Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

Scottish Book Trust Awards 2018

After months of secrecy, all the Scottish Book Trust Awards for this year have been made public, culminating in an awards ceremony in Edinburgh last night.

I don’t actually know where to start. They are all important, so does one go from less to more, or the other way round?

OK, I’ll go with the Learning Professional Award. Where would we be without such hardworking people, especially someone who sounds as absolutely fabulous as Eileen Littlewood, Head Teacher at Forthview Primary in Edinburgh? First I marvelled at all Eileen has achieved, and then I quickly felt both exhausted and not a little envious of all her great work.

Eileen Littlewood upright pic - credit Jonathan Ley

When Eileen started, the school library had been dismantled, and in order to create her vision of an in-house library catering for all ages, she applied for and secured over £10k of funding. She was able to start a reading community, and also helped the Family Support Teacher to start a parent book group, using Quick Reads and comic books to engage parents who were reluctant to read.

Eileen has established a paired reading initiative, has organised author visits to the school and has ensured her staff are trained to deliver reading projects. She also runs a lunchtime book club for pupils, as well as regular writing workshops. And she has recently worked with parents to create a book of poems on mental health to share with their children.

The Outstanding Achievement Award has gone to Vivian French, who has written hundreds of books. She has also worked hard to promote books by other authors and illustrators. Vivian is not only an inspiring figure to those in the industry, but has also acted as a mentor to budding authors and artists. Vivian is an active advocate for dyslexia.

In 2012, she and Lucy Juckes set up Picture Hooks, a mentoring scheme to encourage emerging Scottish illustrators.  And Vivian has been Children’s Writer-in-Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and a guest selector for the children’s programme. She also teaches at Edinburgh College of Art in the illustration department and is a Patron of the Borders Book Festival.

Vivian French wide pic - credit Jonathan Ley

Vivian’s comment to all this was; ‘I have the most wonderful time visiting schools and festivals, tutoring young illustrators, talking (always talking!) and discussing books and pictures… surely such an award should be for someone who’s earned it by the sweat of their brow? Not someone like me, who skips about having such a very lovely time! I’m not ungrateful – truly I’m not – it’s the most amazing award to be given… but I’m going to redouble my efforts now to ensure that I really deserve it.’

There’s modesty, and then there’s modesty. Vivian deserves this award!


And finally, there’s the Bookbug Picture Book Prize for Gorilla Loves Vanilla by Chae Strathie and Nicola O’Byrne, and the Scottish Teenage Book Prize to Caighlan Smith for Children of Icarus.

Caighlan Smith

Mustn’t forget to mention runners-up Michelle Sloan and Kasia Matyjaszek, Debi Gliori and Alison Brown, Danny Weston and Elizabeth Laird.

Phew, what a lot of talent and good books!


The late interview – Maria Turtschaninoff

If I employed me to work on Bookwitch, I’d have to give myself the sack for slacking and being late.

But here, at very long last, is my interview with Maria Turtschaninoff, in English. The Swedes – and the Finns – got her ages ago. Well, like two months ago. Right in time for Finland’s national day. The only thing special about today, is that it’s the day before tomorrow.

Maria Turtschaninoff

10 10 10

On this tenth day of the tenth month in the tenth year of Bookwitch, I realise I’ve already been doing a lot of musing and looking back, and I keep telling you – even though no one asked for it – about all the good things the witchy work has brought me.

I appreciate all the comments you leave, offering some valuable thoughts that I have needed to hear.

There’s Fabio Geda’s smile when we met. I don’t tend to expect such reactions.

Can’t forget the Mars bar Terry Pratchett was hoping for when we first met, and I had nothing to offer him.

When we moved house, one of my goals in the house hunting was to find a garden like Candy Gourlay’s. Preferably with a house with similar vibes, too. It’s good to know what one wants.

I discovered that – occasionally – I can conduct interviews. This is an odd thing for someone quiet and unsociable.

Bookwitching led to some blogging for the Guardian. I’d never have thought that could be possible. I mean, not even Hallandsposten wanted me.

I now have pendant lamps in our newly built room inspired by the Edinburgh book festival’s lights in Charlotte Square.

There’s been a lot of interesting travelling, and some quite unusual event venues have been visited.

I was able to ask Derek Landy to leave a comment for a fervent fan who desperately wanted to hear from him.

And I’d like to think that my exploits have had a beneficial effect on the Bookwitch family.

Charlotte Square

That’s it. Not very scientific.

Celebrating Muriel Spark

It’s rather nice now that the Edinburgh International Book Festival offers special events throughout the year. Somehow you feel so much more ready for an event when there aren’t hundreds more, right before and after.

Muriel Spark and Alan Taylor - Edinburgh International Book Festival

To celebrate the centenary of the birth of Dame Muriel Spark, there is a special event at the Usher Hall on January 31st. It will be presented by Alan Taylor, who I understand is a friend of Muriel Spark’s (I know him as the chap in the press yurt every summer…), and Rosemary Goring. To help them, people like Ian Rankin will share their own memories of the city’s famous author.

So, that sounds really quite interesting.

‘Plus, for the first time since 1963, Spark’s play Doctors of Philosophy will be presented on stage through performed extracts.’ The evening is only planned to last 90 minutes, but it looks like they are going to put a lot into that hour and a half.

The thing I’m most excited about, however, is the signing afterwards. I’m not sure whether signing is the new word for selling books, or if the book festival organisers know something I don’t.

On ruining Othello

If I have to go back to school, I want Claire McFall to be my English teacher.

She is such fun, and so cheerful, and doesn’t hesitate to ruin Othello if the syllabus demands it.

Claire McFall

I have to admit that Claire proves I am wrong in preferring to interview authors whose work I know well. When I met her I had only read half of Ferryman – the book that went to China and was a huge success. And China does seem to be the way to go. Maybe the country could change the fates of more British YA, and children’s, authors.

So here, only two months late, is our conversation over cookies and juice (yes, really) at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with Claire’s thoughts on China and how to get school pupils to write.

The last of the festival

I’ve been following the daily updates of the book festival in the Scotsman. Generally they pick out a few events and/or people for each day to write about, and generally names their readers will recognise. I really enjoyed what their David Robinson had to say about Karl-Ove Knausgaard: ‘He concluded by describing a toilet and how it works. And no, you didn’t have to be there.’ 😁

Even though I wasn’t there just then, I am tempted to agree. But mostly you’d quite like to have been there.

I’m glad Ehsan Abdollahi was permitted to enter the country. And I do hope he felt it was worth the struggle once he got here.

Ehsan Abdollahi by Chris Close

It was also a pleasure to find Nick Green’s Cat’s Paw among the books on Strident’s shelves. It comes heavily recommended.

Nick Green, Cat's Paw

On my last day I met Danny Scott, whose first football book I read a couple of years ago, and which was both fun and enjoyable. I like being able to put a face to a name.

Danny Scott

A face I know well, even in cartoon form, is Chris Riddell’s, and he appears to have been let loose near Chris Close’s props. Some people just have to draw on every available surface.

Chris Riddell

And speaking of the latter Chris, he seems to have made mashed Swede (aka rotmos), which is a traditional food, often served with bacon. Or, you could consider it an artful way to present crime writer Arne Dahl.

Arne Dahl

The two pictures below pretty much embody the book festival for me. One is a trio of happy authors, two of them paired up for an event, with the third to keep them in order as chair; Cathy MacPhail and Nicci Cloke with Alex Nye. And the second is another trio – Pamela Butchart and Kirkland Ciccone and Sharon Gosling – from two different events, lined up side by side, with their chair, Ann Landmann.

Nicci Cloke, Alex Nye and Cathy MacPhail

Pamela Butchart, Kirkland Ciccone, Sharon Gosling and Ann Landmann

Then there are the more practical aspects to running a book festival, such as duck pins for the noticeboard, a resting flag pole, the new design press pass, and the thing that puzzled me the most, a folding stool in the photocall area. I wondered how they could get away with standing an author on something like that, until it dawned on me that it was for photographers to stand on, to reach over the heads of others…


Flag pole

Press pass

Photo stool

And in the children’s bookshop; where would any of us be were it not for enthusiastic young readers?

Barry Hutchison

Or simply all the hard-working authors and illustrators who travel the length of the country to dress up and perform in front of young fans.

Sarah McIntyre

And those who kill with their keyboards:

Thomas Enger and James Oswald

Talking about a revolution

I’ve said it before, the school events at the book festival are often the best. And I was grateful to masquerade as a secondary school pupil on Wednesday morning. As I said, I even had my tie. Although, not all the students wore uniform; some did, some didn’t.

Theresa Breslin was there to talk about revolutions, and mostly the Russian revolution one hundred years ago. Lindsey Fraser introduced her by saying that she has known Theresa a long time, and she has always been interested in many different things. This is obvious from all the books she has written, on a variety of subjects, and always good.

To begin with Theresa read from chapter one of The Rasputin Dagger, about the massacre in St Petersburg in 1905. It’s something I recall from my school history books, but it was never like when described by Theresa. She really does bring history to life.

Theresa Breslin

The character Stefan was twelve years old when he took part in this peaceful march because people were starving. And then his mother and many others were massacred. He was radicalised by this, and it made what happened in 1917 the only way forward for Stefan and countless others.

The dagger in the story was one Theresa found in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul many years ago, and just knew she had to use in a story. And some years ago when the Edinburgh Book Festival sent fifty writers to different places in the world, they sent Theresa to Siberia. It was somewhere she’d never have gone otherwise and it was a fantastic experience. She loved the light in Siberia. Less so the idea of encountering wolves and bears in the wild.

She talked about Rasputin and his background, and about the haemophilia the Tsar’s only son suffered from. She showed photos of the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace, where the Royal family lived, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of the people.

When writing this book Theresa had a deadline, since it was about what happened in October 1917. And as it was about real people, she couldn’t change what actually happened. She looked into the rumours that Anastasia survived the murder of the Tsar’s family.

Theresa Breslin

When she was in Siberia she collected names for characters, and made lists of things like street names. Sometimes she needs to get to know her characters before she can tell what their names might be. And to, well, maybe confuse herself, Theresa would hold her notebook up to a mirror to try and read mirror image, seeing if she could decode the ‘Russian style’ words.

Talking about Charlottesville today and how there is a split between the sexes on how people perceive what’s going on, Theresa reminded the pupils that whereas women had few rights in Russia, in 1917 more women there had the right to vote than did British women.

Asked which of her characters she might be, she felt she is Frances in Remembrance. And she recalled the librarian of her childhood, a ‘dragon librarian’ who forced children to pass a reading test before they could borrow books. Theresa mused on the fact that she went on to become a librarian herself…

Theresa Breslin

She also remembered a very bad review in one of the Sunday papers once. Mr B brought her tea in bed, which made her realise it was bad news. But her son-in-law later barbecued the review.