Monday, August 23, 2010

Janice Galloway at the Book Festival

The tent is packed. It's a big enough space for you to forget it's a tent, except that the walls wave gently as doors are opened, and there are tiered seats rising into the gloom and faces occupying almost all of them already, for the bus up Leith Walk took for ever and we are late. Another five minutes and we'd not have been allowed in ... but here we are. Two seats, not too far back, not too much off centre - lucky. We peel off jackets, subside gratefully. It is very warm. This is Edinburgh, for Pete's sake - feels more like Rome.

The lights dim, a spotlight picks out two white plastic chairs. Two women appear and sit on them. One of them, in a longish, blackish dress and a fawn cardigan, is Janice Galloway, the writer; the other, in trousers and a red top, Ruth Wishart, the journalist. Ruth Wishart speaks first - such a familiar voice, though I don't know that I've ever seen her. The first five minutes are taken up with banter about ice - someone has blundered, there is no ice to put into various orifices, to throw down the writer's cleavage - and it's hot. Galloway joins in. "Hello, Edinburgh." She begins quietly - will we have to strain through the traffic noise that deeves at these events? But no. The ice duly arrives, the talk loosens, we can hear just fine.

Thank God for that. Galloway begins by reading from one of her most physical of short stories, Blood. I know it well, wonder how far she'll read, how Mr B'll react if she goes right to the end. But she contents herself with the awfulness of the dental extraction - the sucking sensation, the black wiry hairs on the dentist's fingers, his callous jocularity. I love how she reads. She has a way of stressing words with just the right dry emphasis to make sure of their impact, and her body language is that of the born comedian. Her specs come off, go on again, are waved for emphasis. She reads, she talks about her writing, about teaching, about the kind of teacher who shouldn't, like herself when she asked a pupil: who do you think you are? And I wish all teachers had that degree of self-awareness, only our schools would be sadly undermanned.

In the gap before audience questions, I realise that the tent is flapping. Alarmingly. Great scooshes of wind drive a patter of rain over the heaving dark blue above our heads, and I picture the whole caboodle falling in, the huge gantries of lights crashing down on us, and I wonder if there'd be time to get under the tiny seats. You can tell I've spent a week in a San Francisco hotel. But the professionals under the spotlight don't falter. Galloway doesn't falter when the first question - from a teacher, of course - turns out to be banal and leads nowhere. She barely answers it, but leads us off on another ramble through psychology and parenting and life - and then there are other questions and before we know it the session is about to end. There will be a final reading.

But it doesn't end with more of Galloway's writing. It ends rather with her reading one of Edwin Morgan's poems - Edwin Morgan who has died 26 hours earlier. She reads it as beautifully as she does her own work. And then, urging us all to go to a book-signing, she leaves.

And we leave. It takes ages. And I'm so glad the roof didn't fall in.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Chris. Feel like I was there....