Those who follow my Bookrambler blog will know that I’ve been in and out of the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the last few days. On Friday, I got to wondering, why did I go? What did I expect to get out of it?
Don’t you wonder why so many people bother to go to book festivals? We already have the writer’s ‘voice’ in our imaginations so why do we need to listen to them talk about writing? I wondered this when I was basking in the sunshine at a packed Charlotte Square Gardens , trying to work out why I was there and trying to work out why it was so busy. It’s easy to work out why publishers and authors come – they need to sell books and with e-books so easily available, it’s a good way to sell hardback books and paperbacks. But why is everyone else here? What compels people to come?
I had popped in on Friday to say ‘hi’ to best selling Scottish writer, Sara Sheridan but missed her event due to a train-line delay or somesuch hassle. I caught up with her in the book-signing tent. She’d had a really interesting event with Sam Meekings on historical fiction with an “informed” audience, she said, which prompted a good Q&A on writing and history. And their pairing had worked well too.
But I was here, so what else to do? The lovely press staff found a ticket for Quintin Jardine’s event. Who? He’s a Rankin-esque crime writer with over 30 published novels (and another writer to add to my tbr list). Unlike Rankin, Jardine has created three different detectives -DCC Bob Skinner, Primavera Blackstone and Oz Blackstone. But he was here to talk about his latest book, a stand-alone novel called, appropriately, The Loner (Headline).
He spoke about his writing life, of the fragility of self-belief -so precious for an author- and the way The Loner had turned out completely differently from the kind of book he intended to write. How, even although he wasn’t writing about him, Skinner had crept back in so that he developed a completely new back-story which informed his previous novels. He talked about how to age his detective, how he was in control [Skinner hasn’t aged along with the books; his timeline is outside of publishing time], so that, this book is set in 1996 at a moment in Skinner’s past. He talked about how he also took the opportunity to develop minor characters and give them added detail.
And as I listened to him talk about how the character had taken over and developed in unexpected ways, got under his skin, I understood why we come to listen to the writers talk about their writing. It isn’t that you learn how or what to write or will come out armed with special insider information that will help you get published. Listening to a writer talk about the process of writing lets you understand that everyone has days of disillusionment, of personal crisis – that “turning up every day to write” is how to get it written and that the writing will take care of itself if you write. Now, we know this, but it’s good to be reminded. And it’s comforting to find out that best-selling writers have their daily crises of self-doubt.
The main “writing nugget” I took from Quintin Jardine was this: “Every time [you write] you need to reinvent yourself. Writers can’t be complacent. Every time you write you need to find the best all over again. Let it loose again.”
So go on, “let loose” – get writing.
Quintin Jardine’s books have sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide – here’s a link to some articles he wrote for the National Enquirer [Canada]
Quintin Jardine’s Website