The Butler (my husband, not the movie) planned to spend August covering his colleagues’ holidays rather than take one himself. Fine with me, as I had a novel that needed attention. However. I didn’t do the responsible thing when one evening he said, ‘I have a few days off. Let’s go to the Edinburgh Book Festival.’
The process of novel writing is a strange game of what-if.
Neil Gaiman 22/08/13
We took the afternoon train that rides the east coast, one of my favourite trips. A friend met us on Princes Street, took us to Charlotte Square which had been transformed into a secret village. There were no passport checks, but we definitely had crossed the border into Somewhere Else.
If you ignore your inside voice, you ignore it at your peril.
Mark Billingham 23/08/13
Once inside, there was settledness to the place. Not the spiritual tranquillity of a religious building, not an ivory tower concept or romantic notion, but the still hum of a thousand intellects invoking the imagination.
It’s the journalist's business to write about politics. The writer must write about more important things. What is important in life is of the world without words. The writer translates and is above the level of politics.
Mikhail Shishkin 23/08/13
They weren’t all well behaved intellects. Children raced and screamed and had tantrums. Staff had to pick up litter. These people got drunk, one woman shouting, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck photography,’ and sent the Festival photo team skeedaddling.
We’re inured to violence. Fiction gets over the issue fatigue, a sneaky bastard that comes at you from the side.
Lauren Beukes 23/08/13
A thick Scottish accent bellowed at us to get in the queue. Book signings ran like conveyor belts watched over by security. Inside all of that, though, something felt different.
I imagine Ian Rankin walks around Edinburgh to find a car park to stuff a body. Kind of like the Easter Bunny.
Margaret Atwood 24/08/13
Our second day there, everyone abandoned me for their sessions. I grabbed an ice cream and a deck chair, sat down with my manuscript. Next to me gathered a multi-generational family. A set of middle-aged grandparents, several thirty-something parents.
Sometimes people are undone by success.
Stephen Grosz 24/08/13
The grandfather carried a baby, talked to it, explained what the rest of the family were doing. Nothing significant about this bunch until the other children returned.
The true inspiration for the writer is the bank manager.
Andrew Grieg 24/08/13
Kids young enough to speed across the square with their picture books were greeted like lionesses who’d returned with food for the pride. Adults squatted to hear the stories even if the child went through the book backwards.
I love challenge. At least I say that to myself before it’s started. Halfway through, I say, this is the most terrible challenge!
Antonia Fraser 25/08/13
And when the excitement calmed down, ice cream for everyone. My kind of family, I can tell you. They know what it takes to raise a kid. Ice cream and books.
I feel this is an audience full of women laughing and men, not.
Naomi Alderman 25/08/13
El Punko later tweeted, Can we live here? That’s how I felt, as though I’d found the lost tribe of my native people. Nothing tangibly different on the outside, but on the inside – if we could do DNA tests on the soul, you’d find something a bit peculiar.
If you want a virtual reality experience that takes you out of reality, read a novel.
Valerie Martin 25/08/13
Between sessions, we sat in deck chairs and read or wrote. Some of us fell asleep. We ran into old friends, met new ones, shared writing opportunities, lusted over book after book after book. Bought way too many. Ate some of the best cake I’ve ever had.
Zombies are not good on skates.
Margaret Atwood 25/08/13
Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the intelligence on the panel, both writers and moderators. Sometimes I felt I’d underachieved. Sometimes I felt enthused about my craft, couldn’t wait to get back to the deck chair and write write write. After some ice cream, of course.
Burke and Hare had their good side.
Ian Rankin 26/08/13
At one of Margaret Atwood’s sessions, a man asked her what to do with all the stories in your head, if you weren’t a writer. She said something close to: Anybody who can write things down is a writer. Then it’s up to you to become a better writer. (Take that, all you people who belittle writers who aren’t yet Margaret Atwood.)
My feeling about her is she’s the perfect corporate wife. (Lady MacBeth)
Margaret Atwood 26/08/13
Which is who El Punko wants to be when he grows up. At first I was surprised he didn’t want to be Neil Gaiman, but then I realised Neil Gaiman hasn’t grown up yet, which is really quite lovely. I think becoming Margaret Atwood is an admirable goal, even without the writing bit.
A book can be as many books as it can be.
Valerie Martin 26/08/13
My experience of the festival, though obviously limited, was that it lacked the usual hierarchy. This is a craft and everyone there loved it; some of us in the creation but all of us in the appreciation of it. So while there was a yurt where the writers could hide, they also sat with their families in deck chairs, stood in line for talks, bought ice cream from the stand without being mobbed.
Adults have no attention span. They give up and go away long before you’re finished. (Having stories read to you.)
Neil Gaiman 26/08/13
That ethos, perhaps, of egalitarianism, reinforced in me the need for writers (and all creatives) to support each other in an honest but positive fashion. That includes supporting yourself as well, despite people who don’t believe you have something to say. If Ian Rankin and Mary Talbot and Val MacDermid don’t mind walking among the rest of us, then feck the begrudgers and walk here as well.
We were just talking about Jane Austen’s underwear.
Margaret Atwood 24/08/13
*All writer quotes are as close to what was said as possible.