My day 2 of the 2018 EIBF

Thank goodness for favourite publicists! They have a way of making a witch feel better. Just before leaving Charlotte Square on Tuesday afternoon I went to Lindsey Davis’s signing, and no slight intended for this amusing and successful crime writer, but I popped by to say hello to Kerry Hood. We chatted, she asked after Offspring – all these many years later! – and we sort of competed on who was the oldest and most confused of us.

We both won.

After discovering I had a problem with my book on the train to Edinburgh (it was too short. The book. Not the train), my day started with a woman on the bus who was not prepared for what you do on buses, which is pay, and to have your purse standing by to do it with. That cost me the photocall with Frank Cottrell Boyce. Oh well. I got to see him at his event.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Ate my Three-Men-in-a-Boat cheese sandwich watching Chris Close photograph a fairly reluctant author. And then it rained. I also discovered I had pockets, having spent the morning mourning the loss of them.

Louis de Bernières

After Frank’s event I battled the bad light in his signing tent, toing and froing between him and Louis de Bernières, while also trying not to miss Lindsey’s photocall. In the end I did that thing which works when waiting for the gasman, except instead of going to the bathroom, I popped back in to see Frank and also opened the door for a young man carrying 16 pints of milk, and there she was. Works – almost – every time!

Lindsey Davis

Bumped into Sally Gardner and we had a chat, and then I went over to the children’s bookshop to see if I could corner Alison Murray who was supposed to be there. While I waited I snapped Sibéal Pounder signing books, and chatted to Ann Landmann who had chaired her event, which sounded as if it had been great fun. I then proceeded to show my writer’s credentials to Ann by talking about the light across the square as having been badder. Worser. Or it was simply brighter where we were…

Sibéal Pounder

Alison Murray

Then it was time for Sally Gardner’s event with Sophie Cameron, where I encountered L J MacWhirter again. Instead of brandishing a prawn sandwich at her, we talked about hen parties and fangirl moments. Charlotte Square is good for the latter.

Sophie Cameron

Back out to photograph Sally’s gorgeous new hair in the bookshop. It’s a sort of cerise. Her hair, I mean.

Sally Gardner

That’s me back at the beginning, telling Kerry about Offspring and her saying I shouldn’t keep them waiting.

So I didn’t. Even if Son had mentioned I’d be better not arriving too early…

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Until there is more

Tuesday was a long day, but not exclusively due to the book festival.

While you wait for more, here is Lindsey Davis; a ray of sunshine after the rain.

Lindsey Davis

Firebird

My interest in the female Russian pilots from WWII has finally been met. Well, I’d happily read more, but Elizabeth Wein’s dyslexia friendly novel Firebird goes some way to satisfying me. It’s a start.

Elizabeth Wein, Firebird

I knew the British and American female pilots had a tough war, even without fighting. But the young Soviet girls who flew planes had a completely different war. More was asked of them, and then it seems Comrade Stalin had the bright idea to suggest that if they ended up behind enemy lines and survived, they’d be shot for treason when they got back home.

The mind boggles.

Anastasia in Firebird has flown for as long as she can remember, and it makes sense to volunteer on the day her country joins the war. But even though she flies well, they make her stay on as a flying instructor to begin with, rather than join her male friends.

That would have been a different story, whereas this one, where Anastasia and many others form a women’s unit of pilots is infinitely better. I’d read about them, and after this taster, I’d like to read more.

It was a cruel war for everyone, but I’m fairly sure the Russians had it worse (unless it was the Germans who froze as much on their side of the line), and there was never much in the way of good news.

They were skilled, and they were brave.

Philip Pullman – Master storyteller

They were queueing for returned tickets from late morning on Saturday. That’s how much in demand Philip Pullman is, and will help explain why the book festival organisers had been after him to come back here for years. Last time, I believe, was when Philip had a couple of bishops to chat to in his event, so it must have been for his book on Jesus, in 2010.

But, she who waits for something good… and all that.

Philip Pullman

Philip did not sign books in the bookshop after. Luckily I discovered this before joining a non-existent queue. But with the new main theatre so enormous, I can understand that signings will be considerably harder than they used to be, when popular authors – well, it’s why they will have been put in the main theatre in the first place – could easily spend a couple of hours and more.

He did, however, sign as many books as there was time for, or maybe until his hands dropped off, before the event, so if you’re quick, you might still be lucky.

Val McDermid was the one chosen to chat to Philip, and you can’t really go wrong with Val. Although, I was quite shocked to discover that it was David Fickling who killed Frederick Garland. Or at least, was an accessory to the killing. Hmm.

Philip Pullman

It’s good that it wasn’t only Philip’s recent Book of Dust that got an outing, but that many of Philip’s books were covered. While Daughter didn’t manage to ask her burning question regarding more Sally Lockhart books (just hurry up with Dust!), it’s good to know they have not been forgotten.

To portray a strong woman, you don’t have to portray a man as weak. Obvious really, but not something everyone understands. Philip does have some of the best female characters, but there is nothing wrong with his men, and boys, either.

And as all wise authors do, he pointed out that we really need school libraries, and there needs to be librarians in them. People who can point readers in the right direction, based on what they’ve read already. People who read, in fact.

This sold-out event was great, and not surprisingly was attended by many of the festival’s guest participants. They could probably have run several events.

Philip Pullman

(Photos Helen Giles)

More feisty women

Another full session in the Corner theatre, and another pair of women authors who know what they like and what they want. The two debut authors, Sophie Anderson and Tomi Adeyemi spoke well and never once ran out of opinions.

They were ably aided by the beautifully named chair, Fiammetta Rocco, who oversaw not only the crying of Sophie’s youngest child, missing mum, but made sure Tomi retold her Bristol experience in Waterstones when she met a most forceful and aware three-year-old at what was her most favourite event ever…

Sophie Anderson

I loved Sophie’s The House With Chicken Legs, but have not read Tomi’s Children of Blood and Bone. She had plenty of fans in the audience who had, though.

Sophie reckons we are all alike, as well as different, and she uses old stories, renewing them to suit. For Tomi writing is like therapy, and never more so than after a recent incident when police came to her home in California. As a black person she couldn’t be sure she’d even be alive much longer. Writing and tweeting about it helped her get her voice back.

It is bad is when human beings don’t see others as human beings.

Although both authors had given in to the need to remove the parents for plot reasons, Tomi feels things are now moving towards letting parents stay in books. We all think we are right, and as she pointed out, with the microphone she was unstoppable for the moment.

Tomi Adeyemi

These two almost fought over whose turn it was to speak, which made for a refreshing change from the polite ‘no, you go first’ that you often get in these situations.

Both their books are based on courage. Tomi said she always expects the worst, but that ice cream is nice.

Sophie started her writing late, after various jobs, when the children arrived. Chicken Legs is her sixth book, and she has several bad books in her drawer. Asked about her next book she turned secretive, but let on that there is a bear.

Tomi began writing for real when she was in a job she hated, and she wrote after work, spending longer and longer on doing it. After The Hunger Games which made her cry and made her angry, she felt she must write about black characters.

There was a question about the strange animals in Tomi’s book, which she explained as her ‘repressed desire’ to have a pet. And her kind of lion does not exist in Nigeria.

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

When authors talk like this about their writing, it makes you want to read their books, and I hope that the fans of one, will now want to check out the other’s book as well. And I know it is wrong to mention this, even to have noticed it, but there were more black people in the audience than usual. It would be wonderful if everyone could see themselves in literature, and come to book events.

Historic women

Honestly, they didn’t look that historic. Theresa Breslin and Holly Webb had a full house on Saturday afternoon, Terry Deary in the Main theatre notwithstanding.

Theresa has written around 40 books, but Holly easily beats that with an exact 128 ‘quite short’ books. Daniel Hahn, who chaired this unusually young [for him] event, asked how Theresa’s The Rasputin Dagger came about. She said she saw this gorgeous bejewelled dagger at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, and when Mr T refused to steal it for her she needed to put it in a book.

Holly’s book The Princess and the Suffragette started with A Little Princess, and her favourite The Secret Garden (which apparently caused her to draw maps, badly). She didn’t want to centre her story on Sara, but chose little Lottie – the girl who was only four when she was sent to boarding school – instead.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Research is all very well, but it should make a story, and not just a list of interesting facts. Holly discovered the changing skirts. When skirts got wider, women could take longer steps and walk faster. Women were supposed to be well behaved, but ignorant.

Siberia was part of Theresa’s research for The Rasputin Dagger, and there’s the vast difference between a life filled with jewels and a life of starvation. She read us the part where the women protest against having to queue for bread and how this eventually led to Russian women getting the vote earlier than in most other countries.

The reason Theresa started to write was she read books and wished there’d be more, so she wrote the continuation of what had ended too soon. She always wanted to be the heroine in the books she read. Whereas Holly didn’t want to write at all, and was glad to discover she could work for publishers, reading books and editing.

Inspiration for Holly was Philip Reeve, Frances Hodgson Burnett and C S Lewis, while Theresa received support from Anne Fine, Joan Lingard and Michael Morpurgo.

An excellent question from a girl in the audience was about what’s unfair to women in the world. Theresa mentioned things like women not being allowed to drive in some countries, were not allowed to go out freely, that they receive limited information. Holly pointed out that women are paid less and are always the ones expected to look after children.

Theresa’s favourite book is – probably – A Tale of Two Cities. Holly liked Prince Caspian best.

A very crafty young lady asked four questions of each as the ‘last’ question of the session, when there was very little time left… Of their own work, both authors prefers the latest book, and Holly admitted to feeling that her first book would improve if she were to rewrite it. The best thing about being an author for Theresa is that she gets invited to events like this one, and the worst that she has to know ‘what comes next.’ Holly likes working from home, but it’s hard having to finish writing something.

This event was aimed at eight to twelves. Holly has many much younger fans, and there were a lot of five-year-olds in the audience. Parents take note?

(Photos Helen Giles)

EIBF 2018 – Day 1

Philip Pullman and I talked about the weather, which was Goldilocks-like. Not too hot and not too cold. Not wet. Nor sunny. It felt very British, on this the first day of the book festival in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Philip Pullman

It’s a new, streamlined square. Less higgledy piggledy, although no doubt more ‘character’ will find its way onto the fresh decking before long. I offered them my sandwich wrapping, but it seems they didn’t feel the need for it. I now know how they were able to make the Main theatre bigger. They picked up a whole theatre and put it in the middle of George Street. Very clever.

The Photographer and I arrived early and had a leisurely start, collecting tickets and getting to grips with all the changes, saying hello to press boss Frances, and gossiping with Theresa Breslin’s Mr B – whose t-shirt sported Mary Queen of Scots on the front and Rasputin’s dagger ‘in’ the back, so he had everything covered. Waved to Cathy Cassidy (wearing an unexpected red…), before venturing across to George Street to watch her signing in the much improved signing tent.

Cathy Cassidy

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

After noting that the festival regular with the magnificent beard was there again, we went to Theresa Breslin’s event with Holly Webb, chaired by Daniel Hahn. It was really full, despite Theresa’s grandchild choosing to go to see Terry Deary instead.

Chatted to Kate Leiper in the bookshop afterwards, and then went back to the behind-the-scenes decking where we found Philip Pullman with a pile of [his] books. Had a second go at chatting to Cathy Cassidy, and watched as Chris Close photographed an unknown, attractive female author who, when I got to my next event, turned out to be Tomi Adeyemi, appearing with Sophie Anderson.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

This was another full event, and I realised that having left the Photographer to deal with Philip, I was on my own and needed to take pictures of Sophie and Tomi in the bookshop. I’m short, so was able to use the entrance for hobbits and munchkins. Saw Vikki Gemmell and wanted to say hello, but she ran away. Quite understandable.

There is a blur after that, but I definitely saw Linda Strachan and Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Kathryn Ross, and Carol Ann Duffy. Val McDermid was around, as Philip Pullman’s chair. Someone came up to me and asked if I was Bookwitch, so I had to admit I was. Seems our paths have kept crossing, and now she wanted to say hello.

L J MacWhirter found me mid-prawn sandwich, and I had no idea that this would scare her off so fast. Didn’t mean to, L J! And while I was enjoying those prawns I watched as Chris Close commented on Jacek Dehnel’s outfit – it was very, erm, chequered – before persuading him to pose.

Jacek Dehnel

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was being interviewed nearby, before also getting the Close photo treatment, and director Barley himself brought some more tartan for this venerable author.

Ngūgī wa Thiong'o

My Photographer returned when Philip Pullman’s sold-out event came to an end, and we gathered ourselves and went in search of a train home, hoping that seven was both early enough and late enough and would mean there was room for two tired witches. There was. Just.

(Photos Helen Giles + Bookwitch)