It’s pretty much a local thing, the use of the double positive, sort of a reverse litotes. But this one is doubly positive, for it’s a book festival, in Glasgow. Aye, right I hear you say. City of Culture not that long ago, so why not?
Anyway, there I was set up for a double-header. Michael Jacobs was going to be telling me all about his travels in Columbia, perhaps even some tittle-tattle of high jinks with his neighbours in Andalusia. Then I’d calm down with Kathleen Jamie, all Findings and Sightlines, and some poetry too.
But then the call came, no Michael Jacobs. Ah well. Still worth a trip into the big city , hoping that Ms Jamie has the same mesmeric effect as Ms Griffiths, even without the small and intimate setting.
We gathered in the Jeffrey Library, all wood panels and priceless tomes, cupolas high above letting in the evening light, and decorative cornicing in between. Small and intimate is never an attribute when up to 150 souls gather, but it was sublime nonetheless.
She opened with an essay from Sightlines, Storm Petrel, and from there we were treated to birds and animals, to poetry and essays. The authorial voice makes all the difference; that rich, rolling brogue, the pace perfect as it all comes to life. From petrels to ospreys, stags and hawks, moths and spiders and bluebells; we had the works.
And did it work. Poetry often doesn’t chime with me, but when you hear a reading by the author suddenly it all makes sense.
And there were surprises too – for she’s not a big fan of St Kilda – but wouldn’t turn down the offer of a return – and her toes curl at the term ‘nature writing’ – for it is all natural. And the writing itself, well it comes naturally too – you just do it. But you have to persist, and reading aloud is essential.
Birds are important, and it was a 40th birthday thing – bit early to be a mid-life crisis these days – that decision to learn their names, to put behind her the WBJ thing. And so she writes with authority as that knowledge opens a new world, eyes raised ever upwards, demanding identification. Barnes comes back to mind again, Bad Bird-Watching.
And so there’s hope for us all; reading, reading more, drafting and editing, and speaking out. But there’s only one true sorceress, for it all comes so naturally to Kathleen Jamie, and I’m glad she shared it with us.
And there’s more, for on Saturday I make a major concession, missing the first half of the footie, and telling Urchin the Younger he has to miss it all. But with both Gavin Francis and Sara Wheeler talking about Antarctica I really don’t mind. I’ve heard Sara on Antarctica before, but adding Gavin’s experience of spending more than a year with the penguins will bring a new dimension. Looking forward to that one. Aye, right – no I am, honestly.