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  • Writer's pictureDamon Young

The Art of Reading: UK tour

I recently returned from the UK, where I did a quick tour for the The Art of Reading. ('Quick' being a loose word when intercontinental travel's concerned.)

With thanks to support from the Australia Council for the Arts and Neilma Sidney Literary Travel Fund, I was able to perform at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as well as some bookshops and libraries around England.

My trip began as all trips to the far north begin: with far too much travel and transit. In this case, it was thirty-five hours from door to door, Hobart to London. The tube was...not pleasant.

Coffee and cake at Bloomsbury's Syrup of Soot helped, but I still crashed.

When I was lucid again, I visited the nearby British Museum for the afternoon, exhausting myself by being giddily curious. My low-light photos are dodgy, but you'll get the gist of my medieval reveries: Prince of Wales two-handed sword, reliquary, Byzantine icon (after the iconoclasm), walrus ivory chess pieces, royal gold cup.

After two days at the museum--read: overcoming jetlag--I was off to my first gig, a talk at the Bookshop Kibworth, in Leicester. I spoke at the local library, which had been saved from closing (ugh) through the labours of local volunteers.

Then I was off to Norwich, where I spoke with the brilliant novelist Sarah Perry at The Book Hive. Sarah was (of course) fantastic, and the whole evening was very chill.

Next was a longer train trip to Edinburgh, for their big book shindig. I arrived just before my first gig, with crime writer Ian Rankin, chaired by Rachel Hosker.

The event was commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Edinburgh University Library building, and we spoke at great length about libraries, and their gifts to civilisation. Ian was a pleasure to speak with, and was generous enough to read aloud a passage from The Art of Reading.

Next was my reading workshop on Conan the Barbarian. This was perhaps the most enjoyable workshop I've ever run, and the participants--from Conan neophytes to veteran Crom-lovers--were magnificent. Alas, I didn't get any photos, but you can read part of my new Conan feature here. It features the below illustration by Tania Walker.

After my second gig, I dropped into the Golden Hare bookshop, which is gorgeous, filled with excellent books and humans. I signed some copies of The Art of Reading, and sold four on the spot to some very nice Canadian festival-goers.

My third Edinburgh gig was a conversation with Shaun Bythell, author of Diary of a Bookseller. Together with host Jenny Brown, we had enormous fun grousing about book-buyers, but also celebrating readers and reading.

After the event with Shaun, I dropped into MacDonald Armouries, an Edinburgh sword and knife smith. Paul was very generous with his time, and showed me his current commissions, as well as some ridiculously well-balanced basket-hilted swords from the eighteenth-century (yes, you read that right).

I also visited the National Museum of Scotland, and looked at...uh...more swords. This is the shield and silver basket-hilted backsword that belonged to Prince Charles Edward.

This was my first time to Edinburgh, and it's tough to get across how gorgeous the city is. Or, rather: to do justice to my enjoyment of its misty, rambling handsomeness. (And, look, if you ever need cashmere, they got cashmere.) You turn an ordinary corner on an ordinary street, and: hey, there's a castle standing majestically in fog.

Also, the coffee in Edinburgh was very good. The sushi too. Sorry, London.

After my final Edinburgh gig, I took a train to North Yorkshire. The market town Thirsk, to be precise. The home of All Creatures Great and Small's James Herriot, and the White Rose Books. A spoke to locals about reading, and we had a good chat about reading aloud with children (and one another).

And with that, I was done.

I then made my way south to London, took a day off for my birthday (and picked myself up a gift at Grosvenor Prints), met my European agent and UK publishers for lunch, then spent a stupid amount of time being dehydrated in a flying box with diseased strangers.

Oh, and I bought books. Of course. (Except The Eastern Curlew, which was waiting for me in Hobart).

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