Books…but so much more

The year that I secured eighth place in the Book Festival online queue stays with me. Yes, eighth! Even Usain Bolt couldn’t have been swifter. I genuinely considered printing a screenshot and framing it. That tense moment each year, waiting to click, is just one of the rituals of the Book Festival – along with scrawling through the programme in sharpie, whittling down from a bankruptcy-threatening potential longlist, and happily comparing notes with friends on who has tickets for which events.

So the Festival begins, in a sense, well before it actually opens. For so many years, mid-August then meant the excitement of entering those magical gardens in Charlotte Square. Would it be dodging the mud, watching little yellow rubber ducks bob in the spreading puddles, the torrential rain drumming on the tented roof and drowning out many a distinguished guest? Or would it be sunshine, lying back in a deckchair with a G&T, watching children play and famous authors stroll earnestly past, deep in conversation? The images come thick and fast. Chris Close’s author portraits lining the covered walkways. Coloured lanterns bobbing in the trees. Coveted linen tote bags. Bumping into old friends.

I have so many vivid memories of Book Festival moments. Meeting Toni Morrison in, I think, 2004 was an absolute highlight. The Last Poets’ electrifying gig at Unbound in the Spiegeltent in 2017. Jesse Jackson striding into the huge marquee and high-fiving the entire front row. Jarvis Cocker elaborately acting out an unfortunate incident in which he fell from a first-floor window. So many experiences shared, compelling insights, political points made, beautiful tales. And not just the changing world landscape and global preoccupations over 20 years, but my own changing life and growing family reflected in my scrapbook and box office history. Tickets for YA events entitled ‘Bedlam and Bloodshed’ now sit in my inbox alongside ‘Ballet Bunnies’, a reminder that time is passing all too quickly.

And so many happy memories for my children. Face painting, crafting, meeting life-size Gruffalos and Tigers Who Came to Tea, eating ice cream on the grass, singing rhymes on colourful cushions with Edinburgh libraries. Stroking a rhinoceros beetle with M G Leonard. Bellowing joyfully at the silly antics of Supertato with Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet. Drawing along with giants of children’s illustration like Nick Sharratt. Reciting gleeful poems with national treasure Michael Rosen. Asking questions, joining in, being inspired.

I remember one particular day, circa 2017, when my children met Julia Donaldson in the morning and Cressida Cowell in the afternoon, and thought that was completely normal. They have as many signed copies of books on their shelves as unsigned, have photos of them beaming gappily and happily alongside their favourite authors, and simply take it for granted that if they love a book they can meet its author. That’s all thanks to the Book Festival.

So many happy memories, so many enriching experiences, so much ice cream in the sunshine!

Happy Birthday, Edinburgh International Book Festival. Here’s to another 40.


Hazel Norris