This week’s peregrinations around the world of book festivals took in Melrose in the Scottish Borders and Glasgow, for the debut “Forge of the Wordsmiths” event. Melrose is McShandy’s old stamping ground, and it’s always a pleasure to be in sight of the Eildon Hills again. They had two prize events: the first Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the cumbersomely named Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. The first Walter Scott Prize went to Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall – a wise choice, and one which establishes the prize as being literary rather than romp-orientated. Mantel was unwell, so Jim Naughtie picked up the prize in her absence – it all took place in the wonderful Abbotsford, which is a weird combination of the archaic and the futuristic. Donald Worster took the SMITSACBA, for his biography of John Muir, and gave one of the most elegant little speeches I’ve heard. Among the other events I saw the great William Fiennes, John Aberdein (good to see my reviews chimed with the judges) and Douglas Hurd on the role of the foreign secretary, and enjoyed a long lunch with Mr Aberdein and his friends and family. Not often that happens to a critic, you know. If one were minded to criticise Melrose, it might be done on the grounds of demographics, so heading off to Glasgow for the more clubby, youth-orientated Forge of the Wordsmiths was a neat balance. The calibre of work was pretty good – one of my wife’s students, Alison Summers, read a great short story – and even the poetry wasn’t too wince-some. I have some reservations about some new poetry: on a bad day, I’ll happily call it a linguistically facile, emotionally self-indulgent, capitulatory and reactionary form, typified by participle openings, Latinate and Saxon conjuctions, preening self-mythologising and a generally feeling of “Why in the name of the Biggest Monkey am I being told all this stuff?” I have, however, found the work of Sean Bonney to be dazzling. At “Forge of the Wordsmiths”, the work of Kirsty Logan and Alan Montgomery particularly impressed me.
This week’s review was a triptych of sci-fi works; and I’ve just done a podcast for Blackwell’s Bookshop, where I rashly claimed that I’d merrily forgo finding copies of Homer’s Margites, Shakespeare’s Cardenio and Emily Bronte’s second novel if I could have The Dalek Masterplan instead. I really wonder why I blurt this stuff out sometimes.
Next week: the West Port Festival, Dundee and the Sir Walter Scott Club, while trying to read a history of Mesopotamia and becoming increasingly concerned that G K Chesterton is my favourite prose stylist. Conservative Catholic Convert, moi? New post tomorrow, promise, on the Edinburgh Book Festival programme and my part in its downfall / success.