The presence of "celebrities" who aren't authors isn't my favourite way for book festivals to attract the crowds, but I'll make an exception for the wonderful Darcey Bussell.

Her book, A Life In Pictures, was just that (motivated partly to prove to her young daughters that yes, Mum really was a ballet dancer once), and she talked us elegantly through some of the striking images that have made her career. She also gave us an insight into the bitchiness of the ballet world – hardly Black Swan, she admitted, but having rival ballerinas try to "outwit you" by whispering negatively in your ear just before you're about to go on and give the performance of your life can't have been easy. Nor can turning around generation of prejudice about tall dancers – watching Bussell perform on video you were struck by how long her limbs are. You have to be "numb to the pain" to be a dancer, she said of her years with the Royal Ballet.

I wonder if AL Kennedy would rather be numb to physical pain, too, or if that is partly what makes her such a superb writer? Her new collection of essays and blogs pointed us to the "unromantic life of a writer", the life that involves crippling back pain and shoulder cramps, as well as crossing unpleasant misogynistic types on '"master class" courses (not a life at literary soirees with Martin Amis, she was quick to point out).

David Greig's writing experiences seem to have been less painful in that respect, but a recent newspaper headline misinforming the world that he was writing a musical based on Anders Breivik's massacre of young students in Norway might have exposed him to a different kind of pain. But he handled the subsequent "furore" calmly, explaining it would be a fictional story about a woman caught up in an event similar to the Norway murders, and would examine whether the impulse to understand can be as dangerous as the impulse to revenge. It would involve community choirs singing at every performance.

"Had the headline said 'Breivik Oratorio' instead of 'Breivik Musical' nobody would have batted an eyelid," he said, rather ruefully. "But 'musical' supposes chorus girls ..."

James Robertson is equally keen not to be misconstrued, with his latest novel, The Professor Of Truth, bearing a close resemblance to the terror attack that brought down a plane over Lockerbie 25 years ago. It was a book he had long wanted to write, not because he wanted to understand it exactly, but because he wanted to get to the story of it some other way. "The unfinished business of Lockerbie is a stain on our legal system," he said.

He wanted to make it clear that his academic hero, Professor Tealing, is not based on Dr Jim Swire, but, as AL Kennedy was also at pains to point out, the link between the real and the fictional will always be made, whether writers like it or not.