The rings of Siobhan

Today was nice. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Seana, whom I first ‘met’ on Crime Always Pays. It’s an intriguing thing when you find you get on well with someone else who also comments on a blog post somewhere.

As you will know if you’ve been here for a long time, it was blogging about Siobhan Dowd that brought Bookwitch to the attention of Declan Burke and his blog on all kinds of Irish crime. Which in turn brought lots of other people to me, one way or another.

So, many blog-reading and Facebook years later, we finally met. It wasn’t something I’d imagined, seeing as we live a long way from each other. But there she was, on her way to Scotland and Robert the Bruce, and wanting to see me too.

She and her sister consented to make a comparison of the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling, and were also agreeable to being cajoled into every gift shop in sight, where money literally spilled from purses. With Daughter doing the driving, we moved from one Robert the Bruce to another. (And possibly from one slice of cake to a second. Although the less said about that, the better.)

It didn’t even rain very much. Mostly the sun shone, which is its job. And we talked. If your ears burned, maybe it was about you.

In case you were wondering; Stirling Castle won. Obviously.

The Translator’s Craft and Graft

He’d found a pair of jeans in time for his first event on Sunday. No more need for Daniel Hahn to shiver in the relative ‘chill’ Edinburgh offered him. He was here to talk about his book Catching Fire, about translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire, because you can never have enough books about other books.

It was one of those events I like so much. The book is fabulous and Daniel is always so [seemingly] relaxed when chatting in public like this. He started off with the regular crossed legs, but towards the end I noticed he’d sort of crept up in his armchair the way you do when sitting reading in the comfort of your own home.

Chaired by his publisher Sam McDowell of Charco Press, the two of them chatted about the sorts of things the large audience liked. Daniel is the kind of person who thinks carefully about what word to use in a particular place, and also the kind of son to accept an OBE ‘because he’s got parents.’ It made them happy. He also felt that an OBE is good for the general business of translating, no matter which translator is honoured.

Xenophobia is growing, so we need those foreign books. Without foreign language skills, we need someone to translate those books for us.

Something I’d never thought of is that Daniel’s English is not the same as other people’s; it all depends on how and where and with whom you grow up. So any translation will rely on the language that particular translator has. It’s very interesting.

He read a few pages from his book, and as ever it was entertaining both for what it was and how Daniel reads. It just made me want to reread Catching Fire again.

After this event in the Northside Theatre, we all mostly trooped over to the signing tent where I was happy to note I wasn’t at the end of the queue. Having acquired a post-it with my name on so he’d know who I was 😊.

He put it to the side as he wrote a nice long message, after which I felt it prudent to retrieve my post-it before he signed all the books after me to Ann. Nice enough name, but it’d be confusing.

Opening the Edinburgh International Book Festival

They must have guessed how much I’d like to sit in their garden, in the dark, under the tree lights, with a drink in my hand and feeling relaxed. Or else it was pure coincidence that the book festival invited me to their opening party last night, even allowing the Resident IT Consultant to join me there.

All I can say is I recommend it. And I don’t think you need a party; you can just go along one evening, preferably when it’s not raining, and sit down and relax, enjoying the string lights. And the literary aspects of hanging out at a book festival. Let’s not forget the books.

Fresh off the train I went over to claim my special badge, only to discover that press officer Frances has retired. I don’t blame her. Summers are nice to enjoy without working hard at running a press team. But how am I to Bookwitch without her? It’s quite a shock I tell you. Sarah who has taken over is excellent. But I am an old witch. Really old.

Anyway, I encountered my second favourite translator – Daniel Hahn – outside the bookshop, and we chatted. He was brave enough to be wearing shorts, on the grounds that it was warmer down south. Also happened across two of Son’s [other] friends, but didn’t dare throw myself on them. Mothers can be an embarrassment.

On my second foray into the book festival village I found Kate Leiper and Vivian French loitering outside, waiting to join the party. We picked up our free drinks tokens and after finding some seats in the ‘car park’ I sent the Resident IT Consultant over to the bar.

And then we sat. It was very comfortable. And whenever I saw someone I recognised, I had to tell him. Or at least the people he might reasonably be expected to know who they were. Ian Rankin. Julia Donaldson.

When we’d done enough sitting we tottered back to our hotel. (This can’t happen often. But once in a blue moon a hotel across the road is terribly useful.)

Not long to Edinburgh

An hour for me. 🙃 More hours if you start in southern England, or ‘worse.’ Someone on social media said ‘days’ but that is not the travelling. Obviously. It’s the waiting. And even though there was a physical Edinburgh International Book Festival last year, I suspect we all feel as if we have waited longer.

I can’t always un-think the images in my mind of Charlotte Square, but slowly, slowly, I see the new EIBF in front of me. (Which is fine, until next year when they will move across the road…)

It looks good, though, don’t you think?

Resist

It’s the tulip bulbs I’ve never forgotten. Even as a child, learning that Audrey Hepburn had to eat tulip bulbs to survive during the war, it seemed both fantastic – in a bad way – and hard to believe. Just as I couldn’t really get my head round what Audrey was doing in the Netherlands.

If you read Tom Palmer’s new book Resist, you will find out, and it will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Unlike many novels about the resistance in the war, in whatever country the story might be set, this one is a little more – dare I say it? – ordinary. Because it is based so much on what actually happened to Audrey and her family, rather than what an author has simply made up.

You meet Audrey – called Edda here, for her own safety – in her home village of Velp, near Arnhem, as she is setting out on helping the local resistance. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep secret, because the less anyone else knows, the safer you all are. Edda’s family have had bad things happen to them, and lying low is the way forward.

Covering the last two years of WWII, we learn much about ordinary Dutch people. Except, they are not ordinary; they are brave, albeit often in a quiet, life-saving way. I learned more about Arnhem, which to me was ‘just’ a place name connected with the war, in a bad way. And the tulips.

The same age as Anne Frank, we have to be grateful Audrey survived, if only just. It’s hard to believe that starvation can be so much more of a threat than being hit by bombs, say. And people fleeing their old homes has become much more of a current thing than we could ever have thought, until recently.

This is the latest of many thoughtful books from Tom Palmer about WWII and its effects. Its brevity adds to its seriousness. And the cover art from Tom Clohosy Cole is stunning.

Is it?

It’s quite funny, actually. Because more recently we have dined with Grand Designs several times a week. (One runs out of things to chat about.) And he’s not bad, Kevin, once you get past the pattern of his constant incredulity over people’s house ideas.

Anyway.

You may have noticed I have a penchant for photographing magazines, like Vi. Here’s another one.

For some time now they’ve publicised an author event with Balsam Karam, whose photo is instantly recognisable, despite me never having read her. She was part of Son’s speed-dating an author event in Edinburgh a few years ago. I can only deduce that Balsam is doing well.

The photo above was the second of her in about six pages of my latest Vi. I also noted the man sitting on the floor reading. Not recognising him, I peered very intently at the very small print and managed to see that he’s Mark Isitt, presenter of the Swedish version of Grand Designs…

Any relation to ‘my’ Isitt? I wondered. Peered even more, and found that yes, David Isitt is his father. I say is, because as I may have mentioned before, Sweden is well organised for finding people, and I believe he is still alive. Which makes me happy. He was one of my lecturers at the English department in Gothenburg, and he was the one we started off with in Brighton, where the teaching took place. One subject was Phonetics, and David was unusual for an Englishman in managing a very passable Gothenburg accent. He said that’s how his children spoke.

And that’s clearly this Mark, who’s almost Kevin. In this article he describes his parents as a bit extreme; always reading.

Nothing wrong with that, I say.

And he has some rather nice bookshelves. Danish, apparently. I now want Danish shelves too.

Neither Goblet nor Prisoner

I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this morning either. Had a date across town at the ungodly hour of eight, with a plumber, and on the basis of needing entertainment should I become stuck over there, the fourth HP struck me might well suffice. Daughter will have felt vindicated, just as she did after our short weekend out of town, when for a one night away I packed not only the last fifty pages of The Prisoner of Azkaban, but also The Goblet of Fire. Just in case. She told me I was crazy. I merely felt I was exercising foresight.

She was right, of course.

We went to Fife, to celebrate Dodo’s birthday, and to take much of our junk to her parents’ ‘new’ house. Son had booked us in for lunch at the East Pier, which was as good as he’d made us believe. But cold. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, and we’d been frying ourselves next to the sea. But out of the sun it was cold enough to wish we’d brought jumpers.

Oh well. But on the short stroll over, I at least had the pleasure of encountering Val McDermid. So that was the book-y aspect of the day taken care of. (Son was also childishly pleased to recognise the man who does all the property video walk-throughs in Fife…)

The next day, after I had read not a single word of Harry Potter or anything else, we went shopping. I was going for shoes, scones and books, but it turned out to be more books and Aloe Vera. With that special knack I have, we had taken ourselves to St Andrews for the first day of The Open. The 150th, at that. But since we’d entered town from the ‘wrong’ direction, we had no problems, and left as soon as we could, meeting all the incoming cars.

Post-crack-of-dawn plumbers, I am now several chapters into HP4.

The Misunderstandings of Charity Brown

We have almost forgotten about polio, haven’t we? These days we fear other illnesses, even if we are still given protection against polio; both the baby and its parents. In Elizabeth Laird’s new book about Charity Brown, her heroine has been held captive by polio. This is soon after WWII. But thinking back on what happens in this semi-autobiographical novel, I reckon it’s religion that holds Charity back more.

Her deeply religious family are poor, and when she returns home after a long spell in hospital, it is to a very cold house. For her father it is more important to seek new members for their little church, than to earn money to keep his wife and four children comfortable. They are always warned what not to do, and Charity remembers it all, and heeds it even when she’d rather not.

And then, all of a sudden, they have inherited a large house, and the parents intend to use it to do good [to others].

Their new life is puzzling, but ultimately both interesting and promising. Charity makes a friend. Maybe. Religion so easily gets in the way of everything. Her older siblings want new things in life. Visitors from other countries turn up, and it’s not always the ones you trust who deserve that trust. War enemies are also people.

This is a heart-warming and lovely story. Not your standard postwar tale, but a new look on what might have been.

The Imagination Chamber

We were getting some dips and stuff in Sainsburys some time ago, Daughter and I. I rarely go, but we were alone for the evening and wanted something nice. We exited through the aisle where you can now buy books. Which is nice. Overheard a man with small daughter ask her if she wanted a nice book. That too is very nice. That he’d ask and that she’d get something along with the potatoes and fish fingers. I just prayed silently ‘not one by DW, please!’.

Have no idea what she got. But we got ourselves a Philip Pullman. That was nice, but somehow a little unexpected, along with the dips and stuff.

It was The Imagination Chamber, about which we knew nothing. I took it to be the short book they publish while impatiently waiting for the last Book of Dust. Just to let us have some crumbs. (Seems it might not have been, as I have since found out about another short Pullman to come soon.)

I could tell it was going to be possible to read it in about fifteen minutes. To tell the truth, I wasn’t hopeful. But, you know, it was rather lovely. I found myself in the His Dark Materials world again, reading – very short – snippets about many of the characters we already know. I don’t think they were borrowed from the books. And they probably weren’t ‘deleted scenes’. Too good for that.

So yes, I enjoyed The Imagination Chamber. It was like poetry with friends. And the physical book is beautiful, especially in these days of carelessly churned out book covers. Thick paper and red edges. It’s a volume you want to hug and stroke a bit.

So what were they doing sticking an almighty price sticker on the back, which is ugly, it is not even straight, and I daren’t try to remove it because the first tentative pull didn’t yield in a promising manner.

But yes, all the rest is lovely.

Launching the tenth anniversary Bloody Scotland

She notices things, does Lin Anderson. She’s very kind, and she came up to me to ask ‘did I want a chair?’ I did, and she gave me one. I asked how she knew, and it seems I was leaning on a stack of brown boxes. I was. I just hadn’t noticed.

So there I was, the only one sitting down. Very comfortable it was, too. My friend Helen Grant had to stand, but apparently she prefers that. She’s going to be at the tenth (?) Bloody Scotland in September. High time, if you ask me. She’s as scary as the rest of them.

Between me and the mail chimp I almost didn’t make it, but I was in a position to dash off to the Golden Lion at very short notice this morning, so I did.

You will have noticed my question mark above. I am sure they know what they are doing, but I am equally sure it’s not the tenth Bloody Scotland. One of us will be wrong.* But I was given a chair to sit on, so will not insist on being right.

After some suitable mingling, Bob kicked things off. He’s the boss. He then handed over to Citizen Kane, sorry, Councillor Kane, to talk about how much Stirling loves Bloody Scotland. Then it was back to Bob again, with more information about the sheer wonderfulness of what is to come. And there is a lot.

I was quite excited to find Sara Paretsky on the front cover of the programme, but cynical enough to realise she will Zoom in. So are some of the other grand crime writers. But most are coming here, and I already have a conundrum as to who to see and who to miss. Helen is appearing with ‘my old pal’ Stuart Neville, and new Swedish star David Lagercrantz will be on a panel with Simon Mason, David Fickling’s man in the basement.

Not going to list all the others. Look at the programme. It’s already live. And Crime at the Coo sold out instantly, so don’t even bother trying. Anyway, it’s on from 15th to 18th September, and if you are good with numbers you can see they have added a day.

As we left, Helen and I ended up behind everyone being photographed on the steps of the Golden Lion. I considered trying to look especially silly, but gave up. Having squeezed through, we then joined the throng on the pavement instead.

After which Helen bought me a baked potato across the road.

*That will be me. I’m a foreigner. There is a difference between anniversary and tenth event… Thank you again for the chair.