Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Books, books and more books!

I have just had the most brilliant time at the Borders Book Festival (, surrounded by hundreds of books and a fantastic team of people.  Although I was working in the bookshop which meant long hours (about 09.30 am - 11 pm) on my feet over four days, it was just such fun.  I've been rubbing shoulders with the likes of Neil Oliver, Joanna Lumley, Tom Conti, Jim Naughtie, Hilary Mantel, Kirsty Waugh, Lauren Child, Sally Magnusson ..... have I impressed you yet?!

The Festival tenting was set up in the grounds of Harmony House which is a National Trust property in Melrose.  The town is delightful and the countryside around it creates a wonderful backdrop in every direction.  
 The marquee below housed the bookshop, box office and cafe bar.
This is another of the four marquees used for the event.  It is hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for a summer book festival!
There was a peaceful walk around the perimeter of the garden, behind all the tenting, which gave a little respite from the hubbub of the Festival.
Melrose Abbey was also a venue for some events.  It is just across the road from Harmony House.
The bookshop was well stocked with the latest titles by each visiting author.  There was also the announcement and presentation of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction which went to a young author from Malaysia, Tan Twan Eng, for his book 'The Garden of Evening Mists'.  He is a delightful man and absolutely over the moon to have won the £25,000 prize which was given by the Duke of Buccleuch.  He couldn't quite believe he had won, especially with Hilary Mantel in the final shortlist of six!
As each day progressed and authors came and went, we would move the books around to more prominent positions to promote their sales.  After their talks the authors would come and sign their books at the far end of the table from us.  It was amazing how easy it was to forget that someone like Joanna Lumley was sitting a few feet away!   The signing queues could be very long winded for some of the bigger names and after their initial arrival and the curiosity factor had been satisfied, I would get on with selling books and taking customers' hard earned cash and just forget that so and so was quietly getting on with their job too!

Joanna Lumley (obviously!) 
and Neil Oliver, accompanied by two of his children, during their book signing sessions.
On Friday we had several hundred primary schoolchildren visit the Festival and it was just brilliant to see them milling around in the bookshop and carefully  choosing their book.  I think sales were very good that day and the best bit was to see children with real books in their hands.  There has to be an assured future for the book.  It is looking a little bleak with the arrival of kindles, but we cannot let books fade away.  Kindles have their place but books have soul.
During our breaks we were able to go and get lunch and dinner in the house.  This involved a very enjoyable walk through part of the garden.  It was full of azaleas, their spicy sweet smell reminding me of my childhood garden in Hampshire.  How evocative smells can be! 
The whole garden at Harmony House is within beautiful sandstone walls.  High on the top in one corner was a little row of foxgloves!
 The flower beds were full of glorious colour
and old greenhouses sat alongside an immaculate vegetable garden.
 We had some rain but not enough to dampen spirits or warrant wellingtons.
The atmosphere over the whole period of the Festival was one of pure enjoyment, excitement, thrill, admiration and an overwhelming sense of positivity.  There were top class authors and celebrities, entertainers for children, a stall selling locally made ice cream (delicious - I paid that a few too many visits) all to keep everyone entertained and happy, and of course, books to buy.  
 All too soon it was over and the process of packing up began.  
The stage which had hosted the great and the good was reduced to just a pool of light and all the hand clapping, laughter and rapture was left floating around in the roof of the marquee. 
Everyone went home and then the Festival staff were able to enjoy the wrap party!  I got back to my B&B just before 1 am but I could still hear the younger ones enjoying themselves as I walked through the late night streets of Melrose.  They were finally able to relax and begin to recount various tales from a very successful four days. 
For my part, it was the biz!  I loved every minute of it and now can't wait until I am selling books once more at the Borders sister book festival, Lennoxlove, at the beginning of November. WAHOO!

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