On Saturday, I appeared at the Wigtown Book Festival in Dumfries and Galloway in the west of Scotland (see photo of me being interviewed by Stuart Kelly).
Wigtown is Scotland’s ‘national book town’, boasting an astonishing number of bookshops for a small town which is difficult to get to. Yet as several people pointed out, transport links to that part of the country were actually better in Victorian times. That’s one reason why ‘the Glasgow boys’ used to come down in the 1880s to paint in the lovely Galloway light, because the area was easy to reach on the train from Glasgow.
On my first day in Wigtown I popped into a cafe. A man at the next table recognised me and came over to tell me that he had read all my books. All my books! I’m not sure that such a thing has ever happened to me before, not outside a small circle of friends. Yes, it was a book festival, but it still seemed amazing.
Not only had this nice man read all my books, but he also remembered coming to a concert of mine about 20 years ago. I had played a Schubert piano sonata, and introduced it beforehand.
In my introduction, I had explained (he said) that after telling them a bit about the piece, I was going to go offstage for a few moments before returning to play the sonata. I said it could be stressful to speak to the audience and then immediately sit down and play. Something weird happens in your brain when you have to turn from public speaking to playing music without a moment to collect your thoughts while nobody is looking at you. You can feel quite jangled.
Evidently I had added, ‘Imagine an actor who’s about to play the role of Hamlet. He steps forward to tell the audience a bit about the play before it begins. He would naturally then go offstage and ‘get into character’ before re-appearing as Hamlet. It would be jarring for everyone if he finished his introduction and then strolled onto the stage set without a break in which we could forget that he was an actor and get ready to believe in him as Hamlet. In a similar way, I need a quiet moment to become the performer’.
Rather a good thing to say, actually, I felt on hearing it relayed back to me after an interval of many years. Yet I had only a faint recollection of saying it, while someone in the audience could recall it in detail. Memory is so complicated!