Category Archives: Travel

TTFN

I’ve been lucky. Or perhaps I should call it successful, if that’s not too big a word to use? Because I have achieved what I set out to do, fourteen and a half years ago.

I have done writing. And reading. I have travelled and I’ve met a lot of great people. I have been to fun events. Occasionally I was almost a little bit famous, in the right circles. Not too much, but still.

Giving this up is hard. So hard that I am going to take a little break first. This means there are few promises as to what will come, but I suspect I will find it impossible to stay away completely. Expect a trickle of witchy stuff for a while. Maybe.

But right now I have one or two things to do, and I need to attend to them without feeling I’ve not written today’s blog post yet.

There are some books outstanding. Some books are also outstanding. I imagine I will tell you about them. Later.

I wasn’t sure how to choose my ‘when’ moment, but after so long of no live events and no live meetings with authors, I feel Saturday’s Pitch Black Humour is a good one to finish with. After all, it featured a Finnish crime writer, a local[ish] author closely connected with Bloody Scotland, which in turn is set in my current home town, plus my favourite author from Fort William, who I’d never heard of before Bookwitch, and who now features big in our minds, here at Bookwitch Towers.

So, I’m pausing with a smile. A laugh, even.

Let’s stay, not stray

Where are you, when you have a staycation?

The word has become more fashionable than ever, but I feel people have misunderstood. Maybe it’s the brainfog that comes after Covid? My brain is certainly fogging worse than ever.

A long time ago, mostly pre-Offspring, the Resident IT Consultant and I occasionally staycationed. This was for financial reasons, not being anywhere near as rich (cough) as we are now. But also, we felt we could quite like visiting places near us. For the day.

Because that surely is what it is? You stay at home. The same place as all the other days and nights of the year. And whether you have a picnic in the garden, if you have a garden, or get the bus to a nearby attractive spot, you sleep in your own bed. Or you might visit friends or family, if you have people in your vicinity. (We didn’t.)

Now it appears to mean that you haven’t gone abroad. People have had holidays – not staycations – for decades, never leaving the country, but paying for travel and hotels and meals out. Those weren’t staycations. They were holidays. Just not in Spain.

And of course, I have been known to travel outside Britain, without it being a holiday. That’s also a thing. Leaving the country you are a resident of does not equal a holiday. Not even if it’s not for business. Nursing a very ill relative isn’t much fun. Nor is going to their funeral, regardless of where it takes place.

Those outings we made from our house in Brighton; they were good. Sometimes we had to work out if the money would stretch to both bus fare and a cream tea. But I would say such a day was no less fun than Spain (we’re not the nightclub type).

You can tell I’m just a bit irritated, can’t you?

Some EIBF thoughts at the end

It might not be the end, of course. For me and the book festival, I mean. There are events galore that I want to see, so will carry on when I can. I just didn’t feel up to more consorting with strangers on trains. That situation may well improve at some point.

Some people have been negative about the new ways. But in this instance ‘we’ have to try new ways to survive. One day they might feel like the old ways.

All the photos I’ve since seen from the Art College suggest that people came and they sat and they enjoyed. Maybe on a smaller scale. But they came. Some authors also came. It would have been nice to see more of them actually there, but the way it was done, the ‘menu’ had scope to be more exotic.

Perhaps the days of seeing Garth Nix in the flesh are over. (Just picking an Oz author at random here.) And if they are, then so be it. I had the opportunity of seeing him live live, and will be able to live on memories. Soon people will not have this kind of expectation when the new becomes the norm. A Garth on a screen is still a Garth.

The authors – and the audiences – have not been not travelling just because of Covid. It is also a greener thing to not travel, and the planet might last a little longer if we refrain from frying it too much. I’m sure some authors have enjoyed traversing the globe for events, but am equally sure some have hated it, or at least the accompanying exhaustion.

So here’s to a few more years of trialling the next ‘old ways’ of bookfesting. Garth on a screen, and Bookwitch at her desk. Both of us dreaming of the olden days. Or not.

Holey jacket

You know the old joke, ‘I recognised you by your dress’, suggesting someone hasn’t updated their wardrobe contents for a while?

Well, I suspect the same can be said about my black jacket. No matter how much I think I could/should vary my outfits more, it’s generally the black jacket for Edinburgh.

Back in 2008 Meg Rosoff – somewhat erroneously – suggested I had to dress up for the Puffin summer party. I bought a jacket. No, I bought two. The one I wanted and which I wore to the Tate Modern that time, and the other one, suggested by pushy saleswoman.

Never wore my choice again.

Have worn the other jacket a lot.

Happened to give it a good look just now. It’s got a hole in the back. Probably where my bag has rested all these years. It will need mending… So it will most likely not come with me to the remaining book festival 2021. (To protect it. Not because I am vain. I’d like both it and me to have another few years in us still.)

The jacket, ten years ago, hiding behind Theresa Breslin and Karen Campbell.

The first day

Today was the first day of the rest of its life, for the new Edinburgh International Book Festival. I had to be there. It’s now in the Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place. It’s different, but not that different. As the Photographer and I dithered near the entrance, the first person we encountered was Ian Rankin. Rather like on our first ever EIBF in 2009. This was clearly a good omen.

The next thing for us was to find the press yurt, looking smaller than ever, but still our press yurt. It still had Frances Sutton and were it not for current circumstances we could have hugged her. We all agreed we had missed this very much; this getting together in the same place, especially with people who had not Zoomed endlessly during the last year and a bit.

The ducks were in situ, which was a relief for us and them. However, the badge for my Photographer was classier than mine. Just saying.

We saw one of the crew (I’m never quite sure what he does, but we’ve seen him every year), who still had Covid hair. Very fetching.

Walked around the courtyard of the college, getting our bearings. It’s smallish, and very green. It’s got a lot of decking, because although small, it’s ‘hilly’. Trees and tent coverings have my favourite little string lights. I’ll have to come back in the dark. There are picnic tables and several mobile bars serving stuff, as well as the college café which does hot food. Play tent for the young and first aid tent for the unfortunate.

Didn’t think much of the bookshop. Few books and looked more like the old signing tent.*

There is a large, but not too large, screen in the middle of all this. We arrived in time for the live event with Zoë Wicomb, talking to Stuart Kelly (another stalwart of the festival, who is always there), and this was something I liked. It was a free event to enjoy from wherever you might be sitting, resting, eating lunch, or whatever. Good quality picture and decent sound. I’d never heard of Zoë, and for that reason would never have bought a ticket to see her, but this was good. I dipped in and out of their chat, feeling it personified the general sentiment of the bookfest.

Saw two gentlemen wearing top hats and tails, and felt they looked a bit familiar. Decided they were Macastory, whose job it was to do live talks and walks on the Meadows. So there were a few familiar faces, at this new hybrid affair of books. Missed Daniel Hahn whose recorded event with Jenny Erpenbeck was done closer to [his] home than previously advertised. I only cried a little into my cups over that, but they were Moomin cups, so…

Having brought with us foreign food to eat, just in case, we then made the sacrifice of road testing the college café as well. Just to be sure. It was very pleasant. I could go back. (At least if the train journey wasn’t quite so hot and crowded.)

*That would be because it was the signing tent. As we left, turning the corner to go find a train home, we came across the real bookshop. It was bigger, with more books. And it has seating outside if you are overcome by some urge to read what you bought.

Hello

I went for a haircut the other day. I have this theory at the moment, that while it’s possible, I will go. Last December I was intending to, was ‘too busy’ one week and then we were locked down for quite a number of centimetres. Of hair.

Because I hate waiting I always arrive as close to the hour as possible. Easy, as it’s a two minute walk there. Hard, because one never knows if someone else is delaying them.

This time I had to sit and wait, and my hairdresser dragged a chair covered in magazines over to me. I did have Bookwitch on my mobile, but decided I could educate myself with a magazine. I think it was called Hello. It had the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the cover.

Ever since our last holiday in St Andrews in May, I have a problem with them. I can’t see a photo of Will and Kate without thinking ‘scones!’ and I did so this time as well. I already knew about the café where they reputedly used to hang out, falling in love and all that. But it’s always been at the wrong end of town for me, so I’d never patronised the place.

This time, however, we stayed two minutes walk away (a bit like the hairdresser…) so I ‘just happened’ to pop in a couple of times. It was too busy to eat in, or sit on the pavement, but perfect for getting a few scones to take back to our airbnb.

They were easily among the best I’ve ever eaten, and the best if I count more recent times. This is especially noticeable when most cafés overdo the raising agent, leaving me disappointed with the flavour.

So, Will and Kate’s scones rock. I can’t remember the name of the café, but Will and Kate is as good a description as any. And with every photo of them, my mouth waters. But all the hairdresser offered was tea or coffee. Maybe I should have asked?

A piccalilli pair of days

Sometimes I just need to go back in time.

My 2015 piccalilli trip to London, as I think of it, was full of serendipities. It began when Liz Kessler wrote to ask if I could make it to her London book launch. And I felt I could; having determined that something special was all I required to invest in train tickets. I’d obviously need to stay two nights, before and after, to make sure I was there for the main event.

And then I started looking to see what else might be on.

The Society of Authors had an event on the evening I arrived in London. It was ‘only’ Philip Pullman and Penelope Lively chatting to Daniel Hahn at Waterstones Piccadilly, but I was happy enough with that. 😉

Son bought me a ticket for the event, which I wasn’t supposed to use. So I bought another. When Anne Rooney realised she wanted to go but was too late to buy a ticket, wasn’t it handy that I just happened to have a Society of Authors member ticket? Yes it was. And her predictive texting gave me the piccalilli.

It was Celia Rees who had told me about the event, so she was around too. And then there was the sighting of Judith Kerr one row in front of mine. That wasn’t a half bad evening.

For the next morning I’d agreed to have coffee with Marnie Riches, who just happened to be in town, before leaving again. From there I almost had to run to get to my next meeting, having booked an interview with Anthony McGowan, seeing as I had so much time on my hands! Somewhere there must have been a brief opportunity to eat my lunch sandwich. I’ve forgotten. Although I can tell you that the Hampstead pub we met in could use a longer setting for the light in the Ladies. Good thing I have arms to wave.

Tony was also going to Liz’s launch, which is where we went next. And basically everyone was at the launch.

For my second morning I had arranged to do brunch with Candy Gourlay before hopping on a northbound train.

It’s amazing how many authors can be fitted into slightly less than 48 hours. I keep living in hope, but there has yet to be a repeat of this.

Down #4 Memory Lane

It’s not every author who has an understairs cupboard to offer a Bookwitch to sleep in, on short acquaintance. But after we bonded briefly over coffee ice cream, Candy Gourlay opened her home to the witch. And then continued doing so, with such tact and generosity, not to mention friendliness, sharing her family with me.

(Not that I was looking for a home, or needed more children, but if I had done, hers was what I’d be wanting. Actually, when house-hunting some years ago, my goal was for a ‘Candy house’.)

Recently, Candy shared the news that her mother had died, and the eulogy she recorded for her mother’s memorial. In fact, all family members celebrated the life of this woman in so many ways, and it brought home to me that the younger generations are the way they are, because of older role models. And good genes.

There was music. This I had almost forgotten about, but it was something I discovered Swedes and Filipinos have in common, when the assembled people at the Embassy burst into song, much the way Swedes do.

Anyway, I was introduced to Candy as a treat [for me], courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, shortly before her debut novel Tall Story was published. This was in January, and I knew already that it would be my favourite book of the year.

And after that Candy let me spend the night, and not under the stairs, either, but in perfect comfort in her son’s bed. (He was not in it.) Then there was the Embassy, and there were talks and awards events, an interview, meetings for ‘coffee’, another launch, followed by a lovely party in that dream back garden, and back to the same bed again. In more recent years people in Scotland have had the good sense to invite Candy to do events here, and perhaps one day she will visit my not so perfect garden, and I can offer her Son’s bed in return.

I’ll ask the Resident IT Consultant to get some coffee ice cream in.

Down #2 Memory Lane

It looks quite domestic, doesn’t it? Except for the lurid red upholstery.

But there’s me, the tea tray, the three heads in front of the gold mirror. And Terry Pratchett.

2010 was a double Terry Pratchett interview year. By request. The first time by me. The second time by Terry.

It was, just nice. That’s what I’m looking for just now. A nice past. Something I’d put in my photo album, if I did stuff like that. In fact, that’s an idea! I never considered mixing Bookwitching photographs with private life photos.

I had brought Son along, in case there was coffee to be poured. There was. I always knew he’d turn out to be useful one day.

Result

Mine at last.

And believe me, a lot of swearing went into this book.