This weekend I went up to the Wigtown Book Festival. It is a looong way. But it was more than worth it. It wasn't only worth it to spend time with other writers, eat scads of lobster, drink delicious boozes, sell some books and chat chat chat, it was worth it because something happened that reminded me of exactly the reasons I do what I do.
On Sunday I led two walks around the Georgian planned village of Garlieston with local farmer and historian Tom MacCreath. History walks are always a fluid and unpredictable thing, but these were even more so as I realised that as the walks went on, we were becoming like the Pied Pipers of Garlieston, as retired residents and customers from the Harbour Inn had joined in. We had beautiful weather and I hope a good time was had by all. As one of the residents observed, it had indeed, 'Turned out nice again', in our honour. I signed books from the boot of the festival car and Tom returned me to Wigtown where a lot of people sat around talking about the Booker and Dr Who until midnight and I felt a bit inadequate and made notes of things I need to read.
Yesterday, after a fine breakfast in the Glaisnock Cafe, I gave a talk on Georgian London in the town hall, known as the County Buildings. Georgian London in rural Scotland. Honestly? I hadn't expected the crowd that arrived. I did my usual trick of trying to pack in too much information, but the slightly risky eighteenth century jokes went down well. The Q&A was great and then there was a book signing. My first customer was a ten year old boy. He was with his mum, but the book was for him. I was delighted. But as is the nature of these things (as I am learning), it was all a rush. After the signing, I went back to the Wigtown Bookshop, where I was staying. It was packed, and History Boy and his parents were there. There's no stopping him! He had just bought a book about the Blitz. We talked about Lancaster bombers and Spitfires. I promised to send him another book, if he gave me his address.
The Bookshop in Wigtown runs the Random Book Club. You sign up, and they send you a random second hand book each month. And this gave me an idea: I am going to send History Boy a work of historical fiction (can be fantasy, but must have a historical bent) every month for a year. Ten years old was when my yearning for books kicked in. It was when they became friends, and I wore them out through repeated readings. Those books are still my friends now, broken and tired and a little greasy on the shelf in the hall. The Owl Service, The Silver Sword, Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Machine Gunners, Viking Dawn, The Lord of the Rings, Smith, the list goes on. But it can't only be my choice. That wouldn't be right. So, I am asking for your help. What are the books you remember from that time? The ones that sparked your love of history? Twelve magical, transporting books is what I need. So suggestions in the comments please!
(The festival ended on a slightly less magical note for me. In rummaging for my charger in my bag, I managed to discard a bra at the Bookshop. And then the car broke down on the M40 and I didn't get home until almost four am. But the AA got me back, and the Bookshop have emailed to say they're putting the bra on ebay. So it all turned out nice, again.)