Friday, 25 October 2013

Posts from BOOKMARK - What an Evening!

What an evening!

Oct 20 2013
After the noise, chaos and excitement of the Dundee Olympia swimming pool, I was ready for a relaxing evening listening to Liz Lochhead read out a selection of her critically acclaimed poetry. The evening wasn’t exactly as relaxing as I had initially hoped it would be, but it was certainly exciting.
The moment I arrived at the Royal Hotel I almost managed to get myself lost. I failed to read the signs directing me to the right room and nearly headed up a flight of stairs following the sign marked ‘miniBOOKMARK’. Thank goodness I stopped to pause and think for a moment and, more importantly, ask someone where exactly it was I should be going. I was soon set on the right path, leaving me to marvel at the fact I had nearly got myself lost between the entrance and the foyer!

 As I headed towards the doors hiding the room in which Liz Lochhead was to direct her ‘meet the author’ session, I was greeted by Meg Luckins, a member of the BOOKMARK team in charge of all things money, and handed a press pass. I have to say I did get slightly over-excited about the pass and exclaimed something like: “This is so cool!”

I just couldn’t help myself – I suddenly felt ‘official’ and decided that all I needed to go with my new ‘press pass look’ was a massive quick-fire camera in one hand and a reporter’s microphone in the other. My substitutes for those two items were my bridge camera and a temperamental Dictaphone.
Feeling ridiculously important, I was then shown through the doors and found myself face to face with a few members of the tech team. This isn’t as scary as it sounds when most of them are in your year at school. To be honest, it was a bit of a relief as, although I was still feeling very ‘official’, I didn’t really have a clue where to start.

The tech team members I met were Daniel Duncan (a.k.a. Head Honcho and founder of JAM productions), Murray Baxter, Connie Ewans and Liam Bow. I decided that the best way to begin my interviews would be starting with the tech team, or Daniel at least. I asked him how he found out about BOOKMARK.

“Christine Findlay phoned me up and we had a meeting to see whether I was able to do the sound and lighting and then we sat down at the bar and had coffee and chatted a bit more,” he told me cheerfully. “We’ve been with BOOKMARK since the beginning. Christine first emailed me around January about technical coordination and wondered if we could do it. We started out in June with a sound set up that we already had and we’ve got to this point tonight where we have a lot more lighting which was funded by RBS.”

I was then invited to the tech team’s lair – or rather the bar turned sound booth/control centre. It was kind of like what I would imagine a refuge for the gadget obsessed might like, complete with microphones and headsets here and computer screens and amps there. I got the impression I would have to jump ship eventually as the team prepared for the evening ahead, so I decided to go and find a seat.

It wasn’t long until Liz Lochhead took to the stage, after being introduced by Christine Findlay who described her as an ‘entertainer’ at one point. She couldn’t have put it better – I found myself gripped throughout the whole session.

To tell you the truth, the whole experience was rather eye opening. Though I’m sad to admit I have very limited knowledge of Liz’s work (which will soon change, I promise!) I think that as a reader I had created a special sort of status for writers. They are there to be revered and admired and are untouchable and remote. This is obviously the only way they could be, right?

I’m more than happy to say that Liz proved me wrong. On stage she was chatty, down to earth and approachable – not the aloof ice queen the Liz Lochhead of my imagination was. She made the audience laugh, her poetry was enthralling and I could have listened to it for the rest of the night.
I don’t like to describe myself as being shy, but I certainly couldn’t do what Liz did that evening, what all the authors did today. They got up on that stage and they were at home and comfortable. But, more importantly, they made the audience feel the same way. You realise when the author, writer, poet has brought their talk to a conclusion, that you are slightly dazed. Waiting for more. That’s how I felt anyway, as well as slightly put out that Liz had to finish up.

This is what will keep bringing people back to BOOKMARK. It’s a way of escaping into that other world – one of creativity and imagination that I think we as humans need. If we lived life just taking in what was right in front of us, never daring to dream up stories, poems, plays, songs, life wouldn’t be worth living. Every one of us has that ability to imagine, even if we aren’t authors, poets or playwrights. It’s what keeps us sane.

After Liz Lochhead’s ‘meet the author’ session, there came the reception where drinks and canapés were readily available to the guests. This was when I decided to make a beeline for Liz who was sitting at a table signing books. As I waited to speak to her, the Lady Provost gave a small speech where she confessed to us that she was ‘really envious of the opportunity’ to take part in the rest of the book festival as she couldn’t be there. She went on to describe BOOKMARK as a ‘fabulous event’.

Now we come to another part of the post where I tell you why the evening wasn’t as relaxing as it could have been …

At this point, realising Liz was going to be busy finding a copy of one of her poems for a man who had been really quite taken with it, I decided to leave my Dictaphone and camera on the table beside her and sidle away to grab a glass of juice. Not my wisest move.

I returned to find my Dictaphone had vanished and immediately went into panic mode. I was positive that someone had made off with it and was planning to flog one of the best birthday presents I have ever been given (despite it refusing to turn off earlier that evening) on EBay. Thankfully, it hadn’t actually been stolen. Liz had given it to Christine after mistaking it for somebody’s misplaced mobile.

After retrieving my Dictaphone I sat down, or rather kneeled down, next to Liz Lochhead and began the interview. I say it was an interview, but it seemed more like a chat you might have with a friend over coffee (albeit in a very busy café). This completely stamped on my already wounded preconceptions of what a writer must be like.

As we talked, Liz took time to sign copies of her novels for guests at the session. In between signings I asked Liz what she thought of BOOKMARK.

“It’s terrific. It’s lovely to be in at the launch of something like this and they’re clearly the kind of people who will keep it going. And what an audience!” she told me.

I then asked whether Liz would come along if she was invited back to BOOKMARK.

“Of course I would come along! There are so many great writers in Scotland so they wouldn’t invite me back really quickly, but I hope so. I hope in another four or five years they would invite me back, but it’s very delightful to be in at the start of something. It’s a huge honour. It’s actually only just dawned on me what a big deal it is for me to be here as the first person to read on the very first night of BOOKMARK.”

I couldn’t help pausing when I heard that. It had occurred to me that it was important for BOOKMARK to have writers such as Liz, Scotland’s Makar, attending the festival. I had just never thought it would be equally as important to the writers themselves. This brought me back to a thought I’d had at the beginning of the evening. BOOKMARK is a really important event and now it was apparent that it wasn’t just Blairgowrie that realised this.

I decided to see if I could get Liz to tell me what made her start writing poetry. The answer I received wasn’t what I expected.

“I just decided to do it.”

“It just happened?” I said, trying to keep the look of surprise off my face. I’d expected Liz to have some sort of secret she could share with me that might improve my own poetry and stories.

“It didn’t just happen. You pick up your biro and get to it. I think it’s reading that makes you want to write. If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s reading stuff you love that makes you want to write yourself.”

This really struck a chord with me because, the fact is, it’s true. Reading is what can provide you with ideas and tips and is ultimately the way inspiration is found. It’s what got me into writing and I’m positive it’s what kick-starts careers like Liz Lochhead’s, Andrew Greig’s, Mairi Hedderwick’s, Karen Campbell’s and James Robertson’s.

The reception seemed too short. As with Liz’s reading session, I wanted more time to hear what she had to say. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, time flies and soon I found myself walking home (in the rain without an umbrella).
I realise I haven’t managed to fit in all the details of what happened on Friday evening into this post, but I want to leave you with this at least:

As I talked to Liz between book signings and other conversations (in which she declared to those she was talking to that I was writing the blog and would be doing a post about the evening) I told her that her session had been host to a sell-out audience.

Liz: “Thank you very much! Don’t tell any of the others that.”

Me: “I won’t.”

Liz: “…Why don’t you put it in the blog that I said ‘don’t tell any of the rest’?”