My Edinburgh: Magnus Mills, Author

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The Independent Culture

There's a question I'm occasionally asked that never fails to baffle me: what are your books about?

I confess I've not yet found a suitable answer. After all, I can hardly announce that they're about a fictional universe I've constructed. That would sound pretentious. Neither can I present a brief synopsis of the plot without also mentioning style and structure, by which time the questioner's eyes will have started to glaze over. "What are they actually about though?" they ask again. At which moment stark realisation dawns: they've asked me this because they've never heard of me.

Fortunately, such questions don't arise at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Once you've entered Charlotte Square Gardens you find yourself in a kind of cultural zone where that question is simply not asked. Instead, the books are allowed to speak for themselves. There might be a question-and-answer session afterwards, but usually these are fruitful two-way exchanges. Do you resemble any of the characters in your books? Yes. Are you working on a book currently? No. Or sometimes not so fruitful: I was once asked whether I was a fatalist or an existentialist and I had to admit I didn't know the difference.

However, there is one particular question that crops up fairly frequently: where do you get the ideas for your novels? My answer is always the same: out of a Christmas cracker. Besides, I don't write novels, I write fables.

Magnus Mills is talking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 19 August at 8.30pm (0845 373 5888;

Magnus Mills's Must See

I'm looking forward to visiting the 'Heirlooms' exhibition at the Dovecot Studios on Infirmary Street. This is a display of textiles derived from the ancient traditions of India and Java.