OK, I admit to having seen and promptly borrowed this idea from a woman author on Facebook. Or stolen. But thank you, anyway.
The idea is to show photos of women authors, because it’s International Women’s Day today. And there have been ‘a few’ over the years. This is in no way fair or representative, and I could have spent all day looking at photos and it still wouldn’t be.
First, my fairy blogmother, Meg Rosoff, without whom I wouldn’t be able to subject you to this Bookwitchery.
Second, my – in this case rather wet – main photographer. (It’s how they do it at university.)
‘My’ first author in real life, Adèle Geras and Theresa Breslin, who was so interested in meeting me. (I don’t know why.)
Eleanor Updale and Sally Gardner, caught in the Edinburgh greenery in our second year at Charlotte Square.
Sara Paretsky, who has put up with being followed round the country by me.
And Helen Grant who buys me tulips.
Thank you all. And your literary sisters everywhere. I love you.
I can see why Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is planning on leaving in the autumn. From a practical point of view, it’s – probably – best to leave after the next big effort has been put to bed. In this case, that’s the festival in August 2023. It’s also the last one before the festival moves across the road.
So, new home, new blood, new lots of things. New start. It will be good, but not the same. This is partly because the EIBF are having to do what nearly all of us have to do; tighten the belt and save where possible.
I was reminded that Nick began directoring in my second EIBF year. The first year I was oblivious to who the boss might be anyway. But since then I have got used to seeing him around. I remember telling an author that I had spied him in the audience of her event. Her response was that she was glad she hadn’t known. But I’m sure Nick was there to enjoy himself, not to check whether the invited guests were up to scratch.
She was, though.
That will be fourteen years for director Barley, and it is going to be fourteen for Bookwitch. With press officer Frances Sutton retiring last year, that’s my EIBF covered. It will continue to be good, but I can also see the sense in leaving at the right time.
I had bought tickets for one more event at the book festival. This year the YA Book Prize 2022 was going to be presented at an event, which I think is a really good idea. Especially now that book awards are dropping like flies, and soon there might not be much to be won.
But the tickets were bought before I knew about the kitchen worktops. And all the rest. So it was more relaxing not to travel to Edinburgh.
And I couldn’t help noticing that I didn’t actually know much about the shortlisted authors. I had read one of the books. I met one of the authors earlier this year. And I know of Dean Atta who was presenting. I had read about the winner, Adiba Jaigirdar. But it’s still as though I have lost touch with what’s happening in the YA world.
In a way that is good. It means things are moving on, and new people are appearing on the YA scene. Being a bit old, I am too stuck in the ways of ten years ago. But someone else will be up to scratch with the new names and their new titles.
And as I said, I think doing the awards at the book festival is a great idea.
It is. And we are so grateful that Michael Rosen came out of Covid almost as good as new. I’d forgotten quite how much of a performer he is. Not for Michael this sitting down in one of the book fest’s trendy armchairs and chat quietly to a chairperson like Daniel Hahn. No. He allowed himself to be introduced, and then it was full speed ahead with an hour of absolute comedy.
Comedy mixed with serious stuff, because nearly dying, or being from the stone age, isn’t all fun. But it’s possible to talk about it entertainingly, and in such a way that a roomful of very young children don’t get bored. Michael told us about being ‘put to sleep’ by the NHS, and how hard it was to wake up after forty days, and how his resourceful wife brought in a mobile phone and had his children chat to him and getting him talking (and now he can’t stop).
He had to relearn how to walk and talk. The first with the help of Sticky McStickstick, who assisted Michael all the way to the toilet and back. The talking by learning to sing Frère Jacques by making the somewhat rude noise that sounds a bit like farts (and he had the audience doing just that…). I couldn’t help thinking of the aerosol effect when so many people blow/sing raspberries.
Anyway, he now walks and talks. About pasta, for instance. There was much said about pasta, and Rigatoni the pasta cat. Although Michael prefers fusilli, with bolognese – with mushrooms – sticking to every little fold.
His current favourite [own] book is the as yet unpublished Gaston le dog. This led to a lot of French being bandied about, and coming on top of Frère Jacques and also Daniel’s translation thing, it was a very French sort of day.
Born in 1946, and not the stone age (he lied), Michael and his brother were very naughty boys. And noisy. This brought back the story of how their father used to deal with noise. He would put his hand to the side of his face (see Bookwitch archive photo of Michael demonstrating this in 2012) and simply utter the words ‘The Noise’.
Which coincidentally is how it sounds to people in the rest of the world when Michael says the word ‘nice’. It’s tricky. So is not breathing, which seems to have been something that happened at school, but which was alleviated by flapping the lid of your [ancient style] school desk lid, and breathing behind it. This saved several lives in Michael’s school.
Of course, it could be that he just made all this up.
And because this was about poetry, and because Michael is a poet, he told us some poems, making the audience repeat them.
His favourite pudding is blackcurrant sorbet, or cassis.
After an hour of fun it was Daniel’s thankless task to tell us it had to come to an end.
With migraines rampaging quietly around Bookwitch Towers on Saturday morning, I decided to risk it and still travel through to Edinburgh where Daniel Hahn ‘was waiting’. Drugged and with enough nice sandwiches to last the afternoon, but perhaps not enough water, I got to the Edinburgh College of Art, and found Albertina’s where I interrupted Daniel mid-chat with director Nick Barley himself. He handed over the ‘goods’ and I left again.
Well, I did cast a quick look at the Spectacular Translation Machine Daniel was running with Sarah Ardizzone, asking non-French speakers to translate a picture book from French into English. Because that is so easy. I’ve seen them trying to trick people like this before.
Clutching my chairperson’s ticket for the day’s event [with Michael Rosen], I went over to the signing tent where I hoped to find most of the relevant books I’d been after. With hindsight I might have bought too few, but three are better than two. Or one. Ran into blogger Lizzy Siddall, Daniel’s ‘other stalker’ and we chatted a bit, about chairs* – as you do – and how to get rid of books.
Clutching my new ones, I went and sat in the ‘car park’ again, having developed a fondness for somewhere to picnic that’s level. Should have refilled my water bottle too, seeing as I was sitting right next to the tap.
After my sandwiches, it was time for Michael Rosen and his chair, Daniel Hahn. More about that tomorrow…
He’d found a pair of jeans in time for his first event on Sunday. No more need for Daniel Hahn to shiver in the relative ‘chill’ Edinburgh offered him. He was here to talk about his book Catching Fire, about translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire, because you can never have enough books about other books.
It was one of those events I like so much. The book is fabulous and Daniel is always so [seemingly] relaxed when chatting in public like this. He started off with the regular crossed legs, but towards the end I noticed he’d sort of crept up in his armchair the way you do when sitting reading in the comfort of your own home.
Chaired by his publisher Sam McDowell of Charco Press, the two of them chatted about the sorts of things the large audience liked. Daniel is the kind of person who thinks carefully about what word to use in a particular place, and also the kind of son to accept an OBE ‘because he’s got parents.’ It made them happy. He also felt that an OBE is good for the general business of translating, no matter which translator is honoured.
Xenophobia is growing, so we need those foreign books. Without foreign language skills, we need someone to translate those books for us.
Something I’d never thought of is that Daniel’s English is not the same as other people’s; it all depends on how and where and with whom you grow up. So any translation will rely on the language that particular translator has. It’s very interesting.
He read a few pages from his book, and as ever it was entertaining both for what it was and how Daniel reads. It just made me want to reread Catching Fire again.
After this event in the Northside Theatre, we all mostly trooped over to the signing tent where I was happy to note I wasn’t at the end of the queue. Having acquired a post-it with my name on so he’d know who I was 😊.
He put it to the side as he wrote a nice long message, after which I felt it prudent to retrieve my post-it before he signed all the books after me to Ann. Nice enough name, but it’d be confusing.
They must have guessed how much I’d like to sit in their garden, in the dark, under the tree lights, with a drink in my hand and feeling relaxed. Or else it was pure coincidence that the book festival invited me to their opening party last night, even allowing the Resident IT Consultant to join me there.
All I can say is I recommend it. And I don’t think you need a party; you can just go along one evening, preferably when it’s not raining, and sit down and relax, enjoying the string lights. And the literary aspects of hanging out at a book festival. Let’s not forget the books.
Fresh off the train I went over to claim my special badge, only to discover that press officer Frances has retired. I don’t blame her. Summers are nice to enjoy without working hard at running a press team. But how am I to Bookwitch without her? It’s quite a shock I tell you. Sarah who has taken over is excellent. But I am an old witch. Really old.
Anyway, I encountered my second favourite translator – Daniel Hahn – outside the bookshop, and we chatted. He was brave enough to be wearing shorts, on the grounds that it was warmer down south. Also happened across two of Son’s [other] friends, but didn’t dare throw myself on them. Mothers can be an embarrassment.
On my second foray into the book festival village I found Kate Leiper and Vivian French loitering outside, waiting to join the party. We picked up our free drinks tokens and after finding some seats in the ‘car park’ I sent the Resident IT Consultant over to the bar.
And then we sat. It was very comfortable. And whenever I saw someone I recognised, I had to tell him. Or at least the people he might reasonably be expected to know who they were. Ian Rankin. Julia Donaldson.
When we’d done enough sitting we tottered back to our hotel. (This can’t happen often. But once in a blue moon a hotel across the road is terribly useful.)
An hour for me. 🙃 More hours if you start in southern England, or ‘worse.’ Someone on social media said ‘days’ but that is not the travelling. Obviously. It’s the waiting. And even though there was a physical Edinburgh International Book Festival last year, I suspect we all feel as if we have waited longer.
I can’t always un-think the images in my mind of Charlotte Square, but slowly, slowly, I see the new EIBF in front of me. (Which is fine, until next year when they will move across the road…)
It might not be the end, of course. For me and the book festival, I mean. There are events galore that I want to see, so will carry on when I can. I just didn’t feel up to more consorting with strangers on trains. That situation may well improve at some point.
Some people have been negative about the new ways. But in this instance ‘we’ have to try new ways to survive. One day they might feel like the old ways.
All the photos I’ve since seen from the Art College suggest that people came and they sat and they enjoyed. Maybe on a smaller scale. But they came. Some authors also came. It would have been nice to see more of them actually there, but the way it was done, the ‘menu’ had scope to be more exotic.
Perhaps the days of seeing Garth Nix in the flesh are over. (Just picking an Oz author at random here.) And if they are, then so be it. I had the opportunity of seeing him live live, and will be able to live on memories. Soon people will not have this kind of expectation when the new becomes the norm. A Garth on a screen is still a Garth.
The authors – and the audiences – have not been not travelling just because of Covid. It is also a greener thing to not travel, and the planet might last a little longer if we refrain from frying it too much. I’m sure some authors have enjoyed traversing the globe for events, but am equally sure some have hated it, or at least the accompanying exhaustion.
So here’s to a few more years of trialling the next ‘old ways’ of bookfesting. Garth on a screen, and Bookwitch at her desk. Both of us dreaming of the olden days. Or not.
His inhaler, a bag of helium, and a games console were the single luxuries Wednesday morning’s three time travelling fantasy writers chose from life today. They should have thought this through more, shouldn’t they?
The indefatigable Ann Landmann was at the book festival to chat to Jonathan Stroud – who played it safe by remaining in Hertfordshire – and who’s written three gazillion books (Ann has read every one of them), and to relative newcomer Ben Oliver and debut author Femi Fadugba. This was, not surprisingly, another really good event.
They all had to start by describing themselves, so now I understand better what’s been happening at earlier events. It’s so people with impaired vision knows who’s who. Ben regretted getting his hair wet on the way, and Femi seemed to wish he’d picked a different t-shirt (I liked it).
We were promised a spoiler-free conversation, and I’m grateful, having read just Jonathan’s Scarlett & Browne, but not the other two books. I want to.
Ben is a teacher from Glasgow, who writes about a character on death row, in a world maybe 150 to 200 years in the future. It’s very dark.
For Femi Physics comes first. His book is two narratives of 4D space time, in Peckham. No, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either, but it’s how I heard it. (The short excerpt in the Guardian is Very Promising.) And as time travel goes, Femi moves only 15 years into the future. He wanted it to be somewhere well known.
Jonathan on the other hand, has placed his characters in a submerged England, maybe 500 years away, and no one much knows what happened. I expect we’ll learn along with the characters. Jonathan likes using humour, because everyone’s mostly like they would be now. Except Scarlett who started life as a middle aged man, but is now a teenage girl.
Asked if their worlds could become reality, Femi feels that maybe his already is. Ben hopes sincerely not, whereas Jonathan is full of optimism, despite the giant otters. Another question was about possible actors for any films they may have given life to. Femi already knows, but can’t tell. Ben would like young, unknown actors. Plus Hugh Grant. Jonathan, too, goes for someone unknown, as long as she has red hair.
This just left me wanting to read. And that’s really what this should all be about. More. Reading.
Thinking back to Köln twelve years ago, feeling grateful for having been able to travel to concerts, seeing and hearing Roger Whittaker live. Today he’s 87, and here’s wishing him a huge birthday cake, if only to accommodate all those … Continue reading →