Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

Shirley Williams

When I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I had no idea of her relationship to Shirley Williams, the politician. I mainly concentrated on the fact that Vera had actually travelled past the bottom of our garden, on her way to go shopping with her mother in Manchester. That was enough of a connection. Never mind that the shopping happened before our house was built.

And then I found out that Vera was the mother of Shirley Williams. And after that, one day at Charlotte Square, during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I looked around the yurt and discovered I was sitting next to Shirley Williams, being interviewed by someone.

That was exciting enough for me. A more or less direct link to the woman who wrote Testament of Youth.

And now Shirley Williams has died. But I’m grateful for that fleeting connection, which would never have been possible without you.

Down Memory Lane

I’ve been concerned with getting too grumpy. And I don’t want to be. So I thought I’d look out photos from the past; pictures that make me happy remembering what I was doing and who I was with.

In our first year of the Edinburgh International Book Festival we met lots of people, old [to us] and new. One event I was simply not going to miss was Anne Fine and Melvin Burgess, and those of you with good memories will know why I thought this could be especially interesting. The third author with them was going to be newbie Rachel Ward, whom I didn’t know anything about. I just felt a bit sorry for anyone caught in the crossfire.

Well, Melvin was Melvin and Anne was dignified and calm and they didn’t fight. And Rachel was all right. Both from the crossfire aspect, but also because she was a rewarding new author to meet. With good taste in necklaces.

Almost twelve years on and Rachel is someone  I ‘see’ just about every day – on social media – and she keeps us going with her photographs and her art. Lovely pictures from near her home, adorable dogs, and fun photos of her grandkittens.

And her art! I have a couple of Rachel’s paintings on my walls, and if I were to be miraculously furnished with plenty more walls, I know exactly what I’d hang on them. You can see some of her stuff on Instagram if you like (rachelwardart).

So that is a sunny memory.

A new home for the Edinburgh International Book Festival

‘What sort of place is this meant to be?’ said one Swede to the other, as the four of them settled down with coffees at my table in Charlotte Square one August. ‘I think it’s some sort of book fair’, said the second person. They all looked around and seemed to find it wanting (because it wasn’t exactly the Gothenburg Book Fair, was it?). I refrained from letting on that I could understand what they were saying and didn’t rise in defence of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I suspected they wouldn’t get it.

I have had ten lovely years in Charlotte Square, missing it badly last August, but certain we’d all be back one day. And we will be. Though from summer 2021 it will be a togetherness somewhere else. They are moving house, so to speak. From the open square to an actual building; the Edinburgh College of Art.

We discussed this at Bookwitch Towers when the news reached us yesterday, and I believe we are all in favour. I carefully went over every book festival or fair I’ve frequented over the years, and came to the conclusion that indoors is good. At least if there can be a little bit of outdoors when you are overcome by the beautiful, balmy evening and want to sit out under the string lights and talk about literature with nice people. (Daughter says I am crazy, but I will request the lights specially.)

There will be less need to worry about one’s outfit; will it rain, or will it be too hot? Less need for wellies. I imagine the seats in a building will be somewhat comfier than in the tents, and there will be fewer screeching buses going round and round. The toilets may be of the more permanent kind.

But then, where will I be? And where will the authors be? We’ll find out. Will there be a good photo corner for the paparazzi? And can the ducks come?

It will be different. It will be fine. I just have to find out which bus I need to get there.

If there is to be any getting this year. I hope so. But if there isn’t, they will broadcast online events from their new home, which is better equipped to do that sort of stuff. After which it will be the next year again. I hope.

Bookwitch bites #150

Kindle-sharing is the new thing at Bookwitch Towers. With me actually paying £1.99 for ebooks that the Resident IT Consultant might also enjoy, I can’t just suggest he doesn’t drop my [paper] book in the bath. So, what’s his is mine, and the other way round.

The Resident IT Consultant has had the benefit of reading some of J D Kirk’s crime novels. If someone reads more than one, it is an indication the book wasn’t too bad. Or so I believe. But recently I gathered J D had put in an Ofsted inspection where none ought to be. When I told J D he was so upset he stopped talking to me. Until I woke up and discovered he and the Resident IT Consultant were on such friendly terms that they had balanced a tankard of beer on my head.

😳

The Edinburgh International Book Festival are planning some December Winter Warmer events. On Saturday 12th there is a full programme of book events for you. Free to access.

It’s Advent. Daughter requested I get out the Jostein Gaarder advent book for her daily read. The thing that always strikes me is how his book sits right next to Cornelia Funke’s advent book. It’s almost as if it had been planned.

We also have a real, live – well, you know what I mean – advent calendar. We take turns opening the doors. This was sent to us by a very kind author, who ‘lives’ a little bit along from Jostein on the shelf.

I have been asked for a wish-list. The Resident IT Consultant wants help with ideas for me. Daughter does not want a list. She will come up with her own ideas. Which are usually very good. My list had only books on it. I know. This is crazy. I don’t need books. But I need other stuff even less. Except when Daughter has come up with the perfect thing. I’ve still to read my way through the books from last Christmas. And the ones I bought myself in August. Also the books I bought the Resident IT Consultant last Christmas…

But books still make sense.

Revenge of the Andes

‘Someone in Chile is holding Rosetta Girl’s parcel hostage’, Daughter announced last week. While not exactly the last thing I’d ever expected to hear, it was low on my list.

She had sent her friend Rosetta a parcel, containing nothing terribly exciting. A small item for Rosetta’s – by now – past birthday, and something for Christmas. It’s the thought that counts, and all that, and the shipping costs probably outran anything Daughter had spent on the gifts. She sent it FedEx, and we’d both been pleasantly surprised by the speed with which it took off from Scotland to Chile. Before we knew it, the parcel had got to Rosetta Girl’s apartment block.

Except then, it turned out to be like something from a thriller; ‘pay the ransom or the socks get it’ kind of situation. They tried to call it a fee, or even import duty, and it had to be paid in cash. Which Rosetta didn’t have.

It was clear that someone in the delivery chain, someone in the town, well past customs, was hoping to make a bit of money. Because most people are so excited by parcels arriving that they will do anything, even quite unreasonable things, to discover what they have been sent. Daughter tried to insist to her shipping company, that the fee was unreasonable, but if it was to be paid, she would pay it, thank you very much, and she’d do it cash free, with a receipt.

It’s a shame that some countries, and some companies, have this kind of bad reputation. And it’s probably not even the neediest people who are attempting to make some money on the side, which would have been almost all right. And I was under the impression FedEx was a proper company.

We can all be wrong.

Another of the items being held to ransom is Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. The paperback version. It’s set in the Himalayas, but as Michelle said at the Edinburgh Book Festival, she had intended to write about the mountains next to where Rosetta lives. I suspect this to be a case of Revenge of the Andes.

I’m hoping the parcel-napper understands quite how modest the contents are. You’d never pay that much for anything like this. But you might pay because getting the parcel means something to you.

In your arms only

When asked – and sometimes even when not asked – about what makes the Edinburgh International Book Festival so special, or who you might meet there, I have often borrowed the tale below to describe what could happen.

But it’s never as good as when the someone who was there tells it. And since Julie Bertagna put it on Twitter, I feel it’s out there, in public.

It’s a lovely way of remembering Sean Connery. And what a lucky man he was, to have Julie in his arms!

Besides, rugs are a nuisance…

‘You can’t keep a good festival down’

I should think not!

I’m glad and relieved that the online version of the Edinburgh International Book Festival was a success, and so very, well, international, in more ways than usual. Normally people travel; both participating authors and the audiences, but in 2020 the whole world could sit at home and watch and listen.

A good thing, as I don’t believe they could have fitted all the 200,000 + viewers into Charlotte Square. Which, of course could cause problems in future, if more people really do want to give it a go, if and when normality is allowed to operate again.

It seems that the most popular event was Bernardine Evaristo talking with Nicola Sturgeon, and that’s the one I was particularly wanting to see as well, of the adult events. I didn’t have time these last few days, but will have a go if I can watch again, as the programme seems to suggest.

I watched about ten events, having hoped for more. But there you are. Can’t always do all you want.

And thinking about ‘my’ events, the last one was the best. Not just because it was last, but there was something about the mix of authors that was just right. You know, requiring the same skill from the planners as a good party does. You need to consider who will go well with that other person, and not only whether they have written great books, on topics that will match someone else’s. It needs chemistry.

It wasn’t the same as events in real life. Not that they weren’t good. Just, well, because… It’s about being there, however exhausting, or wet, or noisy, and the queues for the toilets are too long and you want a cup of tea, but probably shouldn’t, or don’t have the time to grab one between events. I missed it all! Fingers crossed we will be there in 2021!

A Fantastical Escape

This was a great event to end the book festival with! Eoin Colfer is always fun, and he was complemented by Cressida Cowell and Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and kept in some sort of order by Mairi Kidd. There were many laughs and if you hadn’t read all the books yet, you’d want to by the end. Mairi was hoping there were some in the audience who still had this to discover.

Despite ‘promises’ there was no dog, sleeping or otherwise, nor a rear end of cat. But we had a past – Irish – laureate, and the current children’s laureate, and maybe a future one? Cressida was in her kitchen, Kiran in her Oxford office and Eoin was delighted to be anywhere, even in Dublin.

He was feeling smug, having written a picture book and a drama during lockdown. There was ‘nothing he could teach his sons that they’d want to know’ so he mostly ‘read books’ [on Netflix]. So did Kiran, but as she’s married to her illustrator she needed to get some work finished. And Cressida had read her books on YouTube, loving her own jokes, long forgotten.

People with a high IQ are more easily disturbed by noisy chewing. This is a fact. Apparently. Eoin wore his glasses to improve his high IQ look, and to seem more trustworthy as he talked about his fraternal, con-joined twins…

Kiran, who at a young age was traumatised by the tunnel in Eoin’s The Wish List, always has strong ideas of what her characters look like, but can’t draw them. Cressida might be an artist, but has bad visual memory, citing a pear with the stalk at the wrong end.

Eoin regrets the fact that children grow too old to dare write fiction, believing they must do it in a certain way. Kiran used to write as a child, but had forgotten this, until her mother reminded her of it, and reckons that’s 15 lost years where she’s not been ‘using it’ to make it stronger.

At this point Eoin disappeared. Broadband issues? (When he popped up again he blamed Brexit. Something about a hard border.) He’s scared by public speaking. Who’d have thought? After 25 years he’s less worried. His worst experience was doing a parachute jump. Not his choice. It was a gift from his wife… And the cords tangled.

Kiran likes the adrenaline pumping, and bungee jumps are her thing. Caving, not so much, But she got out eventually, that time, and she didn’t drown the time she wasn’t waving at her dad, either.

‘Not usually an issues guy’, Eoin is most pleased with his book Illegal. Although in Ireland you are not supposed to be proud of your own work, but as this is a collaboration, it might be OK. Cressida always likes her latest book best, and she’s always proud. With barely a minute to go, Kiran said her book titles are so long she didn’t have time to list one. Maybe the most recent book.

Sensory Stories and Crafts

I reckoned I was old enough to dispense with the dish cloth and lidded saucepan, as I settled down to listen to Ailie Finlay tell stories, and watch Kate Leiper illustrate them. This was a rather different event, with storytelling, rather than reading from a book. Ailie clearly has a lot of experience doing this, as I discovered by her lack of [picture] focus. She was so into her telling the story about the old woman who went berry picking, that she waved and blurred and smiled all over the place.

Kate, on the other hand, was calm itself with her red lentil path and ‘swishy’ grass as she showed the audience how they too could make a book to go with Ailie’s story. You can do a lot with lentils, and bark and kitchen foil, and if you have no large stapler you can stitch your pages together.

The next tale was about their recent trip to the beach, going barefoot, collecting shells and seagull feathers. And Ailie sent her fast runner, a teddy called Wilf, over to Kate’s house with some shells she’d forgotten to give her.

That teddy got a lot of exercise, because later on he had to take a pie up to Kate. Not only had they eaten ice cream, but they’d made pie with the old woman’s berries. Ailie eats hers with cream but Kate prefers custard.

And perhaps viewers could make a special memory book after seeing this inspiring event. Possibly making it a concertina book, where you can see everything at once, should you want to. Tactile books can be fun.

At least if not too many red lentils end up on the floor, crunching as you walk.

Retelling Tales

This afternoon it was all ‘debauchery’ and giving classic characters new stories. Well, newer stories. Juno Dawson’s Wonderland is a sort of Alice tale, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has written about the brides of Dracula in The Deathless Girls, and Joseph Coelho tackles Ovid’s Daphne* as a latchkey girl who finds a hidden forest in the library. As you do.

And he should know, since according to moderator Philippa Cochrane he has joined every library in the country.

Juno described Wonderland as ‘trippy and strange’ and said that Alice wasn’t trans to begin with, but she was encouraged to go in that direction, and for Juno it was like therapy. For Joseph it was a case of the ‘characters telling you’ what to write; and how Daphne is fixed in grief. Kiran wanted better for her twin characters, but the ‘story had already been written’. She let the girl with ‘no sense of self’ rely on a best friend.

Philippa warned that none of these novels pulls any punches (but that’s what YA fiction is, surely?). Kiran reckons it is stronger to stay tender, and there is good more than there is bad. Juno said she can’t think of anything worse than Glastonbury, and Wonderland is a bit like it. Joseph laughed and blamed everything on Daphne, who ‘told him to write it’. You can get through difficult situations, and friends and family can help.

Joseph asked the others about their writing habits. For Kiran self care is important. She writes best when healthy, and she needs to get away from her desk regularly, even when the writing tries to keep her there. ‘You matter more’. Juno discovered she needed a job to go to, to see people, to have the commute, after working from her flat in London. It made her crazy. She now has an office in Brighton, but before that she was the monster with the MacBook who sat in cafés, scowling at children.

This was another live event, and one audience question was how much they left of the original stories, and another whether the myths still have any relevance. Also, what characterises a book as YA, and not wider age appeal? We’ve all been teenagers, as Juno said, while both Joseph and Kiran mentioned ‘voice’, and you recognise things, you have lived it, it’s intense.

Kiran really wanted to know which movie the other two would choose if they were to retell a film, saying she herself would pick Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Joseph chose The Thing, and Juno Single White Female.

Philippa hoped publishers were listening, because we could all want to read those books. And said that she had been cheered up on this dreich day in Edinburgh. I think we all had, dreich or not. Great stuff!

(*Joseph’s book, The Girl Who Became a Tree, isn’t out yet, but is available from the festival bookshop.)