The award-winning author, Angela Jackson, who lives in the city, reveals why Edinburgh is the best location for writers…
There’s so much to bounce off. Something about the air, the buildings, the stunning vistas and dark passages, the waft of hops, the haar, the sound of the one o’clock gun, the sight of wild swimmers bobbing about in the Forth — there’s just something about Edinburgh that makes it easy to write here, to be a writer.
I started my first novel, The Emergence of Judy Taylor, in the north of England, my birthplace, and returned to Edinburgh to finish it. It won the Book Festival’s First Book Award, and the city’s booksellers championed it throughout the summer. At one point, it was outselling Morrissey in the Princes Street branch of Waterstones, which my younger self would never have believed. And Edinburgh is where I started and finished my second novel, The Darlings, although I nipped down to Manchester a few times as I worked on it. I’m an unashamed boomerang; I need the grit and humour of my northern roots as well as all the stuff Edinburgh offers. And I love the journey in both directions: going home and coming home.
The protagonist of The Darlings is a comedian who could only have been born within spitting distance of Manchester. Yet his life and his opportunities come about because he lives in Edinburgh, where sharing a stage with A-list comedians is pretty standard for August.
Lockdown has been the strangest time, and we’ve all dealt with it in different ways. It gave me time to write, of course. What writer wouldn’t want that? But, unlike some writers, I’m not productive in a retreat state. I need people, noise, activity. Prior to the pandemic, the quantity and richness of material around me was guaranteed. Not everything — barely a fraction — made it to my keyboard, but it had been there for the taking, day in, day out.
And now, finally, we’re emerging from our cocoons. And the promise of summers to come, of the festivals, the noise, and the music of twenty international languages and a hundred different accents you can hear as you walk the length of Princes Street keeps me going. Once we’re in the thick of it again, I know I’ll have most of what I need for my third novel. In the meantime, I’ve started working on some shorter pieces, just to keep my fingers familiar with the keyboard.
You don’t need to be a writer to benefit from all that Edinburgh has to offer. Each year, established artists and risk-taking fledglings flock to the Fringe, to put on shows in tiny, almost airless spaces. And, if we’re lucky, we all file out an hour later, inspired, our minds changed about what comedy is, or who really runs the world (I agree with Beyoncé on that score), or if we could be truly happy living on a rural Shetland farm.
At the Book Festival, we wait in long, snaking queues to eventually sit on hard plastic chairs just to hear our favourite authors tell us what makes them tick, and who they really based that character on. We sit on patches of grass in brief sunshine, eating ice creams as poets and musicians drift past, leaving invisible streams of words and notes in their wake.
Come September, as the famous faces head back to London, and makeshift venues are converted back to classrooms and church halls, freshers start to trickle in through Waverley’s barriers. They spend those first few weeks blinking up at the buildings we take for granted, strolling along Portobello prom, setting up barbecues on the tiny beach at Wardie Bay, offering us the opportunity to see Edinburgh through fresh eyes. Autumn. Soon, winter — the Norwegian tree on the mound, ice skaters, thousands of lights, the ferris wheel, Hogmanay. And, before you know it, we’re all strolling through the pinkest blossom in the Meadows again, talking about our plans for summer.
The Darlings by Angela Jackson (Lightning Books) is available from all good book retailers: http://bit.ly/AJacksonDarlings