Monday, 23 May 2011
To the first Boswell Book Festival of biography and autobiography at Auchinleck house yesterday, on a gusty day of sunshine and sharp showers. It was bitterly cold but that did not blight the experience. Impressions are of a place unaccountably once abandoned, now loved again (it belongs to the Landmark Trust which has restored it), with unrivalled views across brilliant green countryside across to Arran; an exquisite house, a baby variant of Dumfries House just up the road and possibly by the same architect and builders. We (Susan Garnsworthy who kindly gave us a lift in her car; Marilyn Elliott; Andrea Reive and myself) were allowed to park right near the scene of the action because of Marilyn's mobility issues. The event had the charm of experiment and being new, but with all the right ingredients: interesting speakers, skilfully introduced - we had booked to hear Alistair Moffat on Scottish DNA and Candia McWilliam on her memoir What to look for in winter. Alistair managed to compress the message of his detailed book into the phrase: 'We are all immigrants' - we will be going to hear him again at his own Book Event in Melrose in June. The unspoken question that follows from his discovery is: so - if Alistair, a famous Scot, is actually 'English' - his DNA on his father's side is Anglian/Bernician - what constitutes identity? Culture, of course - tradition, custom, language. Candia was a revelation. I had expected someone cold and hard, instead she was large and cosy, wry and vulnerable. I bought her book which she personalised with a flourish under my name like Elizabeth R's signature. All the way there in Susan Garnsworthy's car and all the way back we talked about the Moffat book Event and how we can associate ourselves with everything else Moffat is seeking to achieve through the Initiative and other local organisations, from the Town Hall renovation (the Pump Room was once a Reading Room and still houses the library) to the Corehead project. By the time Susan dropped us off, the sun was blazing and the sky was blue - it was therefore thought appropriate to fish the first bottle of rose of the season out of the fridge, which I sampled with great pleasure.