Word Festival, Aberdeen

Promotional banner including pictures of myself, Ian Rankin, John Boyne, and others.

Promotional banner including pictures of myself, Ian Rankin, John Boyne, and others.

This past weekend saw the festivities of Word 09, a brilliant literary festival billed as ‘an exhilarating mix of over 60 authors and 130 inspirational events for all ages and tastes covering poetry and prose, theatre, music, lectures, film screenings, workshops and exhibitions.’ Whew, no wonder I was tired!

Newly appointed Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

Newly appointed Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

I was pleased with the opportunity to meet such a varied assortment of writers, from sci-fi to children’s books to crime novelists to poets to playwrights. It was a truly fun and illuminating weekend.

One person I met was the newly appointed Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who must be swiftly getting used to having her photo taken! She initially gave me the impression of having  a potentially gruff demeanor, but she was very friendly to speak with and wished me luck in my own work. She has really paved the way for women poets, coming from a generation and location (Scotland) where, I get the impression, women writers had to fight quite hard to prove themselves. It was an honour to meet her.

This year’s festival combined with an interlacing theme of science, so I partook in a few readings. One was semi-related to Word: a ‘Night at The Museum’ late-night opening at the University’s Zoology Museum, where I visited friends at the Natural History Centre, gave a short reading, and enjoyed an absolutely packed five hours which saw nearly 800 families pouring through the Museum. Children and adults enjoyed activities from ‘make your own owl’ to a phenomenally talented black-light puppet show, ‘From Molecules to Man,’ to a live raptor exhibition, to building paper-tube apes and learning about the human diet from ‘Stone Age to Obese Age.’ It was a brilliant evening.

Another writer I was particularly interested to meet was John Boyne, who has recently come into the spotlight with his controversial holocaust-children’s book ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.’ Coincidentally, I had just read the book, so it was interesting to hear him speak on both it and his newest book, ‘The House of Special Purpose,’ (not a children’s book).

Novelist John Boyne
Novelist John Boyne

As a supplement to the science themed Word Festival, I was asked to be one of the judges for a University-based exhibition called ’50 Words on Science,’ where University researchers had the opportunity to create a ‘postcard’ style piece with 50 words on one side (creative or straightforward or a mix,) and a related image on the other side. The 40 or so entries were displayed in the Festival’s Cafe at Elphinstone Hall, where visitors could come up to look at the pictures, turn over the cards and read the 50  words. It was both educational and fun, at times quite amusing, to judge the competition! Congratulations to the winners– one that particularly sticks in my mind is the gentleman who wrote about (and won a prize for) his work on copepod poo.

50 Words on Science exhibit.
50 Words on Science exhibit.

Fortunately I was able to fly up to Aberdeen on Friday, so I enjoyed a few events before the hectic but fun Night at the Museum on Saturday, and my reading on Sunday afternoon. This was a pleasant mix of reading, discussing my work, answering questions from the audience (of about 30 people, I’d estimate,) and announcing the winners– 5 of 6 attended! — for the 50 Words on Science.

Another interesting talk/reading I attended was Ian Rankin’s. I have to admit I have never read any of his books and I know absolutely nothing about crime fiction. The huge hall was absolutely packed, and we passed an incredibly agreeable hour listening to both questions from the audience and bantering discussion between Rankin and Stuart Kelly, the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday; they clearly knew each other well. I was completely surprised at how funny Rankin is! Of course, going in with no expectations at all was probably helpful.
Stuart Kelly is an interesting character, whose trademark look is wearing matching Converse trainers with his suits (‘trying to make himself look younger than he is, and failing,’ Rankin joked). A former Oxford professor, Kelly is totally acerbic and quite possibly too smart for his own good; he smokes like he’s looking to kill himself, and he was absolutely acidic about Ruth Padel and the whole Oxford poet professorship issue. An entertaining person to talk to all round, certainly, though I was bemused at the 4800 literary names he tossed around and did my best to pretend I knew who he was talking about, and probably failed entirely.
The Word 09 Festival was, overall, a great success, and I feel extremely priveledged to have taken part. It would be a pleasure to return!

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