Category Archives: Blogs

The mummies have it

To go or not to go? Well, first I needed the ‘rest.’ Then I found I needed rest from the resting. So I went. I wanted to, really, because Wendy Meddour and Mina May were debuting in Charlotte Square and I didn’t want to miss it.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As I arrived I first noticed Wendy’s eldest son, and only then did I see that I was walking behind the whole family. How I can recognise children of people I’ve never met, is another thing.

Secret Agent Mummy

I was early, so sat in the yurt for a bit, when at the corner of my eye I seemed to see a man covered in bandages walk past. And I mean totally covered in them. It had to be Steve Cole. No one else is quite that crazy. Worked out that I could waylay him – if it was him – close to his event. There was a photocall for Michael Morpurgo, but a bandaged Steve trumps MM. (I suppose he must have slipped in the shower this morning, or something.)

My plan was successful and the mummy said hello and gave me hug (so whoever it was, seemed to know me) and said he’d maybe forgive me later for going to someone else’s event and not his.

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo was still there when I went to look, so I didn’t even have to go without. He had come to lend a hand for someone by the name of Barroux, about whom I know nothing. MM didn’t wear his customary hat, as apparently he hates it. Now we know.

Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes

Went to Wendy’s event, with her illustrator daughter Mina May. Encountered Linda Strachan and Emma Barnes outside, so we chatted. I knew Emma’s name from somewhere, but not her face. We concluded I had reviewed her (very enjoyable) book, but we hadn’t met before. Told Linda I was sorry to have missed her Hamish event on Wednesday, as I love Hamish and it was about the very topical Bannockburn.

Steve Cole

I had asked Steve (or whoever) to sign slowly, so that he’d still be there when Wendy and Mina got to the bookshop. He did and he was, and it seems as if it really must have been him all the time. (Who else would be idiot enough to wander around looking like that? He’d even crossed the road wearing his outfit, and not got arrested. I suppose August in Edinburgh makes anything look normal.)

Steve Cole, Wendy Meddour and Mina May

As there was only one of him, the Secret Agent Mummy agreed to let mummy Wendy have one of his chairs to sit on. Later, when one of Wendy’s sons wanted to buy a copy of Steve’s book she asked if he was sure he wanted to spend his money on this. He was. Sensible boy. They were all nice, actually. Funny, too. The mummies, I mean.

Secret Agent Mummy and victim

Lots of weird photos later I went home. A light workload is quite a good thing on occasion. And I like my authors funny.

Breaking down barriers to books and reading

You can’t help but feel dreadfully inspired by talks on how to help more people to read! In this case it was dyslexia and – primarily – Barrington Stoke who told a packed theatre on Tuesday about what goes wrong and what can be done to make reading better. I know it’s stupid, but you sort of come away from an event like that wishing you were dyslexic.

I’m not and I’m very grateful that I’m not, but it’s the sheer inspiration you get and the feeling of hope that you can make reading easier.

Mairi Kidd from Barrington Stoke talked about how you read. There are two ways; recognising the whole word, and working your way through a word letter by letter. It’s important the letters don’t look too similar, so they go out of their way to make b and p and q look different from each other in as many ways as they can.

She teased us with English words and names that just don’t do what you expect, like victual, epitome and Milngavie. Serifs are good and so is line spacing of 1.5, tinted background, and thicker than normal paper.

Many boys have not seen men read. That’s a dreadful statement, but probably more true than we can imagine. Good role models are important. Many books are too long (how I agree!). And then there are the must reads, like Harry Potter. Also too long.

Lucy Juckes founded Barrington Stoke 16 years ago with her mother-in-law. Lucy’s husband is dyslexic, as well as one of their four children. Now that their son is 16, his father is no longer allowed to cheat at Scrabble. She told us how they tried to help with reading, and how they have resorted to bribes when necessary.

Removing the pressure to read and using common sense are other obvious tips. And picture books! They end far too soon. There should be no reason why every age can’t have picture books. It’s like you are punished for learning to read books with only words in them. Barrington Stoke will have an app out in October, which should be another useful aid to reading.

Among the suggestions during the Q&A session were to invite authors to school libraries, to make potential readers more interested. Asking an author to become patron of reading at your school is another way. Vivian French who chaired the event said she had successfully introduced scribes who write down stories that young people come up with, in effect making them authors’ peers, which gives them new status.

Someone complained that there aren’t enough girls’ books in the Barrington Stoke range. Mairi agreed that more effort had been used on getting boys to read, but that they are now looking to publish more books for girls.

After the event they offered a workshop in the adjacent theatre for those who wanted to discuss this some more. For the rest of us there was a guided talk in the bookshop, showing us all the latest books. (It was a little crowded – which is good – and I returned later that evening for a second look. Lots of excellent books. You don’t need to find reading hard to want to try them.)

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.

Dr Book

They think of everything. Visitors to the children’s bookshop have had the opportunity of consulting Dr Book. He/they looked really friendly and I was awfully tempted to ask them something. Like, what will become of my blog?

Dr Book at Edinburgh International Book Festival

But I was a little afraid of what the answer might be, so didn’t.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.

How to keep thrillers thrilling

Sara Paretsky

They were so colour co-ordinated that they might almost have agreed in advance what to wear. Sara Paretsky was striking in fuchsia and part of Tom Rob Smith’s jumper was the same hue. Or perhaps vivid pink is the current big thing among crime writers.

Their chair, Jackie McGlone, introduced them as briefly as she could, in order to save some of the evening for the actual event. Sara’s books about V I Warshawski have sold ten million copies, and Tom’s novel about a mother going crazy on a Swedish farm, was based on his own Swedish mother who went a little crazy (understandable) on a farm in Sweden.

Sara started by reading the beginning of Critical Mass; the gory part where V I finds the body. Tom read from The Farm, but I’m afraid I don’t remember which bit. I was too interested in Swedes going crazy on farms in the Swedish countryside, which isn’t as nice as it looks.

Jackie wondered how much of their writing is based on true events and people. Lotty is almost Sara’s grandmother, and Tom’s story is a little true, in that his father did actually phone him to say his mother had gone crazy, and then she called to say her husband was conspiring against her. Except it wasn’t quite like that. He’s had to change things in the book.

Sara was interested in whether or not Tom’s mother had read The Farm, seeing how instrumental she was in its conception. She has, and she came to the conclusion he’d made it up…

At nine o’clock the shooting began. It might be part of the Edinburgh Tattoo, but it makes hearing people speak almost impossible in the rest of town. But Sara and Tom soldiered on as best they could. Sara said that V I does what she herself is too chicken to do, with a ‘certain lack of impulse control.’ She discussed V I’s age and that of the dogs and Mr Contreras, not to mention Lotty, who really shouldn’t be in the operating theatre at 85. She’s letting her characters hover where they are, just so she can let them continue. At Sara’s age when people around her are ill or dying, she likes to be in control of her characters, letting those she wants to stay alive do just that.

Tom’s earlier novel Child 44 is about to be released as a film. He has just seen it and reckons it’s very good. Sara, on the other hand, said that the one film made about V I was as far away from her book as it could possibly be. The only good thing about it was that she was allowed to run on Wrigley Field for one evening, when Disney hired it. The men from Hollywood had been surprised to discover that ‘feminism might be commercially viable’ after all.

Sara Paretsky

Neither author believes in writing about mass murderers, and prefer to stay away from real evil. Asked if V I’s controversial ways of working has had an effect on her sales, Sara replied that they have. She gets a lot of mail and she answers all letters except the very worst ones, for which she has a file labelled ‘weirdos, cranks and idiots.’

V I will never be rich, doing pro bono work as she does. But Sara won’t let the dogs starve. Nor was she able to ruin V I’s beautiful new Italian boots in the next book.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

My Saturday highlight

For those of you who misguidedly admire my middle-of-the-night blogging: Here is a lovely fuchsia coloured Sara Paretsky to keep you going.

Sara Paretsky

I did wonder whether it could be seen as too frivolous to concentrate on looks and clothes, but then it struck me that V I Warshawski has a fondness for good footwear and expensive silk garments, despite the fact that they soon get ruined by her next impulsive escapade.

And as Julie Bertagna said a few years ago, Sara does do ‘the scarf thing’ well.

First Monday

Inverness was cut off from the rest of the world, and for a fleeting moment I believed that this would have no implications for me. The ‘big’ train was cancelled and ScotRail generously let its passengers travel to Edinburgh on the small one. Mine. Whereas my two coach train didn’t have to accommodate every single passenger off the 12 coach train, it was still too full. I did the best I could and hogged the fold-down seat on the non-platform side of the train and read my book and pretended to be really old and didn’t move for 50 minutes.

Haymarket station has been totally transformed! And for the better, even. Very nice. The trams, on the other hand, have added another five minutes of waiting for the green man at crossings – if you are the waiting type – and if you count all the way to Charlotte Square.

Which is where I was greeted by the so aptly named press-Charlotte and given my press pass, before I found a sturdy (-ish) looking chair in the square on which to sit and eat my sandwiches. Before that I had picked up some tickets I’d bought online. I managed to get them despite not remembering which card I’d paid with, nor what my postcode is. Was. I mean, I do, but having used three different ones in the last few months, I was unsure which one I’d told them. Talk about senior moments!

There was a huge police presence. I wondered whether they had suddenly developed a passion for books, or if the festival had begun to attract the wrong kind of customer. (I later learned that Alex Salmond had been. I knew that, actually, but failed to connect the two.)

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The weather was cool and grey, but clothes worn by visitors included anything from sundress and sandals to double jumpers with jacket on top. (I was sort of medium.)

I think I spied the back of Vivian French, and as I ‘ran’ to get to my event on time, I couldn’t help noticing Philip Ardagh tying up his signing in the children’s bookshop, so popped in at super speed and said hello and goodbye, and he even shook my hand before I was completely gone. I wonder who he thought I was?

Change. You know how I feel about change. They had only gone and changed the layout of the RBS Garden Theatre!! I was so shocked I almost backed out again.

Misplaced

I can’t remember a thing. After the two months at the temporary Bookwitch Towers, when I had everything worked out just so, and it even worked, I do not have a clue.

Two weeks in the new house, followed by three weeks not in the new house, is playing havoc with all that I know and hold dear. Where are the books? And which books? I know most ‘past’ books are still packed in boxes. But more recent working material? How and where?

I discovered one small shelf with some unread books. Later on I discovered a whole bag full of the stuff, too. But which category? I have looked for lists. Those that tell me what I might blog about and those that list publication dates. There is a list of books connected to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Some I already have, some I am stupid enough to consider asking for. (Like, when would I read any of them?)

Today I intend to do a first foray into Charlotte Square, to see if I’ve got what it takes. For one hairy moment the Resident IT Consultant offered to drive me. My heart nearly stopped. If I can’t read for two hours on the train there and back, whatever system I still have in operation will fail.

The nicest thing he can do would be to heat up the haggis for dinner as I return home.

Even the three weeks away worked better than this past weekend has done (admittedly, I did use it to rearrange the kitchen). And then as you try to organise things, there is a request to find out if the 181 bus in Los Angeles is running…

(It was.)

And it’s raining. I have no wellies, so will have to decide which pair of shoes to sacrifice to the Charlotte Square mud puddles. (Better than tar pits in LA, obviously, but still destructive.)

Edinburgh International Book Festival

OK, here goes!