Edinburgh Bookfest Aug 2018

I’m starting with this from last year as it includes a couple of amusing events! The first one was that I wrote a poem on the bus from my friend’s house in Galashiels. I rushed into Charlotte Square waving a quick ‘Hello’ to some of the girls in reception who know me. I had to rush as I needed to write down the poem before my brain, from which thoughts seem to disappear rather like a train into a tunnel these days, relinquished it into the ever growing ether of forgetfulness! I found a table at which only one man was sitting and politely asked if I may share the table to write something down. I dissolved into writing mode but it wasn’t long before more of the vacant seats had been taken and folk started asking what I was writing! I briefly looked up to tell them that it was a poem I had written in my head and had to finish before I forgot any of it.

Of course, once I had put down my pen the request came from my table fellows to read it – which I did. To my surprise I received a round of applause from them which caused everyone in the square to look round to see what was happening! To my relief their curiosity soon vanished when they realised it was only someone of very little importance sitting at one of the tables and not one of the fabulous authors at the event making an appearance! You can find this poem on the ‘My Poems’ page here.

I had tried to book online to see the wonderful Val McDermid in her talk with the equally wonderful Dame Professor Sue Black but was unable to get a ticket. So I went back to reception to see if there was any chance of a return but there were already fifteen people in the queue! I waited for a while, chatting to other hopefuls, but gave up to ask if it would still be alright to go round after the talk to get Sue’s book signed. I was glad that it was as I had brought some eggs from a friend on the Isle of Skye, where I lived at the time, to give to Sue and Val. This had become rather a tradition whenever I managed to see Val and she was always glad of the really fresh eggs which, as an added bonus, came in several different shades of blue or green depending on which breed of hen laid them. I had carried the dozen eggs around as if they were precious stones determined that none should come to grief before handing them over and had told people, probably with rather a bit too much enthusiasm, who had asked what they were and who they were for.

So, once the sorely missed talk was over, I trotted round to the book signing desk with the said eggs at the ready. I had done a MOOCS course on forensics run by Sue on recommendation from Val a couple of years before so was keen to meet Sue at long last. One of the exercises on the course was to make a’grave’ out of odds and ends in order to measure the components to put on a graph just as a forensic scientist would map human remains. I was living on a croft and remembered that I had come across the remains of a sheep when collecting stones for a rockery from a dilapidated byre so I thought it would be fun to use these rather that bits of string and pens!

I duly laid out the bones on the track that passed as a driveway to the house from the end of the single track road, laid my German Shepherd dog,Eilidh, down beside them and captioned the photo ‘My grave along with the very clever cadaver dog that found it’! I uploaded the picture to the course FaceBook page and to Val’s page on Twitter – imagine my surprise when it went viral. Just to remind Sue I had printed the picture off and placed it just inside the cover of her book which of course provoked much hilarity from the three of us as well as interested looks from the ever lengthening queue. We were so engrossed in this that it wasn’t until I left the marquee that I realised I had forgotten all about the eggs so was still carrying them – doh! I’m afraid I caused another commotion and more hilarity as I rushed back to the front of the queue shouting ‘I forgot the eggs’! As I left I heard Sue say ‘Oh God – I love her’ and just hoped she was actually referring to me! I’ve had a bit of a giggle with Val about this since then and I have collapsed in a heap of laughter on more than one occasion when relating the story to friends and adding ‘Imagine if I had tripped over when I went back in with the eggs’!

A bit later I met Jo, Val’s lovely partner, on the way to another of Val’s talks who told me that someone had asked what was in the egg boxes to which she replied ‘Eggs’ as if you wouldn’t really expect anything else.

Val’s next talk was about her short story which appeared as lit words on the wonderful buildings of Edinburgh at Hogmanay which you needed to walk round to see. I hadn’t managed to see this except on the internet so was delighted to be able to get a ticket to hear the talk in which we learnt of the story behind it. The project was developed in conjunction with the Edinburgh Book Festival and Philip Howard from the world of theatre and included a reference to Susan Ferrier a sadly little known Scottish author of the early 19th century. If you would like to know more about this project you can find an article about it here

After this thoroughly enjoyable talk, which also had performances by various actors, I managed to go round to see Val to get the pamphlet about the talk signed as well as a couple of copies of her latest book, Broken Ground. I managed to do this without causing too much commotion – except for Val finding that one of the books was bound upside down. Val was a bit upset about this but I thought it was a bit of a treasure – in any case the book was a sell out so nothing could be done except wend my way back to Galashiels with a truly amazing day to remember.


This was a great event and so close to home except that I lived in North skye at the time then decided to go round via Fort William. The Armadale – Mallaig ferry is not one to be relied upon at the best of times let alone in Winter plus there are shops in Fort William! My decision was to be the right one as two friends came over on the ferry on Saturday, could not get on with the car and there was some doubt about the return ferry that day even running. They told me that it was quite amusing watching the few tourists around boarding by car as it was the small boat which you have to reverse on to. I told them to let me know if the return ferry was cancelled as I would give them a lift back to Skye but, in the end they were alright.

I stayed at the Morar hotel which is fairly comfortable, very quiet and they allow Eilidh dog to stay as well. The few guests there were very pleasant and tried to make a fuss of my silly dog who just gets very giddy amongst people! After having a really good plate of fish and chips I made my way down to the West Highland Hotel where the event was being held and was pleasantly surprised to find Eilidh was allowed in the bar there as well. This was fine until we discovered there were two other dogs in the bar at which point there was a bit of unruly behaviour between the two parties until we managed to find a seat where none of them could see each other! We had a bit of a wait as I hadn’t realised that the guests of the West Highland were not being served dinner until about 7.30 and, for once, very unusually for me, I didn’t have a book in my bag. I was reading McIlvanny’s Laidlaw at the time.

It wasn’t too long before the guests started coming in to the bar and I sat with some friends from Glenfinnan, Iseabail and Charlie MacFarlane, who I had met earlier in Fort William whilst shopping in Morrisons. I was really surprised at how settled Eilidh was as she isn’t used to so many people or being in a bar. Suddenly, Iseabail said ‘Oh there’s Val McDermid’ who I have known for a few years now. I got my hug from Val who was really pleased to actually meet Eilidh as she always asks after her but I hadn’t dared to take the dog with me to an event before. We went to sit at a table with Val and Denise, who is Jackie Kay’s partner, still with a really well behaved Eilidh who just lay by my chair even when folk stepped over her to get to the bar! After a while one of the musicians who were playing came to ask Val if she would sing so I decided it was time to get Eilidh back to the hotel, not because Val was singing I must add!

The next day I was going to Val’s talk so took Eilidh a walk at Loch Morar in some very watery Winter sunshine. It was very pleasant – we didn’t meet a single soul walking and only saw one car on the single track road. We then made our way back to Mallaig and sat in the bar drinking coffee and talking to the few writers dotted around. However, as folk kept coming in with their dogs as the bar filled up Eilidh was not so well behaved so had to be taken out to be confined in the car soon after my friends from Skye arrived! It was a good thing I did as a dog was brought into Val’s talk and would have attempted to pass right by us. Eilidh just doesn’t like being in an enclosed space, on a lead with other dogs around.

Val’s talk about her latest book, Broken Ground, was, as usual, fabulous. I had bought the book in Edinburgh and read it long before this event, but it was still interesting as there’s always some wee insight into the writing that you won’t have heard before. We stayed a while after the talk as there were a couple of books I wanted to buy and get signed and there are always interesting folk around to chat with. I had brought Eilidh back in and she’s often a good conversation starter. The press tried to get a photo of Val with me and Eilidh but with the dog leaping about with excitement at seeing Val, she’s the same if she sees Val on TV, and us laughing it didn’t quite work out! So I said my goodbyes and gave my mobile number to the girls going back on the ferry to Skye telling them I would come back to get them if needed as I was, of course, doing some more shopping in Fort William on the way.

I loved this event as it’s small, really well organised, and everyone gets together in the bar. Even if you can’t get a room at the West Highland Hotel you can book for dinner there and so meet all the authors who, I find, are always happy to talk to their readers. I highly recommend a visit if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Mallaig in November. You can sign up for their newsletter so you get advance notice of what’s on. Next time I’ll make sure I go to more of the talks now I know what the situation is with Eilidh so she doesn’t have to sit in the car for too long. There’s a lovely bookshop in Mallaig, just called The Mallaig Bookshop, mainly selling second hand books which is just the icing on the cake!