Last night I did an ‘author event’ – the first in-person event of this year – at Toppings Bookshop in Edinburgh. This bookshop, fairly new to Edinburgh, has been beautifully designed around the many interestingly-shaped rooms of the historic building. Curved wooden bookcases follow the line of the curved walls. Rolling library ladders enable you to climb up to higher shelves. Readers sit by windows with cups of tea from pretty teapots (see photo). As a visitor you don’t know what to look at first, the books or the artistry of the store.
My husband Bob ‘interviewed’ me about my new book. To make this feel spontaneous, we hadn’t agreed on the questions beforehand. I had a pretty good idea of what he might ask, but all the same his actual questions were new to me and prompted a genuine off-the-cuff response. At the end, audience members asked questions – and very intriguing questions they were too. Like: ‘Do you ever feel like varying the text of classic pieces of piano music by improvising phrases of your own instead of what’s written?’ (Answer: no, but it’s quite a long answer.)
After a year and a half of the pandemic, doing live events is a strange mixture of familiar, disquieting and heartening. We have trained ourselves to be wary of people sitting close together. Yet many of us long to be back in settings where we can be close together, enjoying the energy of the crowd. ‘Crowd’ is not quite the word for my bookshop gathering, but all the same they had a unity. They were wearing masks, but sitting close together and reacting ‘as one’ to particular moments in the discussion, just like a concert audience would. For me, this was a lovely feeling. I’ve missed it!