Sunday morning was spent back at the Borders Book Festival. Glorious sunshine and very good ice-cream. Alistair Moffat was talking with co-author Dr Jim Wilson about their work in progress, a book to be published by us here at Birlinn on Census day 2011 (1 April). The subject is the DNA history of Scotland and Alistair and Jim kept the audience (another packed tent-theatre) absolutely gripped as they talked about the Viking ancestry of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the similarities between the DNA of the Scots and the English – and the differences, the journey of the first Africans who left that continent and populated the world. And all uncovered from generous members of the population offering their spit into tiny pots for the purposes of research.
. . . Or looking for somewhere to enjoy words and sunshine this weekend? Read on . . .
Edinburgh’s Signet Library was the venue for yesterday’s launch of the programme for the 2010 Edinburgh International Book Festival. A ten o’clock start saw very welcome bacon rolls served to members of the media, publishers, writers, agents and booksellers as they gathered to hear news of writers visiting the festival this year. Among the Birlinn writers appearing at the tented festival this August are Shirley McKay talking about her latest historical crime novel set in St Andrews, Fate & Fortune; Alexander McCall Smith talking about The Dog Who Came in From the Cold – with well-known and well-loved actor Andrew Sachs as a guest on stage (Alexander is doing a further three adult events at the festival); Stuart Brown exploring the world of food that surrounds Alexander’s leading lady in The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook; Andrew Orr and Angus Whitson discussing the success of their bestselling book on Bamse; Mairi Hedderwick giving a masterclass on the art of illustrating; Allan Brown on stage with two of the actors who appeared in the cult film The Wicker Man discussing his book, Inside the Wicker Man; another very great actor, David Rintoul on stage reading from Dr Finlay’s Casebook; Gillian Galbraith taking to the festival platform with Tony Black, two fine crime writers with new books set in Edinburgh; Kevin Macneil, appearing just a month before the publication of his new novel A Method Actor’s Guide to Jeckyll and Hyde (already hailed by Scotland on Sunday’s Stuart Kelly as ‘the last, and funniest, word on Scotland’s national schizophrenia’); Alistair Moffat introducing his latest book, The Faded Map; Robert Crawford giving the Saltire Society lecture; and Stuart Kelly appearing on Walter Scott’s birthday to talk about his new book Scott-land. Tickets on sale from 26 June – www.edbookfest.co.uk
The second appointment of the day involved a drive down the A68 to Melrose and Abbotsford, the home of Walter Scott. Joined by Serena Fields from BBC Radio Scotland and author Stuart Kelly, we were visiting Abbotsford to allow Serena to interview Stuart about his new book Scott-land, in the wonderful setting that was his family home. The interview will be broadcast on 12 July, just a few days after publication, on BBC Radio Scotland’s Book Café. Wandering around Abbotsford, you can see Walter Scott’s study where he wrote many of his books. His desk and chair are still in position, just as if the great man had left the room a few moments before. On such a summery day, the views out over the gardens to the Tweed from the library are exceptional.
Then a flying visit to Mainstreet Trading in the beautiful Borders village of St Boswells – a destination bookshop that not only sells the finest books in the area but certainly serves the best coffee and hosts great literary events in a converted barn just a few steps away through the carpark. Michael Morpurgo is appearing there today. This stunning shop recently won the Children’s Independent Bookseller of the Year award (but they do sell books for adults as well as children).
And then to Harmony House in Melrose for the opening of the Borders Book Festival, a festival created by Birlinn author Alistair Moffat which attracts leading writers, politicians and broadcasters to participate – and capacity audiences hungry to hear them speak and read. Highlights of this year’s festival which lasts over this weekend include… James Naughtie talking about the new Political Landscape; Kate Adie; William Fiennes, that remarkable children’s author Michael Morpurgo; our own John Aberdein; Anne Lorne Gillies and many more. Two of the biggest annual literary awards are presented at the festival this weekend, The Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards and in its inaugural year, The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. www.bordersbookfestival.org