HOW does a novel start? Ian McEwan began his award-winning book, Atonement, with a picture of girl putting wild flowers into a vase. The lesser known addendum is that the girl was a character in a science-fiction novel “in a version of the future where the upper-classes had ditched all modern technology and lived in country park, Jane Austen-style houses”.
The novelist made this unexpected admission in his second event at this year’s Book Festival, with Kirsty Wark replacing Alex Salmond as the interviewer. The sci-fi idea “turned out to be as bad as it sounds”, but in it there was a spark for the novel which became Atonement. The girl with the flowers had a sister. And the rest is literary history.
McEwan’s new novel, Sweet Tooth, began with the discovery of the “Cultural Cold War”, in which the British and US secret services pumped thousands of pounds into funding cultural activities which they believed could spread anti-Communist ideas. It’s a short step from this to McEwan’s tale about a young writer at Sussex University being approached by a beautiful female MI5 agent with an offer he can’t refuse.
Distinguished historian Norman Davies was in Dumbarton when he considered the beginning of his new book, Vanished Kingdoms. Almost no trace remains of the kingdom of Britons (Welsh) based at Dumbarton Rock from the fifth century, and Davies went on to find many others like it across Europe.
Tom Pow was in Canada when he read a newspaper article that sparked his project on Europe’s dying villages. The continent is predicted to lose 30 per cent of its population by 2030. His book, In Another World: Among Europe’s Dying Villages, charts his journey among these resonant places, and the people who still inhabit them.
Resonant places were also the subject in a fascinating event with religious writer Martin Palmer and Jean Sprackland, whose Strand charts a year of beachcombing on the north-west cost of England. Palmer, who explores the spiritual landscapes of Britain in Sacred Land, began by describing the one on our doorstep. The New Town of Edinburgh, he said, was planned, post-Culloden, to reflect Georgian values of balance and harmony. Charlotte Square was originally St George’s Square, making the New Town a perfectly poised expression of Scots and English, St George and St Andrew, Thistle and Rose.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West