Before becoming a writer, I had never been to a book festival. I feel a bit guilty about admitting this. I can try to justify it by saying that the only festival I ever lived close to was the Edinburgh Book Festival and while it was on I was busy working for the Edinburgh Film Festival. A giant whopper of a book festival happened on my doorstep and I was too busy to make it to any events.
Like I said, I can try to justify it.
But, I think the reason that I never went is that my relationship with books is essentially, private. Especially if they are books I care about. I love the words on the page and the story that they create within me. But I don’t necessarily extend that love to the person who wrote the words. The author is a kind of mother-in-law – instrumental in bringing about the being you love, but not someone you need around thereafter. When I was a child reader, it was the people in the books that mattered, not their creator; Darryl Rivers was my best friend, Enid Blyton was just the signature on the front cover.
I’m thinking about this now, as I’ve just done my first solo, public event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The event itself was lovely. A bijoux audience, but all of whom had read and loved at least one book of mine. They all listened and shared ideas and laughed at my jokes, which is all you can ask, really. But it did make we wonder why they were there. Did they want to celebrate my stories with me? Or perhaps find out about my writing habits? Or to see whether there is a real, normal person behind the work? Or were they hoping that by meeting me they would somehow be meeting Kirsty Jenkins, or Ali Ferguson or one of my other characters?
There are authors who are also wonderful entertainers in their own right, of course. Or erudite educators. Or gifted raconteurs. You know, the jammie ones. Audiences go to enjoy their company as much as anything.
I did really enjoy my time at Edinburgh, the staff were terrific and the audience was a dream. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether the children were wishing that the books could be there talking to them, rather than the book’s mothers-in-law.