The single most important thing you can do as a writer is to read: read widely, outside the area that interests you, read genre, literary, non-fiction and let go of prejudice and long-held assumptions. Above all, read attentively, not just for pleasure. Book festivals are great learning resources for writers. They provide a window into the world of the writer and into the craft of writing. They’re also fun and a good place to meet other writers.
During the next 17 days I’ll be dropping into the Edinburgh International Book Festival in this its 30th anniversary year: 800 writers in 700 events, including established writers, like Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood and debut authors, like Samantha Shannon and Charlotte Mendelson (recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize).
An exciting and important new development at EIBF 2013 is a series of Reading Workshops, which replace the popular Writing Workshops. Instead of telling us ‘How to Write’ and ‘How to Get a Book Deal’, authors and critics will lead workshops on books that are important to them and provide an insight into individual texts and how they ‘work’ (for them as readers) as well as an insight into how they read as writers and critics.
Writers and events I’m looking forward to this year, include,
- Kate Atkinson – Life After Life is a masterpiece
- Salman Rushdie
- Margaret Atwood (speaking about The Blind Assassin; Maddaddam just out to complete the trilogy, and joint events with Neil Gaiman and Ian Rankin on aspects of writing)
- Maj Sjöwall, of the Martin Beck series in her first ever visit to the EIBF
- Amy Sackville & Evie Wyld
- Marina Warner
- Kate Mosse’s debate on modern feminism
- Reading Workshops: Robyn Marsack from SPL on Auden; Andrew Wilson on The Bell Jar
- Samantha Shannon (debut author on her astonishing seven-book series of dystopian novels)
- Sarah Dunant
- & Tracy Chevalier who will speak about historical fiction and their latest novels
- William McIlvanney on crime fiction and autobiography
- Jane Gardam (on the final instalment in her trilogy of Empire)
Of course, this list is incomplete and constantly in flux. I always go to more than I plan. There are free events every night from 9pm at Jura Unbound and this year there’s a separate strand on comics called Stripped.
Leaving Charlotte Square feels like leaving a really good party.