Chair: Gavin Wallace, Creative Scotland
Sponsor: Hawthornden Literary Retreat
Sad as I was to miss the first day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (@edbookfest) I was even sadder to make it to the second day. I had a most lovely evening, sitting with our friends, Micke and Linda in their flat in Aspudden in Stockholm. We drank wine, we drank beer. We lol-ed at things I will probably never remember. I wasn’t laughing when my alarm went off at 3am this morning, and I don’t think I was even operating on a conscious level between Stockholm and Edinburgh. I’m not even entirely convinced that I went through security at the airport, but I must have done, right?
Anyway, this is all a mighty excuse for not writing a huge amount about Ali Smith’s turn at the book fest. Despite my hangover and exhaustion, I actually loved listening to her. I didn’t even zone out one time! She was brilliant. There’s no point waxing lyrical about Ali Smith as her books (five novels as well as a bunch of short stories and plays and probably a secret stash of poetry that she is saving up to dazzle us with later) more than boast her brilliance, as does the tidal wave* of praise that basically follows her through her life.
Smith read from her latest novel, There But For The (BUY IT, IT IS AMAZING), and, unlike too many writers, she actually gets that there’s more to this task than simply reading out loud in your best monotone. Her answers during the Q&A were insightful although I can’t help feeling that the author remains as much of an enigma as many of her characters. Whereas Janice Galloway leaves little doubt as to what she’s thinking, with Ali Smith everything is open to interpretation.
She did have this to say though, on the subject of the recent riots in the south of the UK:
“I was reading, the next day, a blog that someone had written on the Guardian which was about how she had gone to dinner in a very fancy Michelin Star taster menu restaurant. In had come some looters, broken the windows and demanded the jewellery of all the people there [. . .] the chefs had rushed up from the kitchen with their rolling pins and their fat fryers and had been swatting off the looters – they got rid of the looters. The looters left and then the management gave them all Champagne and Petit Four. The mixture of broken glass, Champagne and petit four sounds to me, close to Marie Antoinette. So it doesn’t matter what we think of the shifts of politics, which may or may not have produced this, it doesn’t matter what we think about responsibility, if we look at what it is and the mode of it and the shape of it, that’s what I come away with; broken glass and great richness.”
[note – I can’t find the Guardian blog she mentioned, but this seems to report on the same incident]
* what we had before Tsunamis
Coming soon: Edinburgh’s own poet wonder, Iain Morrison performs at Total Kunst; Jennifer Eagan @edbookfest