Friday, 8 August 2014
A Wonderful Evening at Blackwell's, South Bridge, Edinburgh
Except for the part of my brain agonizing over the Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq (e.g. the Yazidi), I am in a pretty good mood today. For one thing, I managed to get today's household tasks done in an hour and to finish all dusting and vacuuming before the first tour of the day. The whole flat has been dusted and vacuumed, all the windows are open to cross-breezes, the big closet (really a room) is in apple-pie order and the moths have been vanquished for the time being.
And of course I had a wonderful time last night at Blackwell's Bookshop, feeling appreciated for my OTHER job, writer. This was my very first time appearing before an Edinburgh audience, so I was quite nervous. Come to think of it, it was my first appearance in a big name, non-theological, utterly glamorous bookshop, too. And Blackwell's has long been my favourite bookshop in Edinburgh, the place I guiltily buy new books as opposed to used books, which abound in shops near the Grassmarket. And Blackwell's has a Café Nero, in which I generally do my Polish homework last minute while slurping a skinny latte. In fact, it has a great foreign language section, which I visit weekly, although usually only to gaze longingly at the two-volume Oxford University Polish-English/English-Polish dictionary which I can't afford.
That said, I couldn't really afford a new dress for last night's performance either, but I bought one anyway on the grounds that it is The Perfect Dress for Me. Alas, I forgot to ask B.A. to take photos last night, but here at least is the dress. I wore it with red shoes because those are the only shoes I have that go with it. And I threw on some red jewellery, so as to present a bold writerly appearance.
And when I climbed the stairs to Blackwell's upper floor, I was delighted to see that Blackwell's had also invested in the evening by ordering in at least ten copies of my book. There it was, the beautiful pile, bold against the stack of the other featured authors' works.
"But of course," said Ann, the Events Co-ordinator. "We want to sell your book!"
It was all I could do from throwing myself at her feet and weeping, "Thank you! Thank you for wanting to sell my book!" Let's just say, not everyone in the book trade is that interested in actually selling books. I shall draw a veil over my darker thoughts on that topic. At any rate, Ann was determined to sell books and also to make all us authors feel at home, so she introduced us to each other, and directed us to sit in the most comfortable chairs. I enjoyed a nice chat with Michael Malone, and was delighted when someone from my Polish class arrived and bought a book for me to sign. Then B.A. turned up, and then my friend Angela came, and so I felt very grateful to them all.
First up was poet Bert Flitcroft, and then it was my turn. First I explained the three big inspirations for my novel--the attempted Cologne train bombing, the Toronto 18, and the somewhat paradoxical Catholic publishing interest in finding "the next Graham Greene"--and then I read a passage from the "Boat Party Scene". The audience--quite a good-natured one--giggled amiably at the worldliness of Anna Maria.
Choosing a scene to read from Ceremony of Innocence is always difficult because it contains something to offend almost everyone. If I read about Father Francis's Asia-inspired syncretism, Asians Christian who walk in late (and therefore miss the context) raise their eyebrows and (in one case) rush to get their South Asian Christian boyfriend's aid in glaring at me. If I read Catriona's (relatively mild) thoughts on the Palestinian controversy, I dread the reaction of my very nice, very left-wing professor-pals. If any character uses a swear word, I break into a sweat because I'm in front of a bookcase featuring the works of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. So this time I decided to play it safe and start with the boat, Anna Maria and....hmm... "How Germans really think about Germany." Whoops. And afterwards B.A. told me that one of the bookshop organizers was "quite obviously" German. So really I cannot win.
However, nobody--as far as I could tell--raised an eyebrow, and after all the readings, a man came by to tell me that he was already three-quarters of the way into Ceremony and really liked it. He had bought the book after seeing my name on the Blackwell's list and deciding the plot sounded interesting. This is exactly the kind of stuff authors like to hear.
Michael read next, and then Dr. Sureshini Sanders and finally the celebrated Rosemary Goring, whom most reading Scots would recognize as the literary critic in the Glasgow Herald. Her partner, the critic Alan Taylor, was in the audience, and B.A., who reads him all the time in the TLS (or the LRB?), was delighted to meet him.
When the shop was closing and Ann chased the crowd, still chatting, down the stairs and out of the shop, B.A., Angela and I went to the Captain's Bar on South College Street. We got a table and three chairs before the place filled up with other Fringe Festival goers, and as I enjoyed my beer and the vibe, I decided I liked Festival Season in Edinburgh after all. Okay, so I still can't stand the huge daytime crowds in my way. But I see that it makes a huge difference to my attitude by having a part in it!