I started this blog exactly four years ago, on 18th August 2009. I think it would have surprised me then to know that I would still be going four years later. In that first post I wrote this:
‘I want this blog to be an antidote to the dead language of business. I want it to be about the colour and rhythm, the emotion and humour, that we use quite naturally when we speak to one another. And I want it to be about all the marvellous possibilities that lively, engaging language could bring to our writing lives if only we would let it. I hope you’ll join me on the journey…’
With the benefit of hindsight, there’s one word I would now delete, and that is ‘writing’. More and more I have come to appreciate that lively, engaging language enriches not just our writing lives but our lives, full stop. And there is nowhere better to experience that than here in Charlotte Square, with the Edinburgh International Book Festival now in its second week, as it was back then in 2009.
Event after event demonstrates the power of well-chosen words – passionate, reflective, moving, humorous, inspiring – to take us on transcendent journeys that leave us re-thinking the way we see the world. Twice in the last few days I have heard book festivals described as the new, and perhaps only, forums for serious public debate in contemporary society.
Richard Holloway, former bishop of Edinburgh, now a much admired writer, broadcaster and commentator, and a man who admits he has lost all patience with the institutions of faith, said: ‘the book festival has become in many ways for me the right kind of church.’ While the redoubtable Tam Dalyell, former Father of the House of Commons, said words to the effect of: ‘No one goes to church any longer. No one goes to political meetings any longer. Book festivals occupy that space now.’
Book festivals are places to nourish the intellect, the heart and the soul. They are also places, I believe, where kindness can be properly considered. Of course writers come to speak about their own agendas, but these are not the deadening, self-serving agendas of religious or political or economic institutions which have forgotten what they are really there for and become obsessed with their own perpetuation. No. Writers’ agendas are much more likely to have to do with being truthful, responsible, open-minded, even-handed, inclusive, human and humane.
Here is a wonderful case in point. Today my fellow Dark Angel John Simmons sent me a link to the convocation address given by US short story writer and essayist George Saunders, only a couple of weeks ago, to graduates of Syracuse University. If that idea makes you yawn, I implore you to follow the link (here) and read it anyway. It is not what you expect.
He explains as well as anyone possibly could why I named this blog A Few Kind Words. To say what he says, in the way he says it, is to offer a basic truth about being alive that has more power than anything served up from any pulpit or despatch box, any council chamber or counting house. His words, the words of a writer, are simple, thoughtful – and above all kind.