For the last four years, the Lennoxlove book festival organised by the indefatigable Alistair Moffat and Paula Ogilvie has been stuffing new ideas and imagined worlds into its audiences’ minds, and the fifth one last weekend was no exception.
For the first time, it also hosted Scotland’s biggest book awards, sponsored by the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Scottish Book of the Year awards. This year, Gavin Francis, inset, won the £30,000 main prize for his book Empire Antarctica, which he wrote after spending 14 months as the base-camp doctor at the Halley research station. As everyone else there was fit and healthy, he had little else to do – apart from meditate about living somewhere nothing is on a human scale and all the details of human life are irrelevant. The very opposite, in short, of Lennoxlove .
In the spirit of those awards, and based on a full weekend’s attendance, I’d like to present Lennoxlove with my own awards. Sadly, they are cashless, but surely it’s the thought that counts.
Most outrageous fact: Talking about The Deaths, a crime novel doubling as a satire on middle-class mores in the South of England, Mark Lawson pointed out that while many of his characters had run up massive debts, the one who hadn’t was a GP in a rural practice. “She’s on £300,000 a year. In England these days, some rural GPs running their practices aggressively as businesses are part of the super-rich,” he said. Apparently, there are already ten millionaire GPs. Though chair Cliff Sharp, a psychiatrist (and excellent interviewer) pointed out that this isn’t the case in Scotland, it still makes one feel rather sick about the dear old NHS.
Most eagerly anticipated novel: Plenty of competition here, but I’m going for William McIlvanney’s next novel. “Laidlaw still haunts me,” he confided. “I think I’d like to revisit him. I’ve got an idea for a prequel and a sequel and have made a lot of notes for both, but haven’t yet decided between them, although there’s an obvious bias towards a prequel. It’ll take me at least a year – but I’m not making any promises.” McIlvanney, I should add, leaves my awards ceremony laden with awards, having also carried off the double for most charismatic and most eloquent Scot.
Best satirist: Rory Bremner. Again, a tough category, given the strong challenges from the two Johns (Lloyd and Sessions), but he edges it on the strength of his new Ed Miliband impression (“like Blair with a head cold, eating an apple, and with just a hint of Chris Tarrant”). Bremner’s brand of satire, though, was always about more than just the voices. Did you realise, for example, that “a quarter of the recovery is made up of the fines paid by the banks for their assorted misdeeds?” Me neither. Someone give him a TV series again – quickly!
Most God-like author: Eleanor Updale. Well, what else do you call it when you have to decide which 65 of your 100 characters are going to die in the next minute, and in which each chapter lasts for only a second?
Best newcomer: On the strength of the extract he read from his debut novel, The Madness of July, due out in February, none other than James Naughtie.
Best politician: Another tough one, especially as Douglas Hurd is heading towards National Treasure status. But Alan Johnson’s memoir of his impoverished childhood is desperately moving without being mawkish. Maybe he’s too nice a guy to be Labour leader, but he’d have got my vote. And how sad his admission that in today’s more socially immobile Britain, he wouldn’t have stood a chance of rising as far as he did.
Most disappointing event: Jeremy Paxman on the First World War. Decent enough presentation masking a weak thesis. Does he really think that everyone takes Blackadder Goes Forth as serious history? How can he argue that it’s a forgotten conflict when the war poets have never left the school syllabus? And incidentally, shouldn’t he tell his publishers that insisting that people only get tickets to see him if they’ve bought a copy of his book leaves a bad taste in the mouth, not least with all the other writers?
Best artwork: Every major book award I’ve ever been at has had short films of the authors either reading or discussing their work. Realising that this format was becoming tired, for the SMIT awards (see above), Creative Scotland commissioned four young Scottish animators to interpet readings by the authors of the first page of their books.
The results were stunning. So step forward Cat Bruce, Anna Pearson, Michael Hughes and Kate Charter. Your work is brilliant and deserves a huge audiuence. And (here’s a first) well done Creative Scotland too.