Festival Diary: The question that flummoxed the First Minister

It is a rare thing indeed to see Scotland’s First Minister flummoxed by a question.

Nicola Sturgeon has been appearing across Edinburgh's festivals. Picture: Euan Cherry/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon has been appearing across Edinburgh's festivals. Picture: Euan Cherry/Getty Images

But that is exactly what unfolded during the first of two book festival sessions, when Nicola Sturgeon was interviewing Glasgow author Louise Welsh.

After inviting questions from the crowd packed into the Central Hall, one audience member could not resist the opportunity to ask both women what three books they would pack if they were being cast away to a desert island.

The First Minister said: “I can’t, I’m sorry, I’d refuse to do it. It would just be impossible, which is why I’d never got to a desert island.

Nicola Sturgeon interviewed Louise Welsh at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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    “I’d take Sunset Song, but then I’d take whole (Scots Quair) trilogy, then I’d take The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, but then I’d want everything else as well, I’d want everything by Louise Welsh, Val McDermid and Toni Morrison.

    Welsh was a bit more ruthless in narrowing her wish-list down to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and “maybe a dictionary.”

    The First Minister left the audience in no doubt how much a fan she was of Welsh’s work, including debut novel The Cutting Room and new sequel The Second Cut, and their main character, auctioneer Rilke, who she described as “a bit of paradox,” being both greatly principled but is also “ethically challenged” and operates within his own “moral code.”

    She said: “He doesn’t play by the book but he is always trying to do the right thing.”

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    After Welsh admitted that the character recognised good and bad, but occasionally “stepped beyond the line,” the First Minister: “There is maybe a bit of that in all of us, although for the benefit of the tabloids, not me.”

    The close proximity of the book festival’s new venue at the Central Hall to the Filmhouse, the headquarters of the finally-back-in-August film festival, allows festivalgoers to hop, skip and jump between the two venues.

    The days of a seamless festival experience in August are still some way off due to the baffling need for the International Festival to have its own box office operation at the Filmhouse to distribute and sell tickets for its joint commission with the film festival, The Ballad of A Great Disordered Heart.

    The culmination of a lockdown project inspired by the new-found friendships fiddler Aidan O’Rourke forged with those who were left in his Old Town courtyard during the first lockdown when the tourist industry was shut down, in particular three octogenarian neighbours, all called Margaret.

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    Eagle-eyed film festival followers have noticed a bit of a change at Filmhouse One where the old stage has been removed.

    This allowed O’Rourke and piper Brìghde Chaimbeul to entertain the audience with a few tunes before the two packed screenings of the film got underway.

    Mission in action from the second screening were “the three Margarets,” reported by O’Rourke to be causing an “absolute riot” in the bar downstairs.