Tag Archives: Frank Close

Bookwitch bites #86

We’re all doing well. More or less, anyway.

I’ve watched a few iffy films recently, and Daughter is disappointed in me. Apparently, I ought to like more films. I think they are rubbish. But I do hope the film of How I Live Now will be one I will love almost as much as I love the book. I understand that filming is over and done with, but I don’t know when the film will come to a screen near me. Next year, perhaps?

Harry Potter’s biggest fan has been found. Her name is Alissa and she has just won a leather-bound and numbered 15th Anniversary Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, signed and dedicated by J.K. Rowling. And, erm, a family holiday to experience the magic and excitement of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. This is what she did to win:

The biggest Harry Potter fan

Another young lady, who has worked hard, published her interview with Professor Frank Close of Exeter College earlier this week. (Please note the Pullman connection, especially where cats are concerned. I wonder if Schrödinger’s cat could have done with that window to Cittàgazze?) (Oh dear, that’s two references to Schrödinger’s blasted feline in one week.)

And speaking of academic people, I recently found out that Son has inadvertently persuaded his dissertation supervisor to become a reader of Bookwitch. It’s very nice to have new readers, but sometimes I get a little nervous thinking about who reads all the rubbish I come up with.

But do spread the word, if you feel inclined.

Little bundles of photons

They probably sound cuter than they are. I remember photons from school. In fact, I remembered a lot from school, during the talk by Frank Close and Peter Higgs. Things I never understood too well then, and time has not improved me. But it was interesting, and I’m glad I went.

Peter Higgs

It’s not every day you are in the same tent as a world famous name of importance. We came for Frank Close, and then we got Peter Higgs and his newly found Boson as well. It’s not every day the director of the book festival introduces an event. (A first for me.) That proves how big this event was. Nick Barley told us about the developments over the summer, when on July 4th an interesting talk suddenly became hot news and even more exciting.

It’s also rare with applause lasting quite so long, especially at the beginning of an event. It’s probably also not every day you sell out a huge tent for a talk on Particle Physics. But there we were.

Frank Close is an excellent speaker, more than capable of bringing science to the masses. And mass to erm, well, yes. I now know that a ‘discovery can only happen once.’ I know vaguely about electromagnetic force, and weak force. There was something about getting rid of infinity.

Frank Close

I got the impression that the discovery of Higgs Boson had something to do with travel insurance. Peter Higgs was in Sicily, when he was told in no uncertain terms to pop to Switzerland for the 4th of July, or he would regret it. That was his reply to Frank’s Olympic style question ‘can you tell me how it felt?’ (I can’t be sure, but I think Frank insulted Scottish soccer in the process.)

By now Peter is getting used to signing autographs, and his email is this high. (About two feet off the floor.)

Unsurprisingly, the questions from the audience were complicated. People were suspicious. Someone wondered how we can trust Particle Physicists when they say whatever it is they say. Higgs Boson won’t solve our economic problems, but that’s hardly something we expected.

There was talk of what I put in cheese cake, but they seemed to feel Quark is to do with Physics. Top Quark. Bottom Quark. The guide dog across the tent slumped on the floor. Maybe he’s not into this LHC stuff.

Anyway, a 48-year-old equation has reached its goal, and Peter Higgs is glad he’s here to enjoy it. But as for the next such thing, ‘we don’t know yet.’

Director Barley bowed to his guests and told the audience that he had read Frank Close’s book The Infinity Puzzle, and it was an easy read, and why didn’t we go across to the bookshop and buy it? Especially since Peter Higgs had agreed to sign it as well.

So we did. But only after more lengthy applauding.

Close encounters of several kinds

Barry Hutchison

Her condition for crawling out of bed early on Monday morning, was that Barry Hutchison should buy Daughter a Coke. Just to keep going. As it happened, Barry needed to keep going as well, so that was two Cokes plus a water for the witch, for our interview at the hotel across the road, first thing. Barry and I have been trying to synchronise our diaries for months, and success finally arrived in the shape of the book festival.

We interviewed and laughed and had fun, even on fairly little sleep. I’m so excited I will have to go and read some of Barry’s Fiendish books now.

With another eleven hours of our festival day to go, we ventured over to Charlotte Square for the morning’s event with Sally Gardner and Celia Rees, chaired by Nicola Morgan.

Towards the end of their fascinating talk, Daughter crept out for one of her most important photocalls. The one with Frank Close, who had been joined by none other than Peter Higgs of Boson fame. The two physicists cavorted and posed as though they were really actors. Well done!

Frank Close and Peter Higgs

Meanwhile your witch was on camera duty in the bookshop, doing her utmost best to do justice to Sally and Celia. Luckily the real photographer popped up to repair most of my mistakes. The ladies had so many fans queueing that I didn’t even get the chance to chat. I left an incoherent message with Nicola and ran for the sold out talk on Particle Physics (which in turn meant I had to leave Barry Hutchison and his 13 horsemen to their fate…)

It was great. And in case you feel that isn’t enough information about this year’s big happening, rest assured I will follow up with detailed events reports.

The Particle Physics queue

We did double camera duty for the queue at the signing afterwards. The queue was as busy as you’d expect for Particle Physics signings. Daughter put her fan hat on and got close to Peter Higgs, who kindly signed his colleague’s book.

Peter Higgs and Frank Close and fan

Meanwhile I turned 180 degrees and caught Andy Stanton who was signing on the opposite side. Still. He had been there two hours earlier, signing, with enormous queue across the square. Andy was singing and joking and chatting as though he wasn’t even tired. (And the ladies in the Ladies were gushing about how wonderful he had been… Just so you know.)

Andy Stanton

Not being able to catch Celia still, we departed for lunch. She phoned while we were reviving ourselves, and we agreed that her Edinburgh visit was just too short for that elusive interview. We will manage it one day. Third time lucky, perhaps.

Sally Gardner

Back to Charlotte Square to catch Sally before her event with Barry (which I also had to miss), to take some much needed proper photos. Her outfit for the day, of which you can’t see much here, unfortunately, was as great as ever.

Chris Riddell

Daughter wandered off and encountered Chris Riddell drawing in the middle of the square, having drawn a large circle of people around him. And then we went to join the unusually large crowd of photographers in ‘the studio,’ where we stood around for a long while, waiting, and me staring at the FBI type by the gate. But eventually the festival’s director popped along to greet Gordon Brown as he was ushered in. He disappeared after stopping for a split second for photos, after which we hung around for another half hour until the former PM returned and gave us a couple of minutes for proper photos. He was there to give the NLS Donald Dewar Lecture, and his queue was a long one.

Gordon Brown and Nick Barley

Trying to grab some internet, we headed back to the hotel, which we left rather quickly when the fire alarm went. So that was more or less goodbye to the internet again. Michael Palin cavorted outside the yurt, and then for the paparazzi. Daughter went to hear Michael talk, along with a few hundred others. Apparently he was GOOD!

Michael Palin

In amongst eating more cold pizza (yes, we do have a large supply of this ancient cheese topped bread) I managed to take some photos of Sjón and Jess Richards. Everybody is talking about this Icelandic author, but I know almost nothing about Sjón.


I was afraid I’d have to do the honours (photographic variety) for Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, but was saved by prompt arrival of the real photographer. Neil had previously been posing for Chris Close. Lying down. That won’t have done much – good – to his clothes. Black as usual. Black with grime afterwards, I imagine. Edinburgh started Monday with rain, leaving the ground in a eugh state.

Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

I popped along to Neil’s and Chris’s event, which was even better than you’d expect from such a pairing. We were lucky to have Neil at all, since he had to depart for home straight afterwards, due to a family crisis. Chris signed for the two of them. Sort of.

Chris Riddell

If I paid myself overtime I’d have been rich after a Monday like this Monday. But I don’t, so I’m not. But it was good. Apart from the internet.

He ‘can revert at any point’

They are all quite lovely and tremendously interesting, but aren’t they a little weird,* too? I don’t want to be indiscreet, but among Sunday’s crop of authors we found a murder suspect, someone with plans to celebrate a well known politician’s death, a sofa arsonist, a perennial teenager and a writer reluctant to do research in the south of France in winter.

Sunday was literally bursting with great writers for children, and I very nobly only went to see half of what I wanted in order to preserve what little sanity I still have.

We began our day out with a lunch to keep us going until late, and found we could access the wifi and this enabled some ‘office work’ before we walked on to Charlotte Square, which, as I said, was teeming with the great and the good. I so wanted to stop and chat to Philip Reeve as he strolled by, but had neither the time nor the courage. Chris Bradford walked round dressed in black robes, trying to entice people to come and see him.

Sophia Bennett and Sarra Manning

Having failed to keep track of Barry Hutchison through useless email all day, we suddenly found the man himself, recently arrived from the Highlands, en route for a night on the town with ‘the boys.’ My photographer found Sarra Manning and Sophia Bennett signing in the bookshop, and also ran into Keren David who was out enjoying events before her own talk.

One event not to be missed was Theresa Breslin and Elizabeth Laird talking about writing historical novels. They both read from their latest novels, and described how they do research. Theresa had had some luck with a book belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, which she wasn’t allowed to even see, until she came across it almost by accident.

Elizabeth admitted to an unhealthy obsession with Ethiopia. (It’s OK. We all have something to hide.) Liz told us about how breeds of dogs were totally different in medieval times. Theresa mentioned embroidered, encoded spy messages, and both thought that the middle of the book was the worst part to write.

Cat Clarke

That’s something the next pair of ladies agreed with. Keren David and Cat Clarke discussed their contemporary teen novels, and read from their books. Keren chose to read from Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery, and we now know more about exploding breast implants than some of us might have wanted. Cat read from Torn, which she did so well that Daughter immediately wanted to read it.

Both Cat and Keren spend too much time on social media, and reckon chocolate can cure writer’s block. You need to kill parents or divorce them, because how else could you have your characters staying out all night? For the same reason you have an abnormal number of only children in fiction. Siblings get in the way.

Keren David

Cat once wrote a book that scared her so much she had to give up after twenty thousand words, and Keren is very excited that Lia’s Guide is about to be made into a musical.

We had a full programme, so had to dash after Cat’s and Keren’s signing to set up an interview corner at the opposite side of the square. Daughter had persuaded Professor Frank Close to give her an interview, on the eve of his talk about the Higgs Boson. I’m not sure I understood all they talked about, but they do seem to have found something to laugh about. Apologies to the lady who wanted our help. We weren’t really the best people to ask right then.

Photowitch and Frank Close

The evening finished with a Masterclass with Chris Riddell, introduced by Sue MacGregor. It was very dark. Almost too dark to take notes, but I am fairly sure I wrote something about Blair as Bambi. And Clinton, and Cameron, and all the others. Amusing though cartoons are, they are unlikely to change anything, and Chris feels he is politer in colour. (Bring back black and white?)

Chris’s tutor at Brighton Polytechnic was Raymond Briggs, and that’s why he started working on children’s books. When the Economist asked him to do political cartoons on the basis of a children’s book about elephants, Chris enjoyed being allowed to draw lederhosen, onions and bulldogs (I think those signify the Germans, the French and the British…).

The darkness was to allow us to see the slideshow of holiday snaps, no, I mean cartoons, which Chris had put together with help from his clever son. Though I don’t think that’s what he (or was it Sue?) meant when saying we were there to laugh when we think of dark things. It was dark. I’m not sure any longer. Chris gets invited to all the best parties, and he does get edited, but only by being told he can’t do something. He won’t allow interference within a cartoon.

Chris Riddell

At the subsequent signing in the adult bookshop (it was late) Chris met the best kind of fan; someone who turns up with a pile of old and well worn picture books. I wished I’d had some to get signed myself.

*(And speaking of weird, what are those cut-off rabbit’s heads doing on the ends of rows of seats in the Corner theatre? Other than preventing accidents on sharp corners?)

(The title refers to Chris Riddell, who wasn’t sure he wouldn’t revert to being a children’s author, bursting into some unsuitable song.)

What to look forward to?

Tuborg ad

All of it. (I feel like that old Tuborg ad.)

Although this is about the book festival in Edinburgh, and not Danish beer. We should be starting doing the rounds at Charlotte Square, roundabout now. It’d be nice with a soft start, but the first Saturday is rather full.

We knew we would only manage half the festival period, but which half? Actually, Daughter reckoned she could do all of it, but I know better. One or two specific people decided the matter for us, making it the first half. I’m sorry about the people of the second half. It can’t be helped. I wanted to see you too, but…

I have been racing through the delicious first chapters of Ribblestrop Forever! by Andy Mulligan. He will be here, and I want to find out all about Ribblestrop. On a more serious note Daughter is after Professor Frank Close. I hope I can keep up with this Higgs and LHC stuff.

Looking forward to meeting Chris Riddell for the first time, and also to seeing lots of people for anything but the first time. Sorry if I seem to be bothering you again. A couple of Swedes and a prize party and a speech in Parliament might also happen.

And stuff.

Chris Close and Martin Bell at the EIBF

Was a little taken aback at realising Chris Close, the photographer who does the artistic photos of authors, which he hangs all over the square (the pictures, not the actual authors), has been using my photo of himself to advertise what he does. That must be recognition. (OK, Son’s photo. Close enough. Sorry about unintended pun.)

(We are heading into the great unknown. Will be staying in possibly internet free zone, so blogging will have to happen as and when it can.)

Festival fix

The trouble with taking Offspring places is that they get ideas. Take Daughter, for instance. She wanted to attend the Science festival in Edinburgh this Easter holiday. She asked if I’d come with her. ‘Not likely,’ said I. My strength has been sapped enough by the book festival that I don’t need to do another one, however interesting it sounds. ‘Go on your own,’ said I.

General Sutton's hat

So she did. She’s been getting ideas in more ways than one, so she registered as press. Of course. The press officer is the same as for the book festival, so she has renewed her acquaintance with General Sutton.

Luckily she opted out of doing the whole two weeks as she originally planned. A week has been long enough, and she is beginning to appreciate the logistics I’ve previously sorted for her, and which she now had to work out by herself. Hah! There is a difference to traipsing after someone else, and finding the path on your own.

Our Dynamic Earth

It appears as though she has consorted with only Doctors (the science kind) all week. Most of them appear to have the right to use the title Professor, too. The third time the director of Our Dynamic Earth saw her at an event he came up to speak to her. Other than Professor Monro she has hobnobbed with Iain Stewart off television, and Neutrino-man Frank Close. And some Drs engaging in Victorian style fun, where they tried to kill off half the audience.

Iain Stewart

Frank Close

The Faraday Cage

Very relieved that Faraday’s cage actually worked. Not that I dare doubt the principle of it, but even so… I would never get inside a metal cage and let someone zap it/me with electricity.

Another thing Daughter has had the pleasure of discovering, is how much work goes into blogging about the event, after the event. Her H2O adventure didn’t simplify this one bit, but you can cope with most things if you have to.

Two blogs are also more work than one.

And I suppose it’s handy being able to ask learned people stuff that might help with your impending exams.

I need to make it clear that I did not ask permission to blog about this.