I am taking time off to go and hear a couple of sessions," I told the person on the other end of the phone.
It had rung just as I was about to get ready to leave. The person on the other end of the phone did not sound too impressed.
"But Cat, you were supposed to be at the meeting so..."
"The meeting was cancelled and I have made other arrangements," I told him firmly, "If you want to talk to me about the other problem then it can wait until after I have been to those sessions."
I don't think my caller was too impressed but I am not paid to work for him - or anyone else - so yesterday I took time off.
I went to two sessions at Writers' Week. I would like to have gone to more.
Writers' Week has changed. Writers have come and gone. During those first Writers' Weeks I attended I had the outstanding good fortune to be looked after by Judith Wright. (She might have said I was looking after her because of her hearing loss and the need for me to "interpret" at times but the reverse was the case. I met people I would never otherwise have met and spent time listening to them.)
Now Writers' Week is attended by hundreds of people. Two sessions will be run in parallel and each will have a crowd.
One had a particular crowd yesterday - possibly close to a thousand people came to hear Alexander McCall-Smith speak. I wanted to hear him too. I also wanted to hear Louise Doughty speak. Her session was fortunately in the same "East Tent" before him. I arrived early enough to snag a chair in the shade of the canopy which comprises the "tent" and enjoyed listening to the buzz of anticipation around me.
Someone sat down next to me and asked whether I had read any of Doughty's books. Yes, I have - although I have yet to read the one she was going to speak about. Oddly our conversation continued until I admitted that I write - or try to write. Silence. That was the end of the conversation. Oh well. It was a good session. The woman ahead of me was taking notes. Oh yes, she's writing a novel.
Alexander McCall-Smith's session was special for two reasons. First of all he is a witty speaker, more than capable of keeping an audience amused. He did not have much to say about the craft of writing but that would have been wrong for the audience anyway. They were there to hear the creator of the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, the creator of 44 Scotland Street (particularly Bertie), the creator of Isabel Dalhousie etc. They wanted to know about the Really Terrible Orchestra and so on.
It was also special because his session was signed for a number of people with hearing impairments. The good professor speaks very clearly but rather rapidly so those signing were hard put to keep up with him. There was a glorious moment, largely lost on those who know nothing about sign language, when they had to interpret a name involving the repetition of a word. I won't spoil it here because I have no doubt at all that, somewhere in the future, the incident will appear in his writing.
Afterwards I did something I don't like doing. I lined up with my copy of No1 and waited while more than a hundred people ahead of me gushed that they "loved" his books, while they got others to take their photograph with him.
I had been watching him of course. He had been pleasant and polite and seemed to show a genuine interest in everyone he met.
Eventually he turned to me and I told him who I was and mentioned that we knew people in common. I did not say I "loved" his books. I was not in the least sure he would be interested in anything I had to say by then and there were still a few people behind me so I was not going to prolong the conversation.
But he looked at the stragglers behind me, obviously decided they could wait a little longer and asked me several questions. I don't think they were asked out of politeness but out of a genuine curiosity. For a moment he could stop being an author signing books - however much he might like people - and be a writer instead. There's a difference.
It would have been so very good to have been able to talk longer - to talk about writing rather than reading - but Writers' Week has become too big for that.
Someone gave me a questionnaire to fill out. I don't usually bother with those but this time I might. Writers' Week has to be for writers as well as readers. What writers get from listening to another writer is different.