Good Reading : October 2006
OCTOBER 2006 ı goodreading 21 earlier centuries (Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott), through to the New Town and more contemporary writing, ranging from the Scottish Literary Renaissance of the 20th century through to Trainspotting and Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels. Having oriented myself in Edinburgh, the next step was the Literary Pub Tour. In this two-hour evening romp, two actors playing ‘Clart’ and ‘McBrain’ take small groups through the wynds, courtyards and pubs of the Old and New Town – with plenty of opportunities for a drink along the way. The marriage between alcohol and literary endeavour in Edinburgh is a passionate one, as the tour guides take every opportunity to remind us during their intelligent set piece, debating the life- styles and preferences of Edinburgh’s literati. Edinburgh native and travel writer Allan Foster has written what may become the definitive guide book, The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh, comprising 280 pages of places with literary significance. He runs the Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour twice a day during festival season and on weekends for the rest of the year. ‘Edinburgh is the first UNESCO City of Literature, but it’s going to take a few years for it to find its feet,’ he says. ‘Many of the important literary places aren’t marked in any way and are hard to find, which is why I wrote a literary guidebook for the city.’ Unlike the polished dramatic perfor mances put on by the Scottish Literary Tour Trust, Allan’s walking tour is like taking a ramble with a friend who stops every so often and leans close to impart a secret confidence. He steers clear of some of the larger tourist sites and instead introduces his group to places like Parliament Hall – now a law court – where both Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott practised law, and sites which mark the birthplace of famous literary characters, such as the Old Royal Infir mary where Robert Louis Stevenson visited his hospitalised friend, the one-legged WE Henley, who was the inspiration for Long John Silver in Treasure Island. With tours out of the way, it’s time for the big one: the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest of its kind in the world, with some 650 events featuring authors from 35 coun- tries – including 200 from Scotland. ‘The 2006 program brought some of the world’s foremost political and economic thinkers to Scotland, as well as some of the greatest names in world literature,’ says festival director Catherine Lockerbie. ‘The festival stems from a pas- sionate belief that inspiring and challenging words and thoughts have never been more important or more in demand.’ The 2006 festival coincided with the discovery of an alleged terrorist plot to blow up flights between the UK and the USA, and with the negotiation of a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, lending immediacy to the program’s wide-ranging exploration of the tensions and connections between the Islamic and Christian worlds. Some of the commentators included former Israeli soldier and novelist Alan Kaufman, leading political thinker Francis Fukuyama, Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg and Palestinian human rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh. The program also included Nobel Prize winners Harold Pinter, Seamus Heaney and Joseph Stiglitz. Alongside explorations of the critical issues of the day were delightful, challenging, inspiring and entertaining sessions from writers of fiction, biography, crime, history, comedy, media, environment, food, travel, poetry, philosophy and more. The Book Festival runs for a staggering 17 days – though I had to leave after 10, missing the opportunity to see some extraordinary writers who were appearing at the end of the program, but grateful for the opportunity to see some of my long-time literary heroes in the flesh. Foster’s book on literary Edinburgh finishes with a series of quotes from great writers about the city. For brevity, I liked Edinburgh crime writer Quintin Jardine’s judgement: ‘Edinburgh is a two-faced bitch.’ But as a romantic, I’d rather leave you with Charlotte Brontë’s words: ‘Who indeed that has once seen Edinburgh, but must see it again in dreams waking or sleep- ing?’ Or as George Eliot said: ‘When I looked out in the morning it is as if I had waked in Utopia.’ It is certainly that for visitors who love books and reading. For more infor mation, go to www. cityofliterature.com, edbookfest.co.uk or Edinburgh.org/events writers’ city Photographs © Jesse Blackadder, reproduced with permission My way down the Royal Mile — the main street of Edinburgh’s Old Town — was blocked by a nine-foot-tall punk dressed in silver with a mohawk I could have cut myself on. Not quite what I expected when I began my search for literary Edinburgh. The famous marquees of Charlotte Square host readings, discussions, bookshops, book signings and gatherings. ‘Clart’ and ‘McBrain’, played by professional actors, lead the Literary Pub Tour in a spirited debate about the lifestyles of Edinburgh’s literary greats. Allan Foster, author of The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh, rubs the toe of David Hume’s statue — a custom said to ensure that some of his wisdom will rub off. The Literary Bus Tour is a great way to orient yourself in Edinburgh.