Borders Writers’ Forum has again been given a slot at the Borders Book Festival, providing a welcome opportunity for members to read extracts from their work in front of an audience. And that audience expects a similar standard of writing and performance as at events with ‘big’ names — assorted writers anxious to promote books, pushy politicians seeking more limelight, and television celebrities by the score chasing more name-enhancing exposure.
So it’s with some trepidation, and fancy footwork puddle-avoiding in Melrose’s Harmony Garden, that we turn up for our event, clutching umbrellas in case of the forecast thundery showers, as well as our books packed into a large box, a pull-up banner, cameras, and pulling a two-weeks-in-the-sun-sized suitcase full of bits and pieces deemed necessary.
Seven Books Seven Authors is the name of our event, with the seven of us who have published books in the previous year taking part. We have a table in the marquee for selling books as well as signings, with the official event bookshop also stocking copies of our works.
Tension stiffens the air along with a slight nervousness even in those who are regular performers. After all, you never know what agent or publisher might be lurking in the audience (we can always hope!). Unusually, tickets are still available at this eleventh hour for other events (even those with ‘big’ names), so we sigh with relief as the marquee begins to fill, assuring us we have an audience of respectable numbers.
With book table organised and booklets, magazines, flyers, and cards in place, microphones and lectern light tested, we gather outside for a group photograph, thankful the black clouds massing overhead haven’t yet turned to rain.
Start time, and our first to read takes the stage. The thundery weather makes the tent hot and sticky, but with doors open noise spilling from other marquees is a distraction, so a member of staff rushes to close them. As a character soaked by rain is mentioned in our first author’s reading, the heavens above open and, for a brief time, the drum of raindrops on the canvas above adds a soundscape to her spoken words.
All our works are very different, some prose, some poetry, some historical, others contemporary. The mix is good and the variation in theme and reading voice keeps the audience engaged. The hour passes quickly, and before we realise it the event is over. The audience straggles to the book table, or to chat with others or to the exit. Some are off to another event, some to enjoy a glass of wine and take in the unique atmosphere of a festival set within a garden with a backdrop of Melrose’s ancient abbey and the Eildon Hills.
The rain has passed leaving a warm June evening, a smell of damp bruised grass, and seven satisfied authors.