Tag Archives: Edinburgh International Book Festival

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.

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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…

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

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.