Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Translator’s Craft and Graft

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.

Opening the Edinburgh International Book Festival

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.)

Not long to Edinburgh

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 looks good, though, don’t you think?

Some EIBF thoughts at the end

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.

Flash Forward

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.

Charcoal magic

Debi Gliori’s short event was just the right thing to appear online. Live is fine, but here we could see every last picture of her book A Cat Called Waverley, close up, and with an explanation for every image. And Debi reads so softly, that to have the whole story read to us, with extra explanations as to what we were seeing, or what might be going on, was pure bliss.

This is the way to help young readers understand that the world can be rather different from what we think, or want it to be, but without being too scary. Some scary is necessary, and personally I believe it’s best demonstrated by my favourite illustration from the book. It has everything; the sad cat left behind, the train disappearing into the tunnel, and the sheer beauty of the railway station itself.

The sentence ‘home was where Donald was’ is enough to make anyone a bit teary. It describes what most of us feel at some time or other. It’s only home if our someone is there.

Debi wrote this story about Darren – Donald in the book – who became ‘the man who belongs to Waverley’. He used to sit at the top of the very high, and the almost impossible to draw, station steps. But as Debi put it, we don’t care if she got the steps right. All we wanted was the cat and its man. They are both there.

And I’ll leave you with this view of Waverley [the station], its station hotel [as was] and the exit from the park across the road. All this is Very Edinburgh to so many of us.

Can Robots Be Friends?

The Sunday afternoon event with Elle McNicoll and Alastair Chisholm, chaired by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, was about robots. Not having managed to read either Elle’s Show Us Who You Are or Alastair’s Adam-2 I was a little adrift, but no worse than I could work out I need to read these books. There is a lot of talent in this neck of woods. Well, Elle has left Edinburgh for London, but otherwise they are both from around here.

Elle wore her Blue Peter badge. She has had a lot of jobs so far, which presumably is why her ideal [real] robot would clean for her. Alastair, on the other hand, wants his robot to be like a pet he can look after! His dream hologram would be Ada Lovelace, while Elle’s would be Charles Dickens.

Both their books are about relationships, and their characters are nice people. Or robots, as the case may be. Alastair is a Star Trek-Doctor Who fan, with some interest in Isaac Asimov. Doctor Who is big for Elle as well, but preferably the current day type episodes rather than galaxies far away. And Greek mythology.

And both their readings left me wanting more. They were also well chosen to tempt us. Although both authors had received letters – well, emails – from readers telling them off for not doing what they wanted, which was more books about the characters from the first book, by Alastair, and Elle got strict orders to mix her first and second books.

Elle does not want more robots while neurodiverse humans are not properly understood or treated right. Fair comment, I think. As to whether we can be friends with robots, Alastair said if we are nice enough; because we are the problem.

Asked whether they always wanted to be authors, Alastair said he wanted to be an astronaut and he’s now a computer programmer. Elle used to come to the book festival as a child, so she knew what she wanted, and said the good thing is you can write and do other jobs at the same time.

As for what I want, it is to have been at this event as it happened. It was perfect. Great authors and an excellent chair, talking just the right amount about the right kinds of things. And it was live; all three on the same stage, and with a live audience. Yes, the online event was flawless too. But I want to have been there.

Fun with Chris and Neil

It’s a comfortable affair, hanging out with Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman. One is in Brighton and the other in New Zealand, but that’s fine. The moderator glowed over them both, but Chris had to point out that he’s less impressive than Neil. (That’s a matter of opinion, but if it makes him happy…) They first bonded over The Graveyard Book a dozen or so years ago.

And before he knew it, Neil discovered that Chris had illustrated most of his books. (You can’t leave a man with a pencil and expect him not to use it.) When it came to Fortunately the Milk Neil was almost going to threaten Chris to make him illustrate it, but luckily he didn’t have to and there was an amicable agreement for some more pictures.

Apparently Chris is the most booked up illustrator in the world (so that doesn’t bode well for when I want him to draw for me), with the wonderful Levi Pinfold coming close behind.

When it came to their latest collaboration, Pirate Stew, Neil told Chris to ‘go wild on this’ so he did. For the book fest event Neil read us the whole book, and Chris retreated from the camera and let his hand draw pictures instead. Much more comfortable for him. Neil had only the one copy of his book, but had given it away to a 7-year-old, so was forced to read from his computer, potentially changing some words here and there.

It’s mostly pirates as babysitters, and stale donuts. Your children will probably want you to read it every night.

During lockdown Chris felt it made no difference, as he’s always in his shed working anyway. But suddenly it was no fun when everyone else did it too. He even found himself wanting to see people. (I’ll come!)

Their advice to children who want to draw or write is to start now. Chris recommends a blank book to fill with pictures, and maybe a passport wallet to tuck your words into (this is what Neil did with Pirate Stew, so he wouldn’t forget).

Or you could turn pirate and break into Chris’s shed and steal his sketchbooks. (This would be a bad thing to do.)

Holey jacket

You know the old joke, ‘I recognised you by your dress’, suggesting someone hasn’t updated their wardrobe contents for a while?

Well, I suspect the same can be said about my black jacket. No matter how much I think I could/should vary my outfits more, it’s generally the black jacket for Edinburgh.

Back in 2008 Meg Rosoff – somewhat erroneously – suggested I had to dress up for the Puffin summer party. I bought a jacket. No, I bought two. The one I wanted and which I wore to the Tate Modern that time, and the other one, suggested by pushy saleswoman.

Never wore my choice again.

Have worn the other jacket a lot.

Happened to give it a good look just now. It’s got a hole in the back. Probably where my bag has rested all these years. It will need mending… So it will most likely not come with me to the remaining book festival 2021. (To protect it. Not because I am vain. I’d like both it and me to have another few years in us still.)

The jacket, ten years ago, hiding behind Theresa Breslin and Karen Campbell.

Not smelling us

Yes, Bernardine Evaristo really did regret not being able to smell us, as well as see us, and hear us, last night at the book festival. The audience was there for her Black Britain, Writing Back event with Judith Bryan, S I Martin and Nicola Williams, but the authors themselves were not.

Bernardine would be my ideal English professor and she can teach me anytime. Although, it seems not how to pronounce incomparable, which she admitted she’d been getting wrong until very recently when her husband pointed it out. She’s the one selecting the ‘black novels’ that are being republished by Hamish Hamilton, after first appearing in the 1990s.

I freely admit to never having heard of the authors she had invited yesterday. All three were interesting and had a lot to say, about themselves and other black authors, why they wrote what they did, and how they got there.

Judith sat in front of a nicely curated bookcase as she talked about her novel Bernard and the Cloth Monkey, and read a short piece from it, about a young couple meeting for the first time after getting to know each other by writing letters (!), after finding each other in a lonely hearts column. The book won her the Saga Prize, and she talked about attending writing classes at City Lit where she met Andrea Levy, among others.

[Steve] S I Martin sticks to writing about black Britain before 1948. He wants to show readers that this country has had black people living here for hundreds of years. His novel Incomparable World is set in the London of 1786, and whereas he’d hoped it would be discovered by black readers, he reckoned it mostly ended up on coffee tables in Hampstead. But that was fine, too. Bernardine said she feels his books would be perfect for becoming films, and Steve said he’s still waiting.

Barrister Nicola Williams wrote her legal thriller Without Prejudice about a black, female barrister, and she did so from midnight to four in the morning every night for nine months. (The audience question was when she slept. Between four and eight, apparently…) Nicola read the bit where her character goes back to her old, failing secondary school to give a talk about her success thanks to the school, but changing it to ‘despite’ her school. This went down well with the students. Nicola’s inspiration was reading John Grisham.

Asked who they grew up reading, the answer was mostly American authors. For closer to home now, two of the authors mentioned Luke Sutherland (from Blairgowrie) as their black Scottish inspiration, and Jackie Kay is much admired. And Judith managed a charmingly muddled senior moment when looking for a name and a place, and finding neither. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

This was another book festival event I most likely wouldn’t have chosen to go to in person in ‘the olden days’. Being able to sit at home and run the mouse down the list of events and picking – almost at random – yields some fantastic experiences. And when reading time becomes plentiful, I know what to look for.