Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.

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A new laureate

At first I was a little disappointed that Imtiaz Dharker declined becoming our next poet laureate. I half felt I knew her – after a meeting over a signing table! – so that would have been good. Another woman, and one from an outsider kind of background. But I can see why she felt she couldn’t accept.

Carol Ann Duffy has over the years become a very familiar figure, through our shared Manchester connection, MMU and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

But Simon Armitage is the next best thing. At least he will be when I can manage to remember his name and not call him Richard. We have a ‘connection’ to Simon as well. Daughter really liked his poetry at school, so I bought tickets for us to see him at the Manchester Literature Festival one year. We got as far as our home station, by which I mean the platform opposite the former Bookwitch Towers. There we decided not to go after all, so turned round and trotted home again.

[According to the Guardian] it seems that Simon comes from a witty family. His parents burst into tears when they heard the news about him being the new poet laureate. ‘I got a text from my dad later saying “We’ve stopped crying now. — If your grandad had been alive today, this would have killed him”.’

Angie Thomas

‘Do they know it’s not August?’ both Offspring asked. They did. They being the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And bless them for having an extra event for us, in the dreary days of March, when it was so cold that I suspect Angie Thomas, whose event this was, wanted nothing more than to get back to Mississippi. ‘I can’t do cold weather,’ she said. Although it appears Scottish shortbread goes some way to pacify her.

Angie Thomas ticket

This event, where Angie spoke to poet Nadine Aisha Jassat, was very popular. People queued outside the Gordon Aikman lecture theatre in George Square before being let in. It was a predominantly female audience, mostly young ones, but a fair few unaccompanied adults too. This is testament to how well known this new American author has become, and how popular she is. I’m guessing most had read both her books, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up.

As one [black] fan in the audience pointed out, Edinburgh is not a very black city, or I’m sure there would have been a much larger proportion of black readers present. Angie’s books must be what they have all been waiting for. I would have, if only I’d known.

On this, her only Scottish gig, Angie said you should do what you’re scared of. She’s surprised that she’s now making a living lying, which she’d not been expecting when working as a church secretary in Mississippi, occasionally writing her novel at work. Like her two heroines, Starr and Bri, she grew up in a poor black area, going to a white school, having to live two different lives.

‘I respond to things’ is how she describes herself. She changed after a shooting of a young man in California, where everyone concentrated on the fact that he was an ex-con, rather than on the fact that he was lying on the ground and was shot in the back. So Angie wrote The Hate U Give to prevent herself from burning down her school in anger. And On the Come Up was written in response to that book.

Writing is cathartic, and she has inspired young people to write, which has empowered her. For many of them it has been a revelation to read a novel where ‘they talk like I talk, they sound like me.’ Angie pointed out that although her speech may sound simple, using words like ain’t, she has a GPA of just below 4, which is very high.

Angie wants people to remember that Trayvon Martin was a boy whose mother loved him. She also said that contrary to popular belief that black fathers are not part of their children’s lives, there are statistics that prove they are more than average involved. For Angie it’s important to concentrate on the people, not on the issues.

She feels that she can’t worry about what others think of her; it’s better to follow her heart. The best way to change the world, is to change the world around you.

And with that it was time for questions, and we were all very taken with the flying mic. It’s a soft – red – cube, that was chucked round the auditorium. It was hard not to hold your breath as you watched to see where it would land, and if its intended target was going to miss. First one out was someone I know, and it was one of many really good questions.

Angie Thomas, with Sheila

Angie feels that white Americans have stolen from the country by celebrating people like Dr [Martin Luther] King only after their deaths, especially when they were responsible for him dying. But she’s hopeful, feeling that the young of today are much more aware of issues. ‘The work has to start now.’

She has always made up stories, beginning by rewriting Green Eggs and Ham because she didn’t like the ending. At the age of eight she entertained her friends at school with cliffhangers. Her books need both the trauma and the triumph, which answered a question I’d had too. Subjects like fatal shootings don’t generally have much good about them, but Angie has inserted hope into her stories.

She loved Harry Potter. Those books ‘saved my life!’ And we could see that in The Hate U Give; it’s almost incongruous to have the famous wizard in a story about crime against black people in America. But it gives it recognisable reality (I know. They are books about magic), something nearly all of us know.

On the Come Up features hiphop, which when it’s good Angie describes as poetry. Luckily someone asked her to rap, which she did, long and well, to jubilant applause. (The sign interpreter in Newcastle the day before had had to give up halfway…)

Asked about her books being banned, Angie said that ‘the banned book list is a great list’ to be on. Americans always want to read more of banned books.

At first Angie hadn’t been sure it was OK to write the way she did, so she asked an agent on Twitter, which is how she got herself an agent, and how her debut novel had 13 US publishers fighting to get it. Another five in the UK. Her very sensible editor tells her that she needn’t worry about how she writes; she should stick to being authentic, and if white readers don’t get it, they can Google. There are apparently a number of in-jokes in both books…

Angie Thomas

We could easily have done another hour. As it was, Angie had a plane to catch, but there was time for some signing downstairs. At first I wondered why so many fans went to the toilet instead, until I realised the signing queue went down to that level and then round and up the other stairs, and initially back outside as well.

I chatted briefly to a friend before going in search of Dodo and Son for some tea. When we’d failed to get into our first two choices of café, and walked back behind the lecture theatre, the queue was still going strong.

Angie Thomas

I’d say that was one successful event. Even if it was in March.

Seeing clearly – Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy

I was sorry to see Andrea Levy has died. She was my age, which makes it feel so much worse.

Never having read any of her books, I still have that opportunity. An author leaves so much behind. But I don’t know why I didn’t before. There was time before I got caught up with non-stop children’s books.

Actually, I might know. There is a difference in how the press writes about a living person and how they are portrayed after death. I keep saying it’d be nice – for everyone – to read more about someone now, rather than save so much for when it feels too late.

I ‘met’ her once in Edinburgh, and having revisited that day just now, I do remember how appalled I was at the way the press officer held her glasses while the photographers did their thing.

Andrea Levy

But I suppose there are worse things in life than grubby lenses.

Few is fine

Really. It is OK not to have rooms full of books.

I know I keep coming back to this. Which I suppose means I’ve not solved the problem, once and for all.

But I had a bit of an epiphany at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. Three authors – Candy Gourlay, Lari Don and Elizabeth Wein – talked about their early years. And someone, maybe all of them, mentioned not having had many books as children. Going to the library for something to read.

And of course, it was the same for me. Until the age of about 15, when it suddenly dawned on me that as an almost adult, I could save my pocket money and actually buy books. So I did. I know it might sound odd. But books in Sweden were expensive and mostly things adults gave you – a few of – for birthdays and Christmases. Not something you bought yourself.

I read so much. I went to the library. I was happy with what they had to offer, and didn’t mind handing books back after three weeks. Or four.

I didn’t mind that on my own shelves I had maybe a metre or two of books belonging to me. There was no prestige involved.

Whereas now, well, not only do I want to own the books I like best, and that I’ll want to read again, but I feel the need to show off a little, as well as having a selection of books in case someone comes to stay who wants to read.

The more I think of this, the more idiotic it sounds.

I need help. Someone to climb up to the back row of the top shelf (that’s the As and the Ns), so I can start being ruthless. Perhaps.

(Almost) every time I walk past the spot at Edinburgh Waverley station where Menzies used to be, I bless the day when I discovered you could buy Alistair McLean paperbacks there for 30 pence. Even though this was in 1973, it felt impossibly cheap to me, a young witch who knew books cost a fortune.

I grabbed a few books and went up to the girl at the counter, stabbing my finger against the printed price on the backs of those books, asking ‘is that really the price?’

It really was, and from then on, my luggage always contained at least twenty new paperbacks each time I left the country. I’d simply had no idea.

And with a start like that, it’s hardly surprising I now have a habit that has to be broken. Not the reading, but the owning.

The Moomins of Moominvalley

Philip Ardagh

As we entered the Corner theatre at Sunday lunchtime, there was a creature sitting quietly in the corner (where else?) of the room. It was Philip Ardagh, pretending he wasn’t already there. Quite eerie.

Once Jane Sandell had introduced ‘the best’ author, big in Germany (I’ll say!), Philip asked us a question. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one, but we all raised our hands, and he commented on our ‘fine variety of armpits.’

The World of Moominvalley

It seems there is more to Tove Jansson and the Moomins than the mugs.

The young Philip liked going to the library. He also liked book tokens. In the library he discovered his first Moomin book, which was Comet in Moominland. (Snap.) Before long his collection of Moomin books had grown, later supplemented with some ‘nice to have, stolen property’ in the shape of a few early hardbacks, so battered and unwanted the library didn’t want to keep them.

(We had better mention that Philip obviously didn’t mean any of these admissions to criminal behaviour.)

Getting on to business, he showed us his own new book about the Moomins – The World of Moominvalley – with pages and pages of facts about every last little creature in Moominland. He’s done a lot of research, although he did also have the help of an assistant. And he’s been hanging out with Sophia Jansson…

The World of Moominvalley

Philip is Sniff. (At least he didn’t say Little My!) There was some pondering on how – when you are not wearing clothes – you can have a pocket watch. Also, what’s the difference between a Snork and a Moomin? (Snorks can change colour.) The Moomins have a different kind of ancestor to you and me; as their ancestors are still alive, coming out to live in their house when the rest of them hibernate.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote a couple of chapters for this book, as he’s a Moomin fan, too. Apparently, he is also married to Little My. In Philip’s words, Frank ‘is an extraordinary man, and so is his wife…’

The audience was quite a knowledgeable one, meeting Philip’s standards regarding all things Moomin. There was one hairy moment discussing ‘girly pink’ but it was almost OK.

Another author in the yurt had informed Philip that ‘you’re exhausting.’ Something to do with his Sheldon-like fascination for certain things, maybe?

I hardly snoozed at all. At one point the Photographer prodded me to make sure I was awake. And I was. Really. (It was the early start. Nothing to do with the Moomins. Or Philip Ardagh.)

Philip Ardagh

‘I’ve been sensational,’ he told us, when it was time to go.

(Photos Helen Giles)

Quite early on a Sunday, or Day 5 of the EIBF

I never book tickets for events starting at ten on a Sunday, having discovered in our first year that you can’t get there that early. So this year I decided we’d go and see Michael Morpurgo and Barroux at ten, on a Sunday, just because Alex Nye was doing the chairing. And she clearly wouldn’t get there on time either. We came up with various solutions, wondering if we’d have to hoist Alex over the gate so she’d get in, but she ended up being all right, and so were we.

My Photographer and I were so all right we even had a second breakfast, which sort of helps you keep going when you have events at meal times and such like. In fact, as I rushed in to collect tickets I found a relaxed Michael Morpurgo being done by Chris Close, before the rain. I’d wanted to meet Michael properly this time, and when he saw me he said hello, so I must have looked like a hello kind of witch. I was pleased to discover he was being looked after by Vicki, one of my long-standing publicists.

Barroux

We ran on to Michael’s event in the Main theatre, which was worth every one of those early minutes of trying to get to Edinburgh in time. He didn’t do a signing afterwards, but we watched Barroux painting his way through his part of the signing.

‘Backstage’ we found Ade Adepitan being photographed, in the rain, and I was introduced to Mrs Morpurgo, who had not been expecting a Bookwitch to be thrust on her.

Frances Hardinge

Marcus Sedgwick

Before going to the Moomin event with Philip Ardagh, we called at the children’s bookshop where I had estimated we’d find Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge signing after their event, and as a lovely bonus we got a Blue Peter Gold Badge winner, aka former children’s laureate Chris Riddell. He claimed he had only sneaked into the event, but there he was, at the signing table. A chair for a chair?

Chris Riddell and Marcus Sedgwick

It was time for us to go on to the Corner theatre for Philip Ardagh’s event on the Moomins, before returning to the same corner in the bookshop to chat with him as he signed his rather lovely looking book on his favourite creatures. It is expensive, though, which will be why it was wrapped in plastic, until my Photographer helped by getting her Swiss Army knife out and slashing the wrapping for Philip and his publicist, who was wishing she had sharper nails.

Philip Ardagh

Back to the yurt for a photocall with Ehsan Abdollahi, except he needed an umbrella and we decided it was too wet to snap. (You know, first he doesn’t get a visa, and then we treat him to cold rain. What a host country!)

I thought we could go and catch him at the Story Box where he was drawing, but it was busy, and we left him in peace. I’m glad so many children dropped in for some art with the book festival’s resident artist.

Our early start required us to miss a lot of people we had wanted to see, but who were on much later. And Judith Kerr had been unable to travel, leaving us with more afternoon than expected.

Cressida Cowell

Before leaving for Bookwitch Towers, we made a detour to Cressida Cowell’s signing. Her queue went a long way round Charlotte Square.

By some miracle, the Photographer and I hadn’t quite killed each other by the end of our day.

(Photos by Helen Giles)