OIR: Boswell Book Festival by Sheila A Grant

Article published on July 23, 2015.

Sheila A Grant reports on the  world’s only Festival of Biography & Memoir

So many excellent speakers – which ones to choose to attend? If only it was possible to hear them all. I attended all day on the Saturday, starting with Selina Hastings speaking about her recent biography of her father, The Red Earl. She was paired with Candia McWilliam who has written about distant fathers in history and in her own life. James Knox, a native of Ayrshire was a superb chairman who diplomatically balanced the two ladies, leading them smoothly into tales from their books. I found Selina Hastings fascinating and could have listened to her for hours. Her demeanour was friendly and informal with touches of light humour which contrasted sharply with Candia McWilliam’s more sombre words. I loved Selina’s story of when she was little and spending almost all her time in female company. So unused was she to male company that when he leant over her he was like King Kong. This session closed with a thought provoking question addressed to the audience….’what question do you wish you had asked your father?’ The replies confirmed my belief that we never inquired enough when we had our parents around.

Selina Hastings

Selina Hastings

The wonderfully entertaining Joanna Lumley filled the large marquee with fans which, despite the crowd, still had the sense of chatting with a friend. James Knox casually threw an idea or a query at Joanna who picked it up and ran with it in all directions, adding ‘ I told you I would ramble’. But we were happy to go with this lady, even more lovely in the flesh and with this effervescent personality that had us all in the palm of her hands. Especially when she told us that she is about 90% Scottish, and this two days after the election!   The anecdotes of her life as a model and becoming an actress evoked peals of laughter. This was a ‘feel good session’ and we all left smiling.

Rachel Cooke, voted by NY Times as the best young journalist, spoke about her book, Her Brilliant Career which contains mini biographies of ten women of the nineteen fifties. The shortage of men after the war meant that women had to step into the brink and despite the men no longer away fighting there were many women, who having tasted independence, came into their own showing courage, panache and determination to do their own thing and succeed against all odds. The book is fascinating but Rachel’s talk was quite heavy going. She tended to bang on about the women, which we can all read in the book, with little in the way of amusement, rather than tell us briefly  about each one and perhaps give some lighter stories about her research.

The Saturday evening was my final speaker, Ian Rankin. Ian is always a joy to hear. He may write dark thrillers but he is the nicest of men and never short of anecdotes with regards to his writing and the reaction from readers. Again the marquee was packed with an audience of Rebus fans hungry for a return of their favourite detective.

This is the first Boswell I have attended but it will not be the last. The atmosphere is superb and the location at Dumfries House is perfect. There were many other speakers who regretfully I was unable to attend such as John Sessions, The Duke of Wellington, Andrew O’Hagan and Jung Chang, to name a few.

Dumfries House

Dumfries House

Sheila A. Grant





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