The day was finally here – seven books after the very first meeting with my publishers, Cranachan.
They asked me: ‘What’s the dream?’
‘Edinburgh International Book Festival is the dream.’ I didn’t even hesitate. As an annual visitor to the festival for nigh-on two decades, it seemed the height of author-dom to me. And this year, 2021, I had an invite and my very own event.
The best part was that I was going to speak about my latest children’s book, The Chessmen Thief, and share the stage with Dr Alice Blackwell of the National Museums of Scotland who looks after the actual Lewis Chessmen which inspired my book. Chaired by palaeontologist and author of dinosaur books Steve Brusatte, we were going to discuss Artifacts and Fiction, the title of our session.
I woke up in the budget hotel along the road, hurriedly washed and flung some make-up on. I had been told that for filmed events, a bit of eyeliner was helpful, and who was I to argue? A quick breakfast and I donned my bookshelf-patterned dress and sped off. On the way I remembered that I should probably do something on social media (helpful to publishers, especially small indie ones like mine!), so I recorded a wee video as I sprinted up the road. Once arrived the gates of the festival were still closed to the public, but I could already make out my fellow panel member, Alice, in the distance. We opted to sit at the picnic table just in front of the Edinburgh College of Art. The more concealed table along from us was already occupied by I’m-so-cool-look-at-me-smoking teens from a nearby secondary school.
As soon as the gates opened, we entered the grounds and made for the yurt (now only big enough to house the admin staff, but there are great benches and tables for writers, and there was free coffee and food too). I might have reached for my author lanyard a little too enthusiastically. Soon the Children’s and Schools Programme Director Rachel appeared with a ridiculously huge and much appreciated piece of Cranachan-flavoured cake (I was so impressed that she had noted the name of my publishers) – and it was time.
‘Let me show you to the recording studio,’ she smiled and marched ahead. I hobbled in her wake courtesy of a broken toe – don’t ask! If I had been a little sad that there wasn’t going to be a young live audience for my event, all misgivings were quickly dispelled. What a view! A huge picture window behind us revealed the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Altogether less welcome was the view of the monitor in front of us, with a pretty unflattering perspective of ourselves. ‘Is my face really this shiny?’ Alice whispered across the stage. She looked great to me, but the monitor view made me a little insecure too. My legs looked the size of Belgium.
‘Don’t worry, you’ll all look great out there,’ reassured one of the camera operators. I moved a small table of props in front of my legs anyway. And breathe! The countdown began. As soon as it ended, Steve launched into his enthusiastic introduction, only to be interrupted by the cameraman: ‘Not yet! It’s just the intro video now. I’ll give you a wave.’
We all laughed a little too loudly, but dispelling the pent-up tension in this way probably made for a more relaxed conversation in the forty-five minutes that followed. There were almost no awkward moments. I say ‘almost’ because I got my timing wrong and began subtly motioning to Alice to wrap up her presentation, when there were in fact 20 minutes to go. In my defence, any concept of time sort of evaporates in this sort of situation – or perhaps that’s just me. Thankfully, she was very forgiving and the lot of us grabbed lunch at the cafe afterwards.
The best part of the new venue at Edinburgh College of Art is the chilled-out courtyard where I wound down properly by watching another two festival events on the big screen. The staff could not have been friendlier or more accommodating, the sun shone – and my dream, first half-jokingly and self-consciously whispered in February 2016, had just come true.
You can watch the event on catch-up HERE , for free or by paying what you can.