Edinburgh International Book Festival
CLICK TO ENLARGE EACH PHOTO
At lunchtime, I left the office with joy in my heart and a bag-full of snack food and set off for Kings Cross, to journey to Edinburgh on the train. I arrived in glorious sunshine, checked into the Channings Hotel and headed for the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
I arrived early at Charlotte Square Gardens and was given a desk and phone in the media tent, from which I participated in a live discussion with BBC Asian Network between 9:00 and 9:30 am.
My Unimagined event (at 10:30 am) was in the largest theatre (apart from the main auditorium). It had a capacity of 240 seats and there were about 200 people there. I made a joke about what an ordeal my first ever book reading (in Islington) had been, when Unimagined first came out (only two people were there). I read a selection of passages from Unimagined which formed a coherent narrative over 20 years. The audience were marvellous people. They laughed generously when they were supposed to and listened intently when they were supposed to, and asked thoughtful questions.
I was guided out to the book signing tent, and somewhat worried to see that there was only one person in the queue. But then I realised that they have to pay for the book first. Eventually, there were about 25 people in the queue, which was a relief. My chairperson said it was the longest queue of the events which she personally had overseen.
Several of them very generously said to me that it was the most enjoyable event they had been to so far. I found this deeply overwhelming. One woman in my signing queue said something like: "I'm sorry I slipped out early to go to the session by [someone famous]. It was so dreadfully dull. I really wish I had stayed at yours.'
One of the outdoor Festival crew said: 'We kept hearing loud booms of laughter coming from your tent.'
As I walked back to the Writers' Tent, I noticed a Scandinavian woman nudge her friends and point at me.
Back in the Writers' Tent, the Festival staff told me that a Norwegian TV crew wanted to interview me, as they had heard the booms of laughter too.
The Scandinavian woman and her companions were, of course, the Norwegian film crew. I was interviewed on the lawn by Hans Olav Brenner of NRK (Norwegian Public Television).
Back in the Writers' Tent, I was approached by the Director of the Bath Literary Festival and she asked me if I would be willing to come to hers (in February). I said I would be delighted.
In the afternoon, I attended the session by David Dabydeen, editor of The Oxford Companion to Black British History and learned some unexpected things. Apparently black people came to Britain around 400 AD, with the Roman army (before the Angles and Saxons) and Queen Victoria could read and write Urdu and Hindi (which is more than I can do).
My evening event was a panel discussion about Immigration and a Multicultural Society, with Philippe Legrain and Sir Bernard Crick. The moderator was Alan Little of the BBC, who asked me to read some pertinent passages from Unimagined as part of the debate. They were very well-received. Afterwards there was another book signing and I signed more copies of Unimagined. I had a long conversation with Sir Bernard Crick and Alan Little. Sir Bernard Crick said that I had expressed many sensible things, which was very kind of him.
I spent the rest of the evening (until midnight) with David Dabydeen, sitting outside the Spiegeltent bar. He rushed over to the bookshop and bought two copies of Unimagined for me to sign – one for himself and one for his PhD student. He said: "You have to get a US deal! America will love to read this book!"
I was hungry on the way back to the hotel and bought some fish and chips from a late night takeaway. I ate them in my room and fell sound asleep in the armchair.
I spent all day at the Festival and much of it in the Writers' Tent. I spoke with many established writers who very kindly asked me about my book. Whenever I showed it to them, they always said what a marvellous cover it was and a very attractive book design in general.
There was a brilliant session by Ali Smith, speaking enthusiastically about the adult works of Tove Jansson. I loved her children’s books (who could forget Moominland Midwinter?) and Ali Smith brought real passion to a reading of one of her adult stories.
I met A C Grayling and enthused about how so much of what he had talked about resonated with themes in Unimagined. I gave him a signed and inscribed copy.
In the evening, as the rain fell hard and made me reluctant to venture out, there was an attractive woman in the cosy Writers' Tent whom I nervously began to converse with. She turned out to be the Chief Executive of the Sydney Writers' Festival and my tongue loosened as I spoke passionately about Unimagined and how it was a good book for Australia right now, with that country's concerns about Muslim integration and potential terrorism. She seemed genuinely interested. (Or was I, in fact, a gibbering idiot? – only she knows). I promised to send her a copy (I had none left on me, having just given my last one to A C Grayling).
Saturday night I slept on Milton's sofa at his nearby flat, as I couldn't get a hotel room. He had a spare copy of Unimagined, so I took that.
I had a private conversation with Fay Weldon in a secluded area of the Writer's Tent. She claimed that she knew who I was. I thought she was being too kind and said: "You can't possibly have heard of me." I gave her a signed and inscribed copy of Unimagined, (Milton's spare copy), which she accepted graciously.
I thanked Catherine Lockerbie (the Festival Director) profusely for having me and I expressed my appreciation to all the Festival staff for their welcoming and generous attitude throughout.
I left the Edinburgh International Book Festival with a heavy heart, as if I had had a brief but overwhelmingly intense love affair and was now leaving my love forever (or a year, maybe).
I went to the office on the train. I had to get the weekly updates from the team, in preparation for the Steering Committee meeting …