Welcome to my
online journal...

My name is Alexander Gordon Smith, and I'm the author of various books including The Inventors series and the brand new Furnace series.

This is my blog, and is where I talk about books, writing and, well, probably other stuff too...

Edinburgh!

I've been meaning to blog about Edinburgh all week but I've only just got around to it. I haven't had a chance to upload all the pics and video from my show yet, but I'll add them in a little later!

In previous years I've always headed north by myself, but this year I wanted to make an occasion of it and have a little holiday too so Lyns, Lucy and Jamie accompanied me. We all clambered, luggage-laden, onto the train on Wednesday morning to brave the long trip up the east coast. Lyns wanted to fly, but there was no way!! It's a lengthy old trip across the border – an hour and a half to Peterborough from Norwich then another four hours or so to Edinburgh, but we passed the time playing on the DSs and battling with Jamie's new Magic: The Gathering cards. Before we knew it we were clambering, luggage-laden, off the train and into a taxi.

I love Edinburgh. I think it's probably my favourite city in the world (sorry Norwich, I love you too, just not as much). I think it's the architecture that I love most. Everywhere you look in Edinburgh the sights are just breathtaking – not just the castle but the regency buildings and the monuments, and beyond them the hills and the Forth. It's just spectacular. I'd have moved there years ago if it was a little closer, and if the weather wasn't so bloody awful!! We were staying in Channings, which is a gorgeous townhouse hotel a ten minute walk out of town. Apparently it's the friendliest hotel in Edinburgh, and we weren't disappointed. We were in a two-bedroom suite (well, a family room, but two-bedroom suite sounds so much better!) in the basement, but even down there the views out of the huge windows were great! We had a bit of an explore of the hotel, then wandered up to Princes Street, but the rain eventually drove us back to Channings for a meal. I couldn't really enjoy myself, though, because I was anxious about my show...

I needn't have been! The Edinburgh International Book Festival is an amazing event – if you've never been then you just have to check it out next year. There's so much going on, all in a wonderful location. This was the third year that I've been invited, although unfortunately I had to miss my first ever show here back in 2007. Last year I did a brilliantly fun event with John Fardell, and this year I was on my lonesome, which made it even more terrifying! I think the biggest fear when you do an event is that nobody will come, and when I arrived in Charlotte Square 45 minutes before my show to see the place looking quite empty I started to panic. Oh no, there are going to be three people there – Lyns, Lucy and Jamie – and I'm never going to be invited back. I'm just going to run away and hide! I went and sat in the author yurt (yes, it really is called that, it's great – last year I was in there with Sean Connery!) and tried to relax. Patrick Ness was in there too and I really wanted to say hi but I was too nervous and didn't really know what to say! After a few minutes the chair of my show arrived – a lovely woman called Yvonne who told me how much she loved Furnace, which was very sweet. We chatted a while and she put me at ease. Then with a few minutes left to go Sara Grady, the fantastic woman who runs the children's side of the festival, came to collect us. Fortunately when I stepped outside there were loads of kids there, and I was delighted to see that many of them were queueing up outside my venue! We waited outside the door for a few minutes (and people kept coming up and asking me where the loos were – it must have been the bright orange T-shirt I was wearing, even if it did have a rather large skull on it!) then it was time!

When I went through the door I saw that the event was sold out! There must have been 130ish people in there, including Lyns, Lucy and Jamie (who had come very close to arriving late thanks to Lynsey's awful navigation skills). I was delighted (if still absolutely terrified). Yvonne introduced me, then I was on! It was a great event, the audience were so responsive – especially when asked about their greatest fears. Two shout-outs have to go to the boy who said his greatest fear was Glasgow, and the girl in the front row who kept talking about having her eyes ripped out (by spoons, I think, and by insects). By the end of the session we had some absolutely wonderful story ideas. It was one of the best events I've ever done, and thanks so much to everybody who came. Jamie actually filmed it, so I'll try and post the video on the site sometime soon. Afterwards I hopped across the path to the bookshop and signed for nearly an hour. They sold out of books so I was signing slips of paper and allsorts! By the end of it I was absolutely exhausted, but it wasn't over yet! I was doing an outreach event – part of a wonderful programme to bring book festival shows to less privileged parts of the city – and a great guy called Colm whisked me off in a taxi to the McDonald Road Library where I did a smaller but equally enjoyable show. Thanks so much to the pupils who came to this one too, I had a fantastic time and you were all great. Let me know if you turn any of those great ideas into stories! Oh and because there weren't books at this event I ended up signing about twenty arms, which is a first!

So thanks again everybody for making my events in Edinburgh go so fantastically well – hopefully I'll see you all next year!

Utterly knackered, I headed back to the hotel and chilled out for a bit and waited for the gang to come back from a day of shopping. After a bit of relaxation we decided to go out for something to eat, and ended up heading round to the south side of the castle, and the Grassmarket. I love that part of Edinburgh – it always reminds me of going there with my dad when I was little. There used to be a shop that sold spooky Polish posters that we would always visit, although I can't seem to find it there now. It had started to rain again (surprise surprise) so we dashed into a Steak and Oyster bar for a meal. I didn't really fancy a steak as I'd had a burger for lunch, so I had mussels. They were gross!!! I pride myself on being able to eat anything, but I really struggled with these. Blurgh! Jamie ate most of mine, even though he'd eaten a bucket of mussels himself! It was late by the time we'd walked back to the hotel, so we decided to have an early night and save our energy for tomorrow – Lynsey's birthday!

In the morning me, Jamie and Lucy went and had a slap-up breakfast while Lyns had a lie-in, and we brought her back a mountain of toast and danish pastries. We'd said that Lyns could do whatever she wanted today, and she wanted to visit the castle, which was great. We walked across town, getting a bit lost in the Princes Street gardens, then up the steepist hill in the world to get to the castle gates. The tattoo was on all month, so the view was obscured a bit by the scaffolding, but once we'd got past that the castle looked superb. We had a good wander round, and luckily the weather was clear so we could enjoy the spectacular vistas from the top (although the freezing wind was doing its best to blow us off the edge)! Lyns and Lucy watched a show about Mary Queen of Scots while Jamie and I went to eat (I had haggis, delicious)! Then we headed back down into town. Next Lynsey wanted to go to the camera obscura which is just outside the castle gates. It's an amazing place – not just because of the pinhole camera which lets you spy on the city below, but because of all the mega cool magical and illusion stuff they have there. Some of it is mind-boggling! We spent hours roaming around being gob-smacked. I'd really recommend this place to anyone who's visiting Edinburgh. After that we were pretty tired so we walked back to the hotel and had dinner there. The staff even put a little birthday candle in Lynsey's creme brulee whilst we sang happy birthday, which was very sweet! All in all it was one of the best days ever!!!!

We had great fun the next day too, walking into town and visiting the Museum of Childhood. This has to be one of the scariest places I have ever been in my whole life – there is a room full of spooky dolls!!! I don't think I'd stay in there overnight for a million quid! It's a fascinating place, though, full of toys that have been long forgotten in this age of computer games and the like. After that we did a bit of shopping – the girls looking for souvenirs and me and Jamie looking for Magic cards and Battlestar Galactica T-shirts (yes, I know, we're geeks). Then we spent hours trying to find somewhere to eat before ending up in Bella Italia. Then it was time for bed!

To make the most of our final day I hadn't booked the train until 3, so we dropped off our luggage at the station and headed for the Walter Scott monument. I think it's so awesome that this immense and imposing tower was built in honour of a writer – I mean how cool is that?! I hope I have one of these made in my honour after I die :-) There are around 270 steps to the top, and they get steeper and narrower as you climb. By the time you reach the highest of several balconies your head is spinning from the circular climb, which means you're towering over the city below and the world is literally circling you. All in all not a great design... Lyns backed out on the penultimate level, but the rest of us made it to the top. I have to say it was absolutely terrifying, but great fun at the same time! After we'd clambered down and kissed solid ground we went for a cuppa in the National Gallery, then it was time for the train :-(

I wish we'd had longer to spend in Edinburgh, but even though we only had a few days it was one of the best holidays I've ever had, and one of the best shows I've ever done! See you next year, Edinburgh!

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