Kirsty Wark’s diary: On the Caledonian sleeper, the new Donna Tartt, and a week of Edinburgh shows

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

24 August 2013

9:00 AM

There isn’t a Scottish politician in living memory who hasn’t been on the Caledonian Sleeper. I always imagined Donald Dewar folding himself up in his berth, he was so tall. He was notoriously sniffy about the company he kept in the bar and once recounted the horror he felt when — stuck in snow — he was forced to fraternise with practically the rest of the Labour front bench for 22 hours somewhere south of Carlisle. Journalists tend to be more comradely. The other night, I took the sleeper in tow with an old family friend, the BBC reporter Allan Little. Over Glenfiddich and cheese we exchanged scurrilous gossip and book recommendations before, just north of Watford, he made his long way back to the Edinburgh end of the train. On less sensible nights, say with Martha Kearney, I have stayed up long after my bedtime — perhaps even as far as Preston. I love travelling home by rail and I’m delighted by reports that bidders for the Caledonian Sleeper franchise are promising to turn it into a version of the Orient Express. If they lift the carpets in the cabins — from the floors and the walls — that’ll be good enough for me, but en-suite would be a marvellous 21st-century treat.

This week’s commute has been west to east, from Glasgow to the Edinburgh festivals. As the week has progressed I’ve been trying to read a proof copy of Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch, ever more slowly in the vain hope that I will never have to put it down. Yesterday I made myself stop with a page-and-a-half to go of 771 pages. When I do come to the end, I think I’ll go right back to the beginning before I interview her in New York next week for a Review Show special. The Secret History, her first novel, was one of those books so engrossing that you can remember where you were when you read it, in the same way I can visualise where I first read Little Women as a child.

The house is full with my son James’s friends from his course at NYU, and Converse All Star baseball boots and floral Doc Martens have taken over the hall and are interbreeding in a way that would make Margaret Atwood proud. Rooms are stripped bare for rehearsals for the run of their original play, Dear Friend, on the Edinburgh Fringe. Food is loaded into fridge along with Diet Coke and beers, and then 24 hours later I load it up again. It is wonderful noisy chaos, and to top it all our boiler has burst and our guests are on short shower rations. It’s good preparation for the cast and crew’s shift to Edinburgh when the run starts and they have to live in an eight-person room in a hostel.

I’ve been shuttling back and forth to Edinburgh cramming in shows. Grid Iron is a multi-award-winning Scottish company who have a terrific track record in site-specific theatre, but this year they have pushed the envelope a bit too far. For Leaving Planet Earth, they have set up ten miles outside the city in the Ratho International Climbing Centre, which they have declared to be another planet: New Earth. The audience, who play the part of the people making the ‘jump’ to this new planetary home, assemble in Edinburgh to be bussed to the venue, where we are shuffled up and down stairs to different rooms where the drama unfolded. Except there wasn’t much dramatic tension or character development, just the prospect of a weary bus journey back. When, on Sunday, we ferried our American guests to one of our favourite haunts, the island of Inchmaholme on the Lake of Menteith, it made me think that the National Theatre of Scotland should mount a site-specific drama there. Then we could make the same ten-minute crossing from Port of Menteith to the island that Mary Queen of Scots made at the age of four, after the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Pinkie.

Astoundingly, the independence referendum debate at the Edinburgh International Book Festival was one of the first events to sell out the biggest tent, which holds 570 souls; and that was before the audience had any idea who might be taking part. I chaired a lively debate with the chairman of the Better Together campaign, a member of Women for Independence and the historian Tom Devine. Two academics provided thoughtful analysis of how Scotland would relate to the world, should we be independent. It was an exhilarating hour. There is a real feeling that 18 September 2014 is hurtling towards us.

I’ve just heard that Jim Naughtie’s first novel and mine are being published in the same month, March, if not on exactly the same day. The only danger I see with that is that there might be a party clash. I’m on it.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Kirsty Wark’s first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, is published next year

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • I didn’t read your article Kirsty, because I still remember with disgust your Newsnight program of some ten years ago wherein both you and the biologist Steve Jones were making fun of the fact that men suffered more from cancer and heart disease as a resut of their testosterone.

    Yep, you were actually laughing about it.

    You were promoting his book, wherein he proclaims that men are like slugs, and that ALL men are parasites on women.

    I quote him …

    “The chromosome unique to men is a microscopic metaphor for those who bear it,
    For it is the most decayed, redundant and parasitic of the lot. ”

    Men should think about this sentence very, very carefully – because this is what this ‘biologist’ – loved by the BBC – has been telling his mostly female students for years.

    Basically, he is saying that men, themselves, are decayed, redundant and parasitic.

    And he wrote a whole book that says the same.

    In my view, Kirsty, you have spent two decades stirring up this kind of hatred towards men by spreading lies, disinformation and by engaging in wholesale bigoted prejudice against them.

  • davidshort10

    How lovely for a well-paid BBC current affairs person to push her offspring’s career and to plug her own book as well as that of a BBC colleague (let’s hope James Naughtie does not use ‘of course’ so unnecessarily in his fictional dialogue as he uses it on the Today programme) in a magazine managed by a person, one Andrew Neil, who relies on the BBC current affairs people to top up his income on a late night TV show!

  • Wilhelm

    Hectoring, Harridan, Kirsty Squawk, mutton dressed as lamb, born in 1955, aged 58, is a typical Glaswegian, labour, nomenklatura, apparatchik, who has climbed up the greasy pole.

    She lived next door to Scots Secretary Donald ‘Dour’ in the ”fashionable” west end of Glasgow, he was against tory privatisation of gas and BT, yet when he died, it was found in his will he had a million shares in gas and BT, a hypocrite, perhaps ?


    Squawk invited labour First Minister Jack McConnell to her holiday villa in Majorca , a conflict of interest perhaps ? She also boasted that she ate fish and chips with Gordon Broon in her kitchen !! how very Marie Antoinette ‘working class’ of them.


    Donald ‘Dour’ being chums with Squawk picked her to sit on the board to choose the design of the Scots Parliament, the most ugliest brutalist building in Edinburgh, it’s looks like a Caribbean airport that’s been through a hurricane, a disgrace. Another conflict of interests ?


    Plus her croaking voice is like fingernails scratching down a window pane, unbearable. She was on BBC’s genealogical programme ” Who Do You Think You Are” were she blubbed uncontrollably about a relative, she never ever ,never ever knew, dying 90 years ago, in the First World War. Fake tears for the camera, perhaps, to garner sympathy ? because you know she’s hard as nails, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

  • Wilhelm

    ” Kirsty Squawk is
    paid £250,000 a year by the BBC as a presenter, far more than
    any of the politicians she interrogates, while she and her husband
    have a fortune estimated at £6 million after building up
    their film and media company.

    She’s never made a secret of her soft-Left views,
    though she has not allowed her socialist principles to interfere
    with money-making. In fact, public recognition has been a well-used
    route to personal enrichment.

    For example, she was paid £10,000 for chairing a one-day
    conference in 2002 for the tourist body VisitScotland, while her
    company was awarded a series of expensive production contracts for
    publicly-funded bodies, such as the £145,000 paid in 2000 by
    Scottish Screen, the quango set up to promote Scotland’s film


  • Sanctimony

    What a self-obsessed, self-important woman… You can almost hear the purr over the airwaves.

    Whenever there’s any danger of her appearance on the television i hit the emergency exit button.