Long before the idea for Isla Rising came to me, before it was even a twinkle in my eye, I spent some days in Edinburgh. It was the time of the Festival and the place was buzzing. Not mentioning, no, not in the smallest way, the way prices sky-rocketed, it was a wonderful experience. There were fresh new plays, along with some old classics, it was one of Chekhov’s I think. Lots of comedy shows and the wonderful Edinburg Book Fair where I spent some happy time browsing and listening. But the wonderfulness of the Festival really depends on the character of the city. Perth in. Western Australia also has its Perth Festival and the whole atmosphere and run of events are very Perthish, if I can put it that way. Each city may have a host of similar cultural events and in each place they have a different feel.
So for me the best thing about the Edinburgh Festival was Edinburgh, and if you have read my book you may have picked up that I like the place. I like its gloomy grey stone walls, its cobbled streets and its window boxes of geraniums. It’s the Old City I’m talking about, not the modern additions and suburbs. Climbing the steep Royal Mile I could easily imagine Kings and Queens riding up the Castle at the top; I could imagine the intrigue and the egos involved, the moves and countermoves. The shop fronts had been left old and crooked even if inside they’d been modernised. Inside one door was a small museum that celebrated the famous writers that came from Edinburgh, including Sir Walter Scot, Kenneth Graham, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to name but three. Today you find writers such as Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin strolling around town, dreaming up plots. But for me the most wonderful writer is Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Black Arrow, and The Strange Story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as well as one of my favourite childhood books, A Child’s Garden of Verses. Stevenson made Scotland live for me, as in smelling the heather, hearing the pipes, knowing the people and I had always wanted to visit there. I visited other places is Scotland, notably Perth, but Edinburgh remains my favourite.
As well as the deep sense of history that seems to come upward from the stones of the place, Edinburgh is also spooky, otherworldly, misty and imbued with feelings of something there that is more that the eyes can see. And then it is Gaelic. Words have a lilt and a tone, a definite feel of the different, at least for this English-speaker. English doesn’t have that musical lilt that the Gaelic provides, and that makes the language resonantly beautiful.
Now that Covid has receded into the unhappy past, I hope to visit this city again, and to find some inspiration for further writing. If Edinburgh was a bowl of water I would be a sponge. If you ever have the chance, do visit this beautiful Scottish city.