IF you didn’t spot a famous author in Gibraltar earlier this month, you should have gone to Specsavers!
There were more than 50 of them billeted on the Rock for the annual Literary Festival and none of them were keeping a low profile.
If you thought you saw Madhur Jaffrey checking out spice shops in Irish Town, or BT’s Aunty Beatty (Maureen Lipman) phoning home from one of Gibraltar’s red phone boxes, then you probably did!
I glimpsed Joanne Harris in the doorway of M&S, sheltering from the same ‘sly wind’ that opens her blockbuster novel, Chocolat. And who could blame her! The Rock’s notorious Levanter storm cloud let rip on the Friday, threatening a washout. But it failed to rain on the extraordinary parade of literary talent that made the festival a best-seller.
With four or five talks going on simultaneously in different iconic venues around town, it could have been chaotic. There were little old ladies trying to crush through small doorways with giant golf umbrellas at every turn. But an army of locals had been recruited as ushers to redirect the lost, deal with dripping brollies and get the little old ladies seated before they took someone’s eye out!
Even the logistics of getting thousands of books past pedantic Spanish customs officers at the infamous Gibraltar border ran as smoothly as a rhyming couplet. That’s ‘proper’ books, by the way. It’s good to see the traditional paper variety are still in demand. Half the fun is getting your book autographed and how would authors sign a Kindle?
If a good book is a ‘page turner’, these intimate literary salons were ‘chair riveters’. The anecdotes flowed as copiously as the hospitality in the Green Room … or the sherry at Beltran de Domecq’s tasting talk, come to that! I’m usually a swallower, not a spitter, but with six humungous wine glasses of vino de Jerez to sample in an hour, even I had to concede defeat and expectorate!
Sr Domecq, whose ‘Prince Charles English’ accent belies his full-blooded Spanish name, has no time for drinking it by the thimbleful either. He likes his fino in a tall glass with tonic and ice, and calls it Fin and Tonic!
Kate Mosse told us how she gave a Hollywood director short shrift when he wanted to cast Orlando Bloom in the movie of her 2006 best seller, Labyrinth. “My main objection was that my two heroines are women!” said Kate, to ripples of laughter. She refused to give either a sex change, even for Hollywood megabucks!
Tangier Diaries author John Hopkins was another crowd pleaser, sharing his memoirs of literary Morocco and the wisdom his father gave him as a young man: “Don’t work in Wall Street and don’t masturbate, it will make you nervous”. It was all so unexpected, coming from the lips of an American septuagenarian sporting a Tetley Tea Folk flat cap!
So have you got a book in you? I rather thought I had but Lucy Atkins whose first novel, The Missing One, is dominating current best-seller charts, gave us a harsh reality check. The average literary agent is swamped with 30 manuscript submissions daily and takes on only one or two a year … But don’t give up, she says. Look what happened to J.K. Rowling!