Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

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…

Duck

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

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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.

Day 6

Thanks to me wanting a scone (although it turned out not to taste terribly nice) I found Moira Mcpartlin downing an espresso at the station café, which was very nice indeed. We were both going to Edinburgh, so suddenly I had company, which was both welcome, and positively useful, as Moira kept me awake. And there was all that delicious book and author gossip to engage in.

Moira Mcpartlin

In Charlotte Square the first thing Moira needed to do was photograph her own book (Wants of the Silent) in the bookshops. Which is a perfectly normal thing to do. Then we went over to admire [the photo of] Kathryn Evans in her swirly dress, and as we stood there a black clad figure wearing an enormous witch’s hat walked past and into the Corner theatre.

Kirkland Ciccone

An hour or two later I discovered this had been Kirkland Ciccone. It being a really warm and humid day, he said he’d been too hot, except when you’re as cool as he is, you can’t be too hot. So that’s fine.

The first thing for me was to find Amanda Craig who was signing after a morning event in the Spiegeltent with Gwendoline Riley. Amanda told me it had been a good event, and how much she enjoys the book festival.

Amanda Craig and Gwendoline Riley

I rested in the yurt for a bit, and was able to hear all the shouting going on in the tent next door where Lari Don was entertaining a large horde of schoolchildren. Caught her just before her signing, when she was having a one minute rest.

Lari Don

Theresa Breslin

My main reason for day 6 was to join Theresa Breslin’s school event (they said I could), so Frances kindly walked me over there and told them it was all right for me to sit in. When Theresa arrived, she handed me a school tie from Mr B, to make me blend in a bit. It made all the difference. And the event was much better than the one in my dream in the early hours (the reason for me feeling so sleepy).

Theresa Breslin

Afterwards Theresa signed for a good hour, which meant I also managed to see Nicola Morgan who was half an hour behind in the signing tent. That’s what I like about these weekday school event days; my authors all over the place. So then I slipped across the square to the children’s bookshop, where I saw Judy Paterson, and Jenny Colgan with Kathryn Ross who had chaired her event.

Nicola Morgan

Judy Paterson

Jenny Colgan and Kathryn Ross

On my way back to the yurt I encountered Cathy MacPhail en route to the Main theatre and there was time for a little hug. Saw Elizabeth Laird arrive, and then went to sit outside the yurt while waiting for a last photocall. Press boss Frances went off to buy green ice creams for her crew, which they licked in the rising heat, after first taking pictures of her posing with the five cones.

James Oswald

At last it was time for Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger and James Oswald to face the paparazzi, and me. I think they were both taken aback by the onslaught of so many cameras all at once. Chatted to James while Thomas was being ‘done’ and it sounds as if it’s not something he’s used to encountering. And when it was James’s turn, I mentioned to Thomas that we’d met in Manchester a few years ago. Luckily he remembered who he’d been with, as my memory was fading a bit.

Thomas Enger

I picked up my school tie and half-eaten scone and walked to Waverley in the heat, ‘enjoying’ the piper on the corner, and narrowly missing my train. But there was another one soon enough, and it was both cold and empty, which is the beauty of travelling mid-afternoon and mid-week.

School tie

True Survival

Bosco Theatre

As I approached the Bosco Theatre to do a bit of a recce 25 minutes before the event with Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff, I was surprised but pleased to find a queue of fans already waiting. I suspect it’s the fantasy effect, which seems to have really keen fans. Girl fans, mostly. And I have no idea who they came to see, Alwyn or Maria. I understand that Alwyn is quite big. But then, I believe Maria is big too.

Chaired by Daniel Hahn, these three knew what they were doing, having already got together for an event in Hay. Alwyn wore the wrong – but lovely – shoes, and walked down those stairs carefully, so as not to get stuck in the gaps. Maria wore a Moomin dress, i.e. made of a fabric that might have looked like white spots, but those spots were Moomins. (Philip Pullman would kill for a dress like that!)

To the accompanyment of screeching seagulls outside, Daniel introduced the ladies as exciting new voices in YA fantasy. He started by asking them how they came to write, and Alwyn said she falls asleep by making up stories in bed (me too, which is why I fall asleep), and she really can’t undertand how people who don’t write manage to sleep. From there she moved on to Harry Potter fan fiction.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Maria admitted to being far too old to have done any Harry Potter-ing, but in kindergarten she would be allowed to stay up when the other children had a nap, and she would write stories. So while Alwyn sent herself to sleep, Maria stayed awake. She liked Moomin, so wrote Moomin-style stories. She knew she could write, but didn’t have ideas of her own. She wants writing to be easy; a bed of roses.

Alwyn wanted to write about girl heroines, but discovered that it was considered wrong to have girls do what male characters have long been doing. ‘Dragons were realistic, girls were not.’ Girls were not strong enough. She wanted sharpshooters, in order to avoid the requirement for strength, and it became a sort of Western crossed with a Thousand and One Nights.

Maria found a Greek island where women were forbidden to land, and this inspired her to write Maresi, about an island that didn’t permit men to visit. Both authors agreed that you just have to wait for things to click, and then the writing will work.

Reading from Naondel, Orseola’s story – because it was the happiest – she said she has not tried to protect her characters from bad things. You only need to look at what’s in the news to realise how much bad stuff your readers will already be aware of.

Daniel asked about gatekeeping, quoting teachers on an awards committee, who wanted to recommend certain books to their pupils, but feeling they were not allowed to do so. It had to be the parents who permitted their children to read. Maria said that she was not aware of any banning of books in Finland, and that Naondel was part of a book parcel offered there.

Alwyn read from chapter two of her second book in the Rebel of the Sands series. When she writes she likes to do so with fast music in the background,  and she needs to write fast, using placeholders to get past obstacles, saving details for later. And that’s also when she removes unnecessary details. The most she’s ever written in one day was 8000 words. Maria sets a goal of perhaps 2000 words, because she is lazy and she needs to have something to work towards.

Asked about how to deal with writer’s block, Alwyn said she always carried a notepad, and she would listen to people on the bus, and write things down, and she’d look at people and practise writing descriptions of them. ‘Me and my art,’ she called it.

Regarding writing ‘real’ books instead of fantasy, the answer is that if you don’t like reading those ‘real’ books, then you can’t write them.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

Another question was how to explain what a fantasy world is like, if that world is the norm to those living in it. The best solution is to introduce a newcomer, like Maresi, who then describes what she learns about the island. Or you take an outsider like Gulliver and put them in ‘a situation.’

I hope Alwyn’s fans grew as interested in Maria’s books, as I did Alwyn’s. And there really is something about fantasy fans.

Coming of Age

Waiting for the two double-Cs to appear in the Bosco Theatre, I studied those cracks in the floor again. It’s not just the poor stiletto heel that needs protecting. You could chuck pens down there, even the whole notepad. Or why not your mobile phone? I mean, I know why not the phone, but it’d slip so easily. I held on to my pen and pad and put everything else away.

I was sure there’d be plenty of people, because Cat Clarke has lots of fans, meaning that even though Christoffer Carlsson might have begun the evening a relatively unknown foreigner, he’d win fans during the event. So, lots of teen girls and a few older girls like myself. And two grown men, one of whom was fellow author Jared Thomas.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

When the CCs and their chair Ann Landmann arrived, walking down those steps to sit underneath the glittering disco ball, I noticed that Christoffer carried a Fjällräven rucksack, blue with leather straps. Naturally.

Ann urged us to come closer, to get ready for the audience participation, saying the trapeze would be lowered later, and that perhaps they’d better lock the door so we couldn’t escape. Not a soul, apart from Jared, moved…

She also said there’d be a signing afterwards, in the signing Portakabin, the ‘white kind of box’ near the theatre. I’m glad she said it. I’d hate to be complaining about its, erm, lack of space.

Having forgotten the title of the event, Ann referred to Death & Murder, two of her favourite subjects, pointing out that Swedish Christoffer has a ‘real degree’ – to which Cat added, a PhD – in criminology. ‘A terrible over-achiever.’ And Cat is ‘not quite homegrown,’ having been born in Zambia, but Ann doesn’t think she has ‘a strange accent.’

So that Ann could shut up for ten minutes, she handed over to her guests, asking them to read. Cat said her book Girlhood is set in a boarding school (she loves them!), and she read from chapter five, about some sort of initiation of a new girl which, to be honest, is why I don’t want to go to boarding school. But I can see that it’s better to be wearing the Trump mask, as you don’t have to look at it.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer told us about Halmstad, asking if anyone has heard of Roxette, and described the darkness of Småland, where October is the Coldest Month is set. He read the first chapter where we meet Vega. Both books feature darkness, rain and cold, so not much difference between Scotland and Sweden.

An obsession with Mallory Towers made Cat set this book in a boarding school, and needing a mix of the best and the worst in life, she gave her heroine a dead twin. Christoffer hears voices, by which he meant he talks to his characters. He has to write fast to get it down on paper, and many ideas don’t work. Unlike other Swedish authors who set their books in Stockholm or Gothenburg, or even ‘mid-level cities’ such as Örebro, he chose the countryside close to where he grew up. He wanted to write about violence against women.

This wasn’t planned as a YA book, but he realised he was writing for himself at 17. And that way you can have a smaller book; one that fits in a pocket and can be read on the bus.

Cat feels it’s fun to explore teenage feelings, and said the new girl is a bit weird. She had an idea to begin with, but it changed, and she feels Girlhood is more honest than her other books. But she never did pretend to be a prospective parent at a boarding school, to find out more, and left this to a documentary about Gordonstoun.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

Christoffer wrote his book during the summer, in Halmstad, where he now feels like an outsider, belonging neither there nor in Stockholm where he lives. A bit like Vega. His dad who never usually reads, has in fact read October is the Coldest Month, while his mum hasn’t, although this keen reader always reads all his books, at the expense of everything else. The title refers to the TS Eliot poem about April being the cruellest month. He set the story in October, because he needed Vega not to be going to school.

As for Cat, she had lots of titles for Girlhood, including one she might use for some other book. Regarding characters’ names, she has to like them, and they must type easily. Such as Harper in Girlhood, which unlike George is easy on the keyboard. She does find though that good names are running out. Even bad characters have to have good names.

I found that Christoffer used the word ‘sucks’ a lot. He needs to learn to be ‘crap at’ things in Britain. Anyway, he gets up early, to write from five am, until maybe eleven. He can edit anytime, but not write. Cat writes in chunks of 25 minutes, acording to the Pomodoro Technique, although she might be taking rather longer breaks than prescribed. She too has to write before noon. This book took her two years to write, which is too long, for someone who is not famous, although Cat aspires to be Donna Tartt one day.

Describing writing like go-karting, Christoffer swore enough that he had to stop and apologise, even if his replacement word was only marginally more sanitised… The pitfalls of a second language. He feels one difference between YA and adult novels is that the sentences can be shorter. He’s a middle class man living in Stockholm, writing about a working class teenager in the countryside, and the book needs to be accessible to everyone, including non-readers.

The last, and really excellent, question from the audience was on hating what you write. Cat said this is normal. You should write, even if it is crap. ‘Crap can be moulded.’

And on that note we piled out and over to the Portakabin.

Day 5

If you thought day four was short, then day five was – blissfully – shorter still. I went for one reason only.

Started my evening by quickly eating my sandwiches, because it’s finding a time and place for eating that has been the hardest. I sat on the press pew and stared at the rubber ducks for a few minutes.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

And then I took one turn round Charlotte Square, to see if there was anything new I’d not seen before. Any new crazy photographs by Chris Close, for instance. There weren’t, so I offer you some I found earlier and kept back, in case I needed them.

Juno Dawson by Chris Close

Walked over to George Street and the Bosco Theatre again, and was really pleased to find that the event was being chaired by Bookwitch favourite Ann Landmann. She had the double Cs to deal with. I’m sure someone knows I use initials when taking notes, and thought it’d be a hoot to have CC and CC talk to each other. (That’s Cat Clarke and Christoffer Carlsson.)

Signing queue

There was no way I was going to miss this, seeing as Christoffer and I come from the same place, and he has such a lovely surname. So I queued up behind all the fans afterwards, for my books to be signed and to chat. And having ‘missed’ my first train, I had 15 minutes to spare on Christoffer. Enough to have some water near the yurt, and find out why he’s ditched the accent. Apparently his Stockholm students couldn’t understand what he was saying in lectures.

Christoffer Carlsson and Cat Clarke

It was meant to rain, but it didn’t. How could it? I was there. In fact, I’d say that my walk back to Waverley around nine o’clock was the balmiest evening I’ve had so far, with no rain, and a comfortable temperature, and the lights and the [not too many] people. The kind of evening when you want to sit out, over drinks, and chat to someone.

Hang on, I did. OK, I didn’t have any water, but I had a companion, and we chatted. It was pleasant and warm. The poet laureate sat at the next table. There were [other] nice people around. Ticks a lot of boxes, that does.

Day 4

The days are getting shorter. Well, I suppose it’s that time of year. And it felt like even the long trains were also shortening; unless there really were that many extra daytrippers yesterday, being a Sunday and that.

DSCN0184

I didn’t quite make it to see Jo Nadin or Tony Ross at their signings, but you can’t have everything. I was there for the event with Maria Turtschaninoff and Alwyn Hamilton, chaired by the little known Daniel Hahn. It was in the new Bosco Theatre venue, out on George Street, and this was my first time. What I will say is that Theresa Breslin was spot-on earlier in the week, when she said it was lovely, but not for wearing stiletto heels in. At the time, Keith Charters and I looked at each other, both fairly secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be.

The other thing about the venue is that the signing tent is very small. No room for Bookwitches wanting to take pictures, except for this close-up of Alwyn’s handbag contents. But I dare say it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

I joined Daniel Hahn outside instead and forced him to sign a book (one he had edited, so I wasn’t being totally unreasonable) and then he made me want to go to Denmark with him in October…

After this fantasy event I wandered back to Charlotte Square, catching William Dalrymple signing for a queue of fans, after what looked like a full Main Theatre event. I feel I know, as I stood there trying to take photographs of Chris Close’s picture display, and I tried at just the wrong moment, when the whole tent walked past, very slowly. Well, obviously it wasn’t the actual tent that moved, but the people who had been in it.

William Dalrymple

Hoped to see Ross Collins and Claire Barker after their event, but they must have been busy chatting to admirers, as they hadn’t emerged when I had to make a move.

Because, dear readers, I had an interview to conduct, and was meeting Maria Turtschaninoff in the gap between her own event and seeing Jonathan Stroud. We sat in the sunshine on the deck outside the authors’ yurt, chatting about mothers and books and how arrogant Sweden is towards the other Nordic countries. I mean, I said that. Maria is far too polite to.

And as she went off with a bagful of Lockwood books, I walked to Waverley again, prepared to fight the other festival-goers, but struck lucky by finding an unexpected train going my way a couple of minutes later, and it wasn’t even full.

Bosco Theatre