Hazel McHaffie

Festival City

The world’s largest public celebration of the written word, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is in full swing, and it’s right here, slap bang on my doorstep. Lucky me! It’s the one annual event I book tickets for, the day the programme comes out. Reminds me of the olden days, people queuing from dawn for the summer sales!

For those of you who don’t know, the EIBF takes place in Charlotte Square in the heart of Edinburgh, which is full of marquees for the occasion. It hosts 17 days of events – hundreds of them, and lots of famous names. And it always rains! But nobody cares about the puddles and drips, or the sound of each thunderous deluge on canvas. Or even ploughing through the maze of roadworks caused by the coming of trams to our fair city at some future date – which incidentally keeps receding like the pot of gold at the foot of a springtime rainbow. No, the rewards for coming far outweigh any minor inconveniences like that.

Every year I’m utterly staggered by the thousands of people who turn up to listen to authors – both the famous and the unknown, and the calibre of questions they ask. This time I’m not presenting, so I haven’t got to quiver and quake in the authors’ yurt in anticipation of a barrage aimed directly at me, but I’ve just had the pleasure of helping to host the Society of Authors in Scotland party in the Party Pavilion Tent. What a venue! At the very core of this major festival of words; a celebration within a celebration. A fantastic chance to meet so many interesting people – authors, publishers, agents, festival directors – over wine and dips.

I’m awash with news, wine, business cards, advice, goodies from sponsors, enthusiasm. And even renewed resolve to tackle the bits of publishing I’m allergic to. (I’ve just spent an hour doing exactly that before sneaking back into my comfort zone with this blog.) Hearing from fellow-writers about mutual struggles is empowering as well as energising.

And what’s more, I’ve still got a fistful of tickets to take me through the snarled-up traffic, over the sodden grass, past the uniquely helpful EIBF staff (they must be hand-picked), and into all my chosen events over the next glorious fortnight. Can this be called ‘work’?

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