Angus Roxburgh - From Russia with Books

24 September 2017

I had spoken at the Wigtown Festival once before – about high Kremlin politics – and sensed there was a great appetite for things Russian. Whenever I speak to audiences about Russia – but especially in Scotland – I feel that people really want to find out more, and that they are much more sympathetic to the country than our Western governments tend to be.


So this year, invited back to promote Moscow Calling, my new book of memoirs about my experiences in Russia as a translator and then as a foreign correspondent, I decided to do something slightly risky… Not only speak about Russia, its people, its language, and why I unfathomably fell in love with it 40 odd years ago, but also to take along my guitar and sing a couple of Russian songs. I really wanted to convey to the audience how beautiful the Russian language is. It was the sound of the language, after all, that first attracted me and got me involved in a lifetime of Russian studies.


The risks were: 

One - I would sing off-key and it would be an absolute disaster.

Two - The complicated audio set-up required to inject live music into a platform discussion would collapse under the strain.


On point two, I needn’t have worried. Steve, the sound engineer, set everything up brilliantly – guitar input, microphone for my voice (as well as the one I was using for the discussion), slide projections with a translation of the Russian song… And incredibly it all worked! (As for the quality of what the audience heard, I will leave that to others to decide!)


People like Steve, and a host of unsung volunteers and interns, are the smoothly rotating cogs that make the festival go so well. I want to congratulate Adrian and his team on a brilliant job. They have created a world-class literary festival, and I feel privileged to have taken part. The biggest problem in my life now is to write another book that might earn me a return visit.