A wet day in Charlotte Square

As first days in Charlotte Square go, Sunday was probably the wettest we’d known it in our ten years of book-festing. Although I gather Photographer and I missed a much more exciting first 24 hours by not being there on the Saturday…

The rain meant we skulked indoors most of the time, which in turn meant that authors were mostly viewed from afar, through the doorway of the yurt, as they dashed to avoid a soaking. The rubber ducks looked happy, but they might have been the only ones.

Photo calls, when they happened, took place under a little plastic roof, keeping the authors dry. Not so much the photographers.

Malorie Blackman

And so much has changed! And you know how I feel about change. I’ll get used to it, I suppose.

The two bookshops are now one big shop, with a very large café area in the middle. This didn’t prevent people from having coffee at the two signing tables, however, which was a little awkward when you have a couple of authors and their fans, standing there not knowing what to do.

The toilets. Yes, you want to know about them, don’t you? They have one for Gents, one for Ladies, and one for Everyone. Plus the usual baby changing and accessible ones.

Even my favourite theatre, the Corner Theatre, had changed. It’s now arranged the same way as all the others… A witch likes a back row near a door. But otherwise it was fine!

Ben Okri

The large signing tent was – I believe – mostly as it was last year, when it had changed. Here is Ben Okri at the end of what seemed like a rather long signing session.

(Photos by Helen Giles)


Witches and legends

We talked mostly about toilets. Sometimes you need to cheer yourself up when you’ve strayed too close to the state of things today, as Daughter and I found when we had coffee with Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper after their Stirling Tinkerbell event on Friday.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell had invited them to do a signing of An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Castle Legends. We were quite gratified to find a queue out in the street when we arrived. (Not surprising, I suppose, as we discovered the sign outside promised singing by the two ladies…)

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper at Tinkerbell

The deluge of rain had stopped, so we sat on a stone wall outside in the [pedestrian] street, next to the parked police van, studying the fans and waiting for room to enter the shop ourselves.

Kate Leiper and Theresa Breslin at Tinkerbell

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

We went in to chat for a bit, and Daughter might just have had a slight accident, buying something lovely-looking. Then all of us trooped outside and sat on the stone walls again, while Theresa read her Stirling-based story, with Kate as the crazy man who thought he could fly. Thankfully she only jumped off the wall in the street, not the side of Stirling Castle.

Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper

Kate Leiper

Daughter and I went off to secure and warm up some seats at the Burgh Coffee House before the ladies arrived, each carrying a gift bag full of shop goodies. Where will they keep their new dragons?

Then it was all toilets and laughter.  There were tales about a librarian, and about Terry Pratchett, even a disposable Starbucks mugs, ‘fuel’ in other countries, and so on.

And then I might have suggested they perhaps had trains to catch. They did. I obviously wasn’t trying to get rid of them, but they had further to go than we did.

Happy Birthday to you?

Today is my brother’s 70th birthday.

I think.

I woke up one night last week, thinking ‘it will be his birthday any day now! And, oh, he’ll be 70 this year…’

But which date, other than early August? Luckily these things can be Googled in Sweden, even when you’re not famous. I found out his middle names, too.

We are half-siblings, and I first met him at his 50th birthday party. ‘So you do know which date then,’ I hear you say. No, because the party was at a weekend, not on the actual day. ‘I’ll pick you up at the station,’ he said. ‘I’ll wear a red shirt.’

It’s an odd situation. His name is one I’d happily have picked for him as a child, had I been able to. He’s a lovely man, and I’m glad I’ve got an older brother, even if I did have to wait quite a few years. Circumstances mean we don’t meet often. It’s been a few big birthdays, and when we’ve been driving ‘past.’


Letting Go

Is this my first Cat Clarke? I think it might be. Her short novel Letting Go, for Barrington Stoke, is quite a masterpiece.

Cat Clarke, Letting Go

It’s a story about Agnes and her ex-girlfriend Ellie and Ellie’s new boyfriend Steve. As will be obvious, this is painful, at least for Agnes. But a promise is a promise and here the three of them are, on their way up a mountain, where the weather is about to change for the worse.

None of them are happy and they fight.

And then things get really bad.

I loved the way the reader is allowed to get close to the characters and see what and who they are. As with most of us, they are both bad and good, but none of that matters because this soon turns into an emergency for which they are ill equipped.

It’s quite a grown-up story about three young people.

Princesses, Duchesses, Authors

I can’t say I have all that much against Princesses writing children’s books. Yes, I know I probably ought to rail against this the same way I do comedians. But it’s not the same situation.

Well, I suppose it could be. If DW was approached by his publisher and asked to write a book for them, then they would be.

Most people seem to believe that the Duchess of Sussex will have decided she was jolly well going to write a book, like everyone else. Can’t be too hard. I suspect someone came to her and suggested it, or asked her to, because they know it is quite likely such a book will make them money.

Maybe the Duchess was too polite to say no, or she genuinely believed it’d be a good thing. Royals do so much for so many organisations, so what is one more?

And Sweden’s Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland, and mother of three small children, has now joined her distant relations in writing a children’s book. With help, I hasten to add. I imagine it was a similar situation for her. I don’t reckon Royals have so much time on their hands that they feel they desperately need another hobby.

People will buy the books. Or not. And the books will be enjoyed. Or not. Doesn’t matter.

I’d like to think that some of the profits will go to where it will do some good. I don’t believe that either of these women have taken a slot for a new book away from someone better suited to the job. Things are not right in the world, but there is no need to blame the Princesses.

And I’d like for the press and the general public to remember that the Duchess of Sussex is no longer Ms Markle. It’s not nice to bully her in that way.

What price books?

There is much one can say about big book fairs, and much of it is good. Every year I wonder whether I perhaps ought to attend the Gothenburg one again. After three consecutive years a long time ago, I only returned the year Meg Rosoff finally made it there. I have been overtaken by Son who accompanied me in the early years, and who now is allowed to go on his own.

These days it’s not so much the cost as the time of the year and the effort involved. I’m still surprised I’m not getting any younger.

Gothenburg Book Fair

But then I learned something new about the Book Fair, which is that the organisers are putting up the fees for those who exhibit. Understandable, and proper publishers and other large companies can presumably weather the cost. But there have always been many small exhibitors, like self-published authors. I’ve long thought it’s nice that anyone can aspire to rent a table there, and maybe sell their books or at least get better known by visitors.

Someone I wouldn’t have known about were it not for about three different coincidences, is Kim Kimselius who apparently has published 57 children’s books; mostly through self-publishing. She seems to do well and apart from having loads of new books out every year, she travels and runs writing weeks and does events.

But I just read that after 20 years of attending the Book Fair, she will stop. It is too expensive for her to attend, when everything is taken into account. I believe it cost her around £6000 for the long weekend, and that is by staying with friends.

I gather that with fewer exhibitors the fair organisers have extended the free space around the ‘exhibits’ as well as starting up more areas for eating and drinking. Space is nice. (You’d know that if you’d been.) So is somewhere to sit and eat. Kim was regretting the fact that she was losing her fair ‘neighbours’ with whom she’d chat and who made it fun.

This year she opened up her own home to fans, instead.

I’m not saying this is wrong. I mean the reasons behind her new venture, rather than the new event. But it feels slightly questionable that someone who writes and sells books, and quite successfully at that, should be priced out of the Book Fair.

As for me, when I first went, I paid for my weekend passes myself. It was – almost – affordable when you took into account the 50% discount for foreigners. Three years ago I carefully asked if this had now stopped, as I could find no sign of special treatment, and was told this was the case. Again, I suppose they need to make as much money as they can, and most visitors requiring a four-day pass to all events, will probably be reimbursed by their employer.

The price had gone up considerably, so – cap in hand – I asked for a free pass, which they generously supplied. Had they not done so, I don’t think I could have justified going.

I’m not quite sure what Son does, but he has so many meetings arranged, leaving no time or energy for actually going to events. And that does bring down the cost.

Skiving off?

There is a small part of shame in admitting that I have for the second time now been excused from jury service. It’s something I’d actually want to do, were it not for various personal hang-ups that make sitting still, quietly, without leaving the room, for several hours, quite difficult.

If I go to a concert, or a book event, say, I have the freedom to leave if I have to, and I would not be upsetting anyone other than myself. This is all right. It’s free choice, in a backwards sort of way.

For most of my many years in the UK I was ineligible for jury service, so I was surprised when I was called last year. But it seems [at least] Scotland will take anyone on the electoral roll (which doesn’t mean I, or other foreigners on it, have much we can vote for). And even the more minor courts use juries, which I presume means more people are needed.

But when it arrived, the letter mentioned ‘civic duty.’ I am all for civic duty, but in return I’d like some reassurance that they will have a duty to look after me, too. Like not deport me, or something. If it was possible, I’d happily spend the same number of hours on doing something else, other than sit in a courtroom. Just to be suitably civic.

And I’d like to apologise for this week of opinions. Sometimes I get so I can’t do much more than have opinions.