Thursday, 30 August 2012

Robert Douglas at the Edinburgh Book Festival - not wet

Robert Douglas - brilliant
Before you point it out, I know, the Edinburgh Book Festival is over. But I didn’t think you were quite sick enough of hearing about it yet. So I thought I’d tell you about something I discovered on my last day there.
And the discovery goes something like this – Robert Douglas is brilliant.
I rocked up to this talk from two authors, neither of whom I’d heard of before and both of whom I’d already pre-judged. I thought they were both going to be a bit sentimental. A bit overly-nostalgic. A bit, well, wet.
And I wasn’t 100% wrong. They came out with one or two eye rolling moments. I was a little worried at one stage when I reacted to an “I can’t imagine writing a novel without a love story” admission with a small “harrumph.” I think I got away with it though.
So, not 100% wrong maybe, but something like 80% wrong. Both authors impressed me more than I was prepared for.
And it was Robert Douglas who shot out the traps first.

I thought I’d find him boring. I didn’t. His books (fiction and non-fiction alike) have 1970s Glasgow as their backdrop, and instead of miring it rose tinted nostalgia, he makes it fizz. He read an extract from his latest (out now in all good bookshops) and the dialogue blew me away. Which was a good job, because it was pretty much all dialogue. And therein lies his talent.
I asked him about it, about his flair for dialogue, and he said he simply imagines it on the big screen and then commits it to paper. He uses his love for film to create such a lively to and fro between his characters that it almost doesn’t matter what they’re saying. There was such rhythm and life to it that I didn’t care what was happening, it was just absorbing to listen to.
As a writer who has struggled with dialogue, I’m jealous of Robert Douglas’ gift. But I can’t begrudge him it. He’s had a hard life, and he’s come out of it with a story to tell and the talent to tell it. He clearly loves telling it as well, a feeling which was infectious.
I’m sure there’ll be a review for one of his books up on GBR when I finally work through the current pile, but in the meantime, if ever I’m asked which authors I think write particularly good dialogue (which isn’t an everyday occurrence, granted), I plan to respond “Have you heard of a guy called Robert Douglas? He’s brilliant.”

(The other author at this talk was Cynthia Rogerson, who I was also impressed with. I'll tell you all about her in another post. I bet you're looking forward to it...)

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