Rubbing Shoulders with Val McDermid
Although I’ve always been an avid reader, I admit this was my first book festival. Previously, time, opportunity, and desire hadn’t combined to facilitate such an endeavour, but, as a New Year’s resolution, I promised myself this year would be different. So at the beginning of May, after six hours of bus travel that included a quick trip across the North West Highlands, I sat in Ullapool village hall, surreptitiously observing other participants and waiting for the speaker.
After a lively talk, I stood outside stretching my legs and enjoying the long northern evening. Even though it was eight o’clock, the sun still shone on the cherry blossom trees lining the street.
‘Do you write?’ I asked the sprightly man standing next to me.
‘Oh, yes, poetry and such. I like playing with words.’
And so the conversation continued as I talked about my efforts at self-publishing. It wasn’t till I saw his picture in the brochure I realized I’d been talking to Ian Stephen, whose first book was a 2014 book of the year in the Guardian and Herald newspapers. Declaring your ignorance of someone’s work to their face is embarrassing, but I did gain an important insight as to how the Ullapool Book Festival works.
Ullapool is a tiny coastal village on the west of Scotland with a picturesque backdrop of snow tipped mountains on one side and cobalt blue sea on the other. It's on the tourist route for cyclists, walkers, climbers etc., and caters well for visitors. Many book festival attendees are regulars, and have attended for years. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and the volunteers, who are the backbone of the festival, are enthusiastic, and do their best to oblige whatever request you make of them.
Over the next two days, I listened to writers from South Africa, Malaysia, Ireland, and Canada. Scottish writers, novelists and poets, writing in Gallic and English were also well represented. All the speakers had received critical acclaim, and many were recipients of prestigious awards either from the UK or from their respective countries. I admit I hadn’t read any of their novels or heard of them - except Val McDermid, who has appeared on television. However, as I don’t read crime fiction, I hadn’t read any of her books either. Despite my non-existent relationship to the writers or their books, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them talk about their novels.
Most speakers attended every session and stood in queues with the rest of us, which was how I got chatting, along with others, to Val McDermid. Val came across as a frank, open, and a what you see is what you get kind of person despite the large number of awards she has won, and we shared jokes of various experiences queuing in other parts of the world. I found her talk the most relevant as she spoke more about her writing processes than the other writers, and is a prolific series writer.
In conclusion, as a PR exercise for authors, and a chance to rub shoulders dusted with glamorous praise by the critics, I think book festivals are a good thing. When writers discuss their books, they reveal the love they put into their writing. I came away thinking about how hard these writers work to tell their stories, which, in turn, increased my determination to tell mine.
Will I go again? Possibly - it’ll depend on which writer is appearing. Will I attend any others, such as the Edinburgh Book Festival, which is easier to get to though situated in a less scenic setting? Same answer. Will I visit Ullapool again? Most definitely. I enjoyed hearing these writers speak, but I fell in love with Ullapool, and will most certainly visit again.
But one thing is sure; if I ever attend another book festival, I’ll never, ever, ask anyone if they write.
I’m slowly digesting the fact that I’ve finished the first draft of Book Two in my Samsara Trilogy, but before I put it to sleep, I’m bugged by the urge to adjust the inciting incident. Should I do that now, as it could open a Pandora’s box that may take more than just a bit of tweaking to fix, or leave it till I return refreshed to embark on the odyssey of editing? Or am I just experiencing a certain reluctance to leave an internal landscape I’ve inhabited for the last so many hours, days and months?
Other projects sitting on the back burner are two nano novels; I could make a start on a screenplay I want to turn into a novel; update the website; and there’s always the marketing and PR activities that accompany an indie writer.
Lurking in the shadows are my de-cluttering goals. I’d stopped talking about my spare room, but it’s back on the agenda as I can’t claim the more pressing need to write as an excuse anymore. I want to paint the living room etc., etc. Then there’s the garden where a machete might be more practical than a hoe.
So there’s plenty of work to do. First, though, I have to firm up my will, grit my teeth, and say goodbye to Tatya, Vanse and Angelus, reassuring them, and myself, it’s only temporary, and I’ll be back soon. In the meantime there’s the cover to consider ... though the thought of doing absolutely nothing for a few days is increasingly attractive.
writer envy strikes
a small stabbing pinch - cripples
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
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