Four readings in three days and two countries is nothing to be sniffed at. And to launch Clemens Meyer's short story collection All the Lights in my translation, that's what we did. Our first stop was Edinburgh, where we mere mortal translators and publishers were housed in modest surroundings, while Clemens and his fellow And Other Stories writer Juan Pablo Villalobos stayed in palatial hotels at the expense of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Clemens flew in a day later than I did, so I took him to his hotel (very posh, did I mention that?). But that was at just before one, Edinburgh time, so the 2:30 at Munich was looming large. "Mr Meyer has a horse," I told the receptionist, "and it's racing in half an hour. We need an internet connection, quick!"
I swear I've never enjoyed saying a sentence as much as that one. Actually, Clemens Meyer has a part-share in a horse by the name of Proust. It was called that before he got it, he assures me. But the receptionist in the extremely classy hotel didn't need to know that. He'd arrived a bit early and the room wasn't quite ready, could we perhaps...?
No, we couldn't. So it was off to the nearest bookmaker's. Women don't tend to go to bookies very often, and it was certainly my first time. Heads turned as we strode in and pleaded with a perplexed employee to show us the 2.30 at Munich on one of his screens. No can do. Next bookie: no, sorry, and no, I don't know where there's an internet café round here. D'you know, Doug? No idea love, sorry.
But the seasoned racing veteran has a nose for an internet connection, and Clemens soon sniffed out the Hilton Hotel. It was 2.25 in Munich and he was getting a wee bit jumpy. Excuse me, this gentleman here needs to use a computer, could we possibly...? Why of course madam, just up the stairs to your left, in the business centre. Five pounds for half an hour or three pounds for fifteen minutes? 2:28. Five pounds, you never know. Logged in, online racing channel, selected the right race, and they were off. Proust with the white saddle pad, the jockey in white silks with a green cross. Picture too small and pixelated, no sound, Spanish gentleman looking irritated at the next computer, where is he? Is that him on the inside? No, the silks are green with a white cross. Can't see him anywhere, is that him...? Not among the winners, when do they put the results up, when's the replay coming, good job we paid a fiver, why don't you try this other computer with a sound card, thanks ma'am, ah, here's the replay, oh. That's him near the back, not a bad start but... hmmm, losing speed in the curve, no, the ground's too soft, it's been raining for days, he's no good on soft ground, well the jockey won't push him if he knows he can't make it, hmmm. Well, never mind, at least I only put fifty on him.
Off to the pub for a commiseratory Guinness. Or two. Where we were assailed – or was it wassailed? – by an old Navy man with tales of ladyboys in Singapore and pantaloon-wearing homosexuals in Indonesia. Clemens could tell he was a smoker by his fingers, I could tell by the smell. Lots of nodding and smiling, but no, he didn't know if Robert Louis Stevenson was actually born in Edinburgh, no. A shame. On to Juan Pablo's reading with his lovely and very talented translator Rosalind Harvey and young British writer David Whitehouse. To her shame, the chair negelected to introduce Rosalind properly. So I shall neglect to tell you the chair's name.
There followed drinks and food at a nice pub. I had sausages and mash with onion gravy, which Clemens agreed was very good and not like German sausages at all, and our publisher had haggis pie with whisky cream sauce. I left before the others started sampling their way through the whiskies, but I'm told it was very educational.
The next day was Clemens' own reading with Stuart Evers, chaired by Stuart Kelly. See, I've mentioned his name because he was absolutely brilliant. Great questions about the art of writing short stories and the art of translating them. We came off stage buzzing and things only got better, because while Clemens was signing books two lovely local-ish bloggers came to say hello - Lizzy Siddal and Rob from Rob Around Books. I've been a bit cheeky and linked to their pieces about the event, because they both have actual photos and say nice things about me. And you two - I felt all warm and fuzzy meeting you as well. Plus they started a trend for getting the book signed by me, which made me nearly explode with pride and necessitated a slightly impolite trip to the ladies' (although I used the swanky "Authors Toilet" - have I mentioned that this is a book festival with style?).
There followed drinks and book talk with some lovely people from the reading group at Glasgow's Goethe Institut. And then there was haggis all round but still nobody knew if RL Stevenson was born in Edinburgh. We rounded off the evening in the library of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, where I learned to love whisky and we left a suitable gift on the shelves.
Down to London on the train bright and early next morning, and yes, after two days of rain it really was bright and certainly was early, with Clemens keeping his promise to make it to the train in the nick of time. I was berated all round for reading Schoßgebete, but I did want to form my own opinion, thank you very much. And in the evening was a joint event to launch Clemens and Juan Pablo's books at the European Bookshop on Warwick Street, well attended and very friendly, followed by free drinks. This time our publisher Stefan Tobler introduced both translators with sufficient gravitas, and we were nearly professionals by this point anyway.
Thursday was our busiest day, starting with an informal reading-come-drinking session at Ritter/Zamet gallery in Whitechapel. There was a request for the saddest story, "All the Lights" - so we got everyone suitably depressed in front of Rigo Schmidt's paintings. A quick dash from Whitechapel (not the classiest part of London - think sari shops and halal fried chicken) to the opulent surrounds of the former East German embassy on Belgrave Square (possibly the classiest place in London - think leafy park surrounded by Edwardian villas with flags flying from them). Where we held our final, triumphant reading to a packed house and used extra swearwords just for the puerile pleasure of saying shit in front of junior diplomats. Then there were more drinks and more signing of books (although this time for my dad and for two lovely young translators whose names escape me because by this point in the proceedings I was having trouble seeing straight).
I'd like to thank the very well organised Edinburgh International Book Festival for inviting us, the European Bookshop, Ritter/Zamet and the German Embassy, and Juan Pablo Villalobos, Rosalind Harvey and Stefan Tobler for the great company on the road. And thanks to And Other Stories and everyone who came along to the readings for making me feel like a star. Thanks too to Clemens Meyer for putting up with me bossing him around and hogging the limelight.
Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh.