Edinburgh is a beautiful city teeming with a rich culture; from its architecture to its greenery to its wondrous acknowledgement of the arts. In the month of August, Edinburgh shows off and celebrates art in all of its forms through the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; whether musical, comedic, theatrical, literary or other. As well as the Fringe, while people from across the globe flock to Scotland’s capital for the largest arts festival in the world, mere paces away from Princes Street in the charming Charlotte Square Gardens is the Edinburgh Book Festival.
The Edinburgh Book Festival was established in 1983 and serves as a way to inspire, educate, enrich and share the beauty of the written word with those who walk through its tents. This year the festival opened on the 13th of August 2016 and will be running until the 29th. There are meticulously planned, continuous events throughout this time, ranging from discussions, readings, author signings and more.
I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the 2016 festival, and so at 5:30 am on Saturday morning I woke up eager with anticipation, inhaled three cups of coffee and got on a 7am train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. Arriving in Edinburgh at 9:30am I made my way to Charlotte Square Gardens, stumbled through the entrance tent and into another world; a world that I steadily fell in love with.
As you enter the gardens there is excitement everywhere you look. There are children laughing and buzzing around happily, people lounging in deckchairs reading or conversing with complete strangers and bonding over a common love, there are tents circling the stately statue in the middle and being greeted by such a happy and reassuring sight filled me with awe. I couldn’t believe how many people were packed into this one space, and why? Because they value, respect and cherish literature, poetry and words in the same way I do. It felt so reassuring and comforting to be in a place where the passion that I carry through every day is safe and valued and understood. In a world being taken over by technology, social media, video games and television it was cheering to see the sheer volume of people keen to preserve and indulge in something so wonderful. That feeling alone made my time at the festival worth it.
I began my time at the festival by heading into the bookshop tent, where there were shelves stacked high with books by both Scottish authors, featured authors of the festival and others. I perused the shelves, soaking up the happy energy in the room of fellow enthusiasts; watching as people read blurbs and first pages, listening to the chatter of “have you read this?” or “you should buy this one, I think you’d enjoy it” going on around the room. I left the bookshop with four new books, four new wonderful additions to my ever growing, yet still modest library.
After my spending spree, I headed to the Spiegeltent, a quaint and cosy corner of the festival grounds, circular in shape and littered with chairs with a small stage. Kicking off the festival, poets Sarah Howe and William Letford joined Jenny Niven, the Portfolio Manager for Literature, Publishing and Languages for Creative Scotland on stage, where they recited several of their poems and discussed what inspired said pieces, before they answered questions from both Jenny and members of the audience.
This proved a wonderful experience for me, as I had never been to a poetry recital, let alone heard a poet read their own work. I also had no prior knowledge of Sarah Howe or William Letford until I bought my ticket for their event. This is yet another reason for why I love the festival so much, as it helps budding readers to discover the work of artists they may not have found otherwise. I absolutely loved hearing both Howe and Letford recite their poems, as I felt it gave them so much more depth and emotion, adding to the enjoyment of their poetry. I have already read Dirt by William Letford, and I will be sharing my thoughts on it in my book review this coming Sunday, and I am eager to read Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade soon.
After the talk was over, I made my way back to the bookshop tent to meet Letford and Howe, and they were kind enough to sign my copies of their poetry collections. They were two very likeable and warm people, asking me questions about myself and seeming genuinely interested in the answers. Letford asked me if I write poetry myself, and although I do (although not brave enough to share it), he encouraged me to try my hand at it again and to share. That very same day while sat drinking coffee in between talks I took out my notebook and wrote a poem. Needless to say, I felt inspired by these individuals and I am unbelievably lucky to have been able to attend this talk.
I then proceeded to the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, where countless numbers of fans, like me were waiting in suspense to see Ali Smith. Ali Smith is a newfound favourite author of mine, and I am eagerly working my way through her published work. During this talk, hosted by author and poet Jackie Kay (who I enjoyed so much that I shall definitely be looking into her work in the future) Ali Smith read 10 pages of her newest book titled Autumn, which is soon to be released. I am unbelievably honoured and privileged to have been among the first people to have heard the newest story, and I can’t quite wait for the published article, as it threatens to be both beautiful and very topical, with reference to recent events such as the European Union referendum.
After Ali had read the 10 pages of her work, Jackie asked Ali questions and opened up to the floor for questions from the audience. I absolutely adored the relationship between Jackie and Ali, who are good friends off of stage. The event was full of laughter and sincerity, and I was somewhat starstruck listening to Ali Smith, who is just as wonderfully eloquent in person as in her work.
As soon as the talk ended, I raced to the signing tent where I queued with my newest Ali Smith book in my collection in my hands. As the line crept on and I got closer to the signing table, I saw the sincerity with which Ali Smith conversed with each and every reader, and saw her offering people advice, listening to them intently, she even gave away the first page of the manuscript of her newest book to a fan, who had told her that coincidentally their closest friend was named Autumn (the name of the newest book). It was clear she was a considerate and caring individual, and an unbelievably likeable character. I found myself nervous to be face to face with her, not sure what I would say. As I walked forward and told her my name she used it frequently, which felt very comforting and almost steadied my nerves. We discussed her newest book, the Brexit issue and being of the younger generations in such a pivotal moment of history, among other things. I left the signing tent with my book and with tears in my eyes. This was a very special moment for me and one that I shall never forget.
After a lunch break, some coffee and some poetry writing I went to my third and final event of the day: The Amnesty International talk on Imprisoned Writers. This was a free event, but one that I would have absolutely paid to see as it really had an impact on me. Four writers read the work of four individuals who had gone through inexplicable torture and suffering; whether they had been imprisoned or forced to flee their country due to political affiliation. It was a sobering experience listening to their work, and one that really opened my eyes to the privileged life I live. I couldn’t help but cry as I listened, but also feel unbelievably inspired by these people, and a great deal of hope.
I left the Edinburgh Book Festival at 6:30pm in order to travel back to Aberdeen, and without being dramatic I truly feel I left a different person. I felt elated, uplifted, educated, inspired to write and inspired to read. I hope that those of you who do get a chance to attend the festival find it as enriching and wonderful as I did. I am already unbelievably excited to plan my trip for 2017, and I can only daydream about the wonders that will be in store.