Book review: Lennoxlove book festival

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OF ALL the things you might expect to learn at a book festival, the art of polite spitting has to be pretty far down the list. In the Great Hall at Lennoxlove, where Scotland's rulers have met and mingled for centuries, one suspects that the topic might never have been raised.

At the end of Dr Jim Wilson's talk about what genetics can tell us about history, however, polite spitting came into its own. If you want to know where your ancestors came from, a DNA analysis is the only way to go. It would also, he pointed out, help in the great cause of understanding the genetic roots of Scottishness – or at least those in its East Lothian corner. In explaining an audience to itself, few book festival events can ever hope to come within spitting distance.

Last weekend's inaugural book festival at the ancestral home of the Dukes of Hamilton witnessed a number of other firsts. Masses of patient children, for one thing: hundreds of them queuing for almost an hour in the November cold to get their book signed by the ever-wonderful Michael Morpurgo. Or satire: the grounds of the ducal estate might have echoed to rapid fire before, but that of guns shooting pheasant rather than Rory Bremner blasting at our political leaders, and – to the enjoyment of a packed marquee – winging more than a few.

It might have seemed a gamble, not just staging a book festival in a stately home but doing it in the middle of November. But from the opening event onwards (Alexander McCall Smith in sparkling form), the crowds who turned up at Lennoxlove told their own story.

Director Alistair Moffat and his team have already, at Melrose, firmly placed one book festival on the calendar of Scotland's must-see events. Now, at Lennoxlove, they have successfully launched another.