Thursday, 8 July 2010

Elsewhere updates and meet our Booksales Officer!

Above: Elsewhere writer Jason Donald

The homepage of the Edinburgh International Book Festival is looking particularly delicious nowadays, because on it we’ve now got links to Elsewhere pieces by Jason Donald, Michel Faber, A L Kennedy, Eleanor Thom, Allan Radcliffe, James Robertson, Louise Welsh, Denise Mina and Doug Johnstone. That’s a very tempting group of very talented writers with nine very weird, wonderful, striking, funny pieces, all on the theme of Elsewhere.

As the Book Festival continues to advance towards an exciting August, we thought we’d give you an insight into what happens behind the scenes. Read on for a Q+A with Tracey Rosenberg, Booksales Officer of the Book Festival team.

What was your career path before you came to the Book Festival, and what is your role here?

I've worked in several independent bookshops, both in the States and the UK, so was thrilled to be hired last year to work in the festival's bookshops. This summer, I'm Booksales Officer, so I work with the Booksales and Retail Manager to ensure the three on-site bookshops run smoothly. In the build-up to the festival, I primarily do admin work - entering books onto the EPOS system, preparing signage and information for the shops, helping to interview and hire bookshop staff, using approximately eighteen zillion spreadsheets to keep track of books and authors and events, organising stationery boxes, that sort of thing.

When the festival goes live, I'll be overseeing goods inwards, the signing tent, and the cash office, and will be one of the people dashing around the site while talking into a radio. Our shops are extremely busy - it's like being a Christmas temp, except in August - so my job is never dull.

Originally, I wasn't too sure about the title Booksales Officer, but it does have a nice ring to it, and occasionally - as with last year's Guest Director, Richard Holloway - people decide that as I'm an officer, they should salute me!

What qualities do you need in order to thrive at the Book Festival?

In general, enthusiasm and a lifelong love of literature, but of course every area has its own particular combination of essential qualities. I'd say the most important tools in my kit will be stamina, a thorough knowledge of the programme and the books in the shops, and the ability to communicate with the customers as well as all my colleagues. The most difficult part will be refraining from nipping into the main bookshop after my shift 'just to tidy that shelf'. Given that I'll be spending hours on my feet, I'm grateful that my dad gave me an incredibly good pair of boots for my birthday.

What events are you most looking forward to this year?

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, as I grew up reading Doonesbury, and quite a few poets, some of whom I've had the honour of appearing with myself: Ryan van Winkle (who's appearing as part of the Word Express event) and Ron Butlin and I were all previously involved in an ESRC Genomics Forum event run by science fiction writer Ken MacLeod. Don Paterson, Adam Foulds, and (of course) Seamus Heaney are also on my hope-to-see list.

As a writer yourself, do you see yourself performing at the Book Festival in the future?

I would certainly love to! One of the things I like about the festival is that even though we attract some of the biggest names in literature, there is always space for new writers - two examples this year are the Elsewhere short stories project (which has several related events) and the City of Literature's Story Shop, which takes place daily in the main bookshop. I'm quite keen on the Unbound programme, which should also give new writers a chance to shine, and there's at least one event specifically focusing on graduates of Scottish creative writing programmes. Hopefully, if I keep working on my own writing, I'll be deemed good enough to invite - though I suspect it will be some time before I'm able to sell out the RBS Main Theatre....

What's the most exciting part of your job?

I know I should say 'meeting the authors', and indeed it's always a thrill when someone like Garrison Keillor turns up at the till, but to be honest, what gives me a buzz is when a customer vaguely remembers a book - it was a crime novel, and it had a reddish cover, and the author's name maybe begins with a vowel...? - and I'm able to track down that book and put it in their hands. One of my favourite bookshops, the late lamented Cody's of Berkeley, California, used to treat bookselling not as a job but as a vocation - which is not only my personal attitude but an approach which, I think, fits very well into the overarching ethos of the Book Festival.