And then it rained. The Edinburgh Book Festival began for me with a summer crime wave with new books launched from Val McDermid, Doug Johnstone, Mary Paulson Ellis and Ambrose Parry (aka Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman).
David Grossman was in conversation with Elif Shafak, David Peace was joined by Chris Power and the third of the Reading Scotland films, encapsulating Helen McClory’s new novel, was premiered.
There is no post pandemic mollycoddling of the media this year, no Charlotte Square venue and no free press tickets for events. Or vino russo in plastic cups.
The organisers have inclined towards Rangers’ proposed line and are making the media pay for their seats in the theatres around the old fire station courtyards, although the press manager, Frances Sutton, made those of us who turned up most welcome.
There were fewer scribblers than usual around the place although BBC Scotland’s culture correspondent, Dumbarton woman Pauline McLean, turned up at Edinburgh Art College in Lauriston Place.
As did her erstwhile BBC colleague, the veteran broadcaster Allan Little, who now holds a prestigious post as one of the leading lights inn this festival.
Why so few this year? I would speculate that this was down to the parsimony of the 21st century press owners, who have deep pockets in extremis. They know nothing of journalists and their expenses.
I am not enamoured of crime fiction, or of crime writers for that matter. Well, one crime writer anyway.
Having met Ian Rankin at a previous festival when he took on the role of pushy doorman. I wondered out loud at the time if he was confused and had become a real policeman. Or a bouncer?
Or did he just not appreciate all the press had done to help him promote his reputation as the king of Scotland’s crime writers.
Anyway, it was the queen of Scotland’s crime writers, Val McDermid, I decided to lend an ear to on the big screen outside in the Festival courtyard.
The Queen of Tartan Noir, Val McDermid, has sold 16 million copies of her books.
Not because I knew and admired her previous work, although I had of course heard of it.
But because she had once been a journalist with a Glasgow tabloid after graduating from Oxford University, which is no’ bad for a wee working class lassie frae Fife.
Many people would view the description Daily Record journalist as an oxymoron, and to some extent Val McDermid appears to be one of them.
She was unimpressed with how the Record’s editorial department operated back in 1979, which just happens to be the name of her latest novel.
The story has been written around a young female reporter of which there were not many in that era, and how her stories were frequently re-written beyond recognition by the paper’s sub editors.
Val said she was irritated by the fact that today’s journalists would frequently plunder her twitter feed for ideas for stories and not bother as much as to to contact her to check the truth of them.
She agreed with me later that only the technology that facilitated this outrage had changed and, before the advent of computers, it was local newspapers that were robbed of their exclusives by the nationals – “I suppose that’s right,” she told me when I bought a copy of her new book. It cost me £20, but she signed it, which is always something.
I will let regular readers of this Notebook readers know in due course if I like it.
My first thoughts on 1979 though on leafing through the first few chapters were that I might not relish sitting down to it and that some of what she wrote about newspapers and newspaper people was verisimilitude, not quite true.
I think too that Val should have built an ongoing relationship with the Record sub editors who might have picked up on the fact that she hadn’t got Woman’s Guilds right.
Anyone who has done a proper journalistic apprenticeship in a local newspaper will remember being corrected on that one – and nearly everyone was – and that it’s not, no, nay, never Women’s Guilds as Val has it.
However, I suppose I am being picky, pedantic even, which is what most grizzled veterans of this fast vanishing trade are. We all need to be talked about so that people know we are not dead, not yet. Sorry Val.
The spy Anthony Blount, Master of the Queen’s paintings, once wrote to a friend: “Please write and let us know if you are dead so that we may send flowers.”
That rain I referred to did not fall lightly or lightly fall on the nearby hills and fields as James Joyce put it in his short story The Dead.
It came down like stair rods and sent everyone scurrying for shelter in such wonderful places as Sandy Bell’s public house in Forrest Road, where a pint of Guinness costs a fiver, but was well worth producing your plastic card for.
Cash as we know it is fast disappearing in Scotland’s capital city — almost as quickly as a pint of the black stuff in Sandy Bell’s.
Doubtless, however, that debit card will be produced a few more times before this festival is over. Bring on the rain.
The aforementioned press manager Frances Sutton tells me that if you wish to find photographs of the Festival, events that have taken place and general activity, then she will be uploading them and will post them on a daily basis here
BOOK FESTIVAL EVENTS – Monday 23 August
09:30 Drawalong with Eilidh Muldoon (Facebook)
10:00 Eilidh Muldoon: Sandy Toes & Inky Fingers**
10:15 What’s the T? With Juno Dawson & Special Guests
11:30 One City: A Just Capital?**
13:00 Jessie Greengrass & Gwendoline Riley: The Agony of Love**
13:15 Jon McGregor: Taking Writing to Extremes
14:30 Alison Bechdel: Can Exercise Fix Us?**
16:00 Amartya Sen: Home & Humanity
16:15 Minouche Shafik: Recipe for a Better Society**
17:30 Reading Scotland: Graeme Armstrong: Welcome tae Airdrie**
19:00 Natasha Brown & Olivia Sudjic: Unravelling Lives**
19:15 Damon Galgut: Ghosts of Apartheid
20:30 Songs from Scotland**
Scotrail run a train service from Helensburgh, Cardross and the Dumbarton stations direct to Edinburgh. It’s well worth catching one to take in this festival, which has something on its programme for nearly everyone.