Hazel McHaffie

A festival of books

It’s a curious thing. With all the rumours about the decline of book publishing, easy access to e-books, the increase in DVDs, book festivals are still enormously popular.

This is the second week of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and Charlotte Square, with its landmark marquees and wooden walkways, is positively seething with visitors paying good money to attend the hundreds of events. And yet there have been no publicity campaigns, no flyers being thrust into reluctant fists, no headlines emblazoned on the sides of buses, no billboards. Indeed, I haven’t seen a single advert for the event.

No, people just know it’s on. As soon as the box office opens they queue for hours to snap up precious tickets; they travel huge distances; they brave the inevitable rain … simply to listen to authors talking about their work. Shows are sold out – sometimes before tickets are even available to the masses. Devotees queue to buy books at full price; they earnestly discuss their favourite authors at chance meetings. Books are truly valued.

And in return, those attending get to be up close and personal with the big names. Luminaries like Alexander McCall Smith, Will Self, Philip Pullman, Simon Callow, Margaret Drabble, Iain Banks, AS Byatt … are within touching distance. They are to be seen strolling between the authors’ yurt and their venues looking to all intents and purposes like ordinary mortals; they chat amiably as they scribble personal inscriptions on fly leaves; they engage in eye contact with members of the audience whose tongues untie soon enough to ask questions.

Yes, there’s no doubt that in the capital this month the book is very much alive and well. Indeed, this particular festival is the largest celebration of the written word in the world!  And thanks to my Edinburgh publisher, two of my books are there on the shelves in the famous tented bookshop. How privileged am I?

More about specifics next week, when the frenzy dies down and we go back to our ordinary personae.

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