I’m taking part in a creative-thing-every-day challenge, courtesy of Jo Hunter of 64 Million Artists – some days I manage it, some not, but today’s was particularly relevant, asking us to write a note or letter for a stranger telling them something you’ve learnt. Right now, I’m on a train to Edinburgh for a conference on radical participatory arts practice, taking part as the co-director of Fun Palaces – but it feels weird to be going to Edinburgh at festival time and not going as a writer or director or performer, because that’s how I’ve been so many times before.

And so, here is a letter to someone already at or heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time, as a practitioner (nb, am pretty sure the same applies to Book Festival attendees too – writers, there is life beyond the yurt!) …

Dear Young (or not) Person taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time…

Yay! I’m so excited for you. It’s going to be amazing. The first time I did that was 1988. It was brilliant. We sold tickets, made some money, had a fine time. And again in 1990 and 1991 and more … after that the making money was less likely, now it’s close to impossible not to lose a load, but it’s not really about the money, is it? It’s about the experience. (Yes, I KNOW the vast majority of people, let alone artists – also people btw – do not have this money to lose, and yet … people do it every year, time after time, so clearly it’s not about the money.)

Being in Edinburgh and staying up until dawn (surprisingly early) and sharing an overcrowded flat and drinking way too much and playing. So much playing.

And the art too, obviously – but you know you’re hugely unlikely to be ‘discovered’ and your show is hugely unlikely to be seen by the people you want to see it, right? You’re not in Edinburgh to further your career. You’re really not. You’re there to be in Edinburgh.

I’ve done impro shows and solo shows as a performer, the book festival as a novelist, theatre stuff as a writer and as a director, I’ve been there as a reviewer for telly. All good, all great, but it was about being in Edinburgh as much, if not more, than the art. It’s not about the art (not a lot is, but that’s another story). It’s about the people, it’s about the place. It’s about the time.

So, here are some things to do and see and feel in Edinburgh that are not about spending half a day leafleting* …

  • The botanic gardens are gorgeous. Go there.
  • Calton Hill has a lovely view, & is way easier than Arthur’s Seat if you have a hangover. (You will have a hangover.)
  • Swim. Portobello is fine. It will do you the world of good to get away from all those people and into the sea. (And if you’re not a sea swimmer, just go for a walk.)
  • Galleries – Edinburgh has really good galleries. Galleries have art too.
  • Arthur’s Seat – I’ve not climbed it. Not yet, and I still want to (possibly even more so since the arthritic knee, post-chemo nerve/spine pain). Do it for me.
  • Go for a lovely long walk around Leith, imagine it when it wasn’t pretty with nice cafes, imagine what else is there still.
  • Go for loads of walks, I know it’s tempting to get a taxi and the drivers are often great to talk to, but it’s so easy to walk around Edinburgh and you can get lost and find lovely things, things that are never on lists, things that are yours because you found them by accident.
  • Have a picnic, in the rain, anyway.
  • Go through to Glasgow for a morning or afternoon or evening. It’s very cool.

And a couple of other suggestions in ‘don’t do as I do, do as I tell you’ fashion

  • Go to bed early, once. Just once.
  • Go for a run, a swim, play golf, do something that isn’t about your show.
  • See some comedy even if you hate comedy.
  • See a play even if you hate theatre.
  • See dance, do dance.
  • See something that you don’t know anyone in, don’t know anything about.
  • Read a book. Write a book. (I edited one once, while doing a show every day, it was a good use of the month.)
  • Call home.
  • Write home, send a postcard like the olden days.
  • Go To Sleep. Sometimes.

*really, don’t leaflet, no-one wants your leaflet, they’re all selling a show too – talk to people instead (to them, not at them) they might be lovely.

You’ll find loads more to do. Loads to do that isn’t about selling or sharing your work. This is a good thing. Locals, if you ask them, will have brilliant suggestions. Ask them – they work in shops, drive buses, wait tables, run galleries. You don’t have to invite them to your show (really you don’t) but they’ll have a great idea of a lovely place to go that you won’t know about otherwise. Add it as a comment here and we can all come find you.

And seriously, go to sleep. Sometimes. It’s even more beautiful when you’re not exhausted.