifully moving extract from his This Party's Got To Stop which made me long to read it too. Speaking of their very different tales of life in a damp Saltcoats flat, a moated castle and a middle-class Eastbourne home, the three writers, with a great deal of humour, illuminated, in Galloway's words 'the childhood you get' no matter who you are. Rupert Thomson spoke of biography as a detective story, a digging for his past and also a love letter to his estranged brother; Janice Galloway of breaking down categories and William Fiennes spoke of squirming at the very term me-moir. All three read well and handled questions sensitively and I thought this was a truly wonderful event.
Maggie nae mates was on her own again on Saturday for Susie Orbach, but only because pat Byrne wasn't well, (Hope you're feeling better, Pat) Orbach's Fat Is A Feminist Issue, which she refers to as FIFI, was published in 1978 and became known as a pioneering work of feminist debate. Her latest, Bodies, seems likely to be the same. Orbach, author and psychotherapist was interviewed by Ann Johnston, whose almost bullying tone I found a bit off-putting. Orbach didn't seem to have the same problem, though. She eloquently spoke of the image of the body in a wide range of cultures, where it has become who we are, as opposed to how we look. Covering everything from the pressure on new mothers to return to pre pregnancy size soon after giving birth, to the food and diet industries, cosmetic surgery and the sexualisation of little girls, she was interesting, stimulating and entertaining throughout. She answered questions (some sensitive) with compassion as well as helpful information and was not afraid of using her own experiences as woman, daughter and mother. I'm sure we all left the main hall walking a little taller and straighter at the end.
I hung around in the Herald cafe till it was time for my next event, bumping into (literally) Germaine Greer on the way. Shame the tickets for her were sold out. I even hung around waiting for cancelations, but there were none to be had. However, she didn't seem to have changed at all since I last saw her in 1991. I went along to What Book Changed Your Life? which stemmed from a Scottish Book Trust campaign that asked people throughout Scotland that very question. Instead of the entire population we had Alan Bissett on Clive Barker's Weaveworld, a fantasy novel he read at the age of fourteen, in which a young boy falls through a carpet into another world. Ewan Morrison's choice was Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, read in youth and retrieved in his twenties in New York, and Sara Sheridan found T C Boyle's Water Music to be just the kind of historical fiction she wanted to write, All three were funny and interesting on their own choices and on Book Trust project.
So that was it, over for another year. I missed quite a few events I'd maybe have liked, and went to one I maybe should've given a miss but all in all I had a great time. Most of the books featured at the festival were available in the lending library, so I took a big bag with me. I had coffee with Pat, Donal and poet Brian Wittingham, hugged Alan Bisset and bumped into Germaine Greer. Did I mention that? I might even review some of the books next time.