Tag Archives: Gill Arbuthnott

Balloon to the Moon

There are a lot of crazy people in this world. There always have been, and that’s lucky, because where would we have been if no one had crazy ideas and tried them out?

Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielsen, Balloon to the Moon

Gill Arbuthnott has traced the early days of space flight, which seems to have been balloons, several hundred years ago. Who’d have thought?

Even then, they started cautiously by sending a sheep, a duck and a chicken, rather than humans, up in a balloon in 1783. And after that there was no stopping them.

This book is illustrated throughout, by Christopher Nielsen, and I rather like his snakes and ladders approach to showing how what happened and when. It all began with kites in China in the 5th century BC. And here we are, two and a half thousand years later with a Chinese space probe on the ‘wrong’ side of the Moon.

In between there were many men, but also quite a few women doing daring things, and various dogs and monkeys and other animals.

It’s funny how it’s possible to get excited about a thing – in this case space exploration – over and over again. No matter how many books, it’s still fun.

I thoroughly recommend this book to, well, almost anyone. You don’t have to be a child. Like Gill, I was a child in 1969, and it seems neither of us has outgrown this fascination for space. I feel sorry for those who didn’t experience these milestones in real time. But here’s this book, anyway. In case you are young.

A sunny evening in Charlotte Square

Luckily the couple attempting to cross an Edinburgh street by stepping out in front of a bus were fine. Otherwise we’d have been a Poet Laureate short. Although, Simon Armitage wasn’t the only one in town, as we’d come across Carol Ann Duffy in a a pavement café earlier that afternoon. You can’t have too many poet laureates.

Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara

Arriving at the book festival, Photographer and I breezed in and started by snapping Ma Isabel Sánchez Vegara signing books in the bookshop in Charlotte Square. She had a queue of very small fans. She was soon joined by Harriet Muncaster, whose hair will have outdone just about every other hair in the square. Harriet’s fans were slightly bigger.

Harriet Muncaster

I picked up my ticket for the day, and then we hung around, hoping for the promised photocall with Carnegie medalist Elizabeth Acevedo. We might have missed her, or she us. Her events partner Dean Atta had a go though, as well as doing much clowning around in front of Chris Close and his camera. Felt like pointing out that it’s better to have authors break a leg after their event…

Elizabeth Acevedo and Dean Atta

After an inspiring talk in the Spark theatre in George Street, we joined everyone else in the – much improved – George Street bookshop. They even have roving staff who relieve you of your money as you queue for the signing. Very efficient. My Photographer might just have told Dean Atta about her hair, while I told poet Elizabeth Acevedo how I don’t really do poetry!

Had hoped to catch Konnie Huq still signing, but were too late. Instead we headed to the Kelpies Prize award ceremony, where we encountered Lari Don and Linda Strachan, as well as Gill Arbuthnott and Sarah Broadley in the audience. It was very crowded. And hot. I sat on what seemed to be a soft, plush birch trunk with a rounded bottom. But I could easily have been mistaken.

Kelpies Prize

Left early so as not to miss Ian Rankin’s photocall. His fans were already queueing for his event, well before the event before had finished. We had to wait while the ever calm and cool Ian slipped into something more comfortable. While he did so Photographer discovered Phill Jupitus a few metres away, and was [un]suitably excited. I’m afraid I had no idea who he was.

Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus

Then it turned out Phill was also attending Ian’s photocall (I’m guessing he was going to chat to Ian at his event). The Photographer sort of gasped as she went off. I understand that she told Phill that he’s very funny. So he shook her hand.

I’m now looking forward to a considerable saving on the cost of hand soap.

And Simon Armitage is still un-run over by a bus.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

EIBF 2018 – Day 1

Philip Pullman and I talked about the weather, which was Goldilocks-like. Not too hot and not too cold. Not wet. Nor sunny. It felt very British, on this the first day of the book festival in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.

Philip Pullman

It’s a new, streamlined square. Less higgledy piggledy, although no doubt more ‘character’ will find its way onto the fresh decking before long. I offered them my sandwich wrapping, but it seems they didn’t feel the need for it. I now know how they were able to make the Main theatre bigger. They picked up a whole theatre and put it in the middle of George Street. Very clever.

The Photographer and I arrived early and had a leisurely start, collecting tickets and getting to grips with all the changes, saying hello to press boss Frances, and gossiping with Theresa Breslin’s Mr B – whose t-shirt sported Mary Queen of Scots on the front and Rasputin’s dagger ‘in’ the back, so he had everything covered. Waved to Cathy Cassidy (wearing an unexpected red…), before venturing across to George Street to watch her signing in the much improved signing tent.

Cathy Cassidy

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

After noting that the festival regular with the magnificent beard was there again, we went to Theresa Breslin’s event with Holly Webb, chaired by Daniel Hahn. It was really full, despite Theresa’s grandchild choosing to go to see Terry Deary instead.

Chatted to Kate Leiper in the bookshop afterwards, and then went back to the behind-the-scenes decking where we found Philip Pullman with a pile of [his] books. Had a second go at chatting to Cathy Cassidy, and watched as Chris Close photographed an unknown, attractive female author who, when I got to my next event, turned out to be Tomi Adeyemi, appearing with Sophie Anderson.

Holly Webb and Theresa Breslin

Tomi Adeyemi and Sophie Anderson

This was another full event, and I realised that having left the Photographer to deal with Philip, I was on my own and needed to take pictures of Sophie and Tomi in the bookshop. I’m short, so was able to use the entrance for hobbits and munchkins. Saw Vikki Gemmell and wanted to say hello, but she ran away. Quite understandable.

There is a blur after that, but I definitely saw Linda Strachan and Lari Don, Gill Arbuthnott, Kathryn Ross, and Carol Ann Duffy. Val McDermid was around, as Philip Pullman’s chair. Someone came up to me and asked if I was Bookwitch, so I had to admit I was. Seems our paths have kept crossing, and now she wanted to say hello.

L J MacWhirter found me mid-prawn sandwich, and I had no idea that this would scare her off so fast. Didn’t mean to, L J! And while I was enjoying those prawns I watched as Chris Close commented on Jacek Dehnel’s outfit – it was very, erm, chequered – before persuading him to pose.

Jacek Dehnel

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o was being interviewed nearby, before also getting the Close photo treatment, and director Barley himself brought some more tartan for this venerable author.

Ngūgī wa Thiong'o

My Photographer returned when Philip Pullman’s sold-out event came to an end, and we gathered ourselves and went in search of a train home, hoping that seven was both early enough and late enough and would mean there was room for two tired witches. There was. Just.

(Photos Helen Giles + Bookwitch)

Day 3

By some stroke of misfortune, when Kathryn Evans lay down flat on her tummy on the floor of the bookshop I had already put my camera away. She was demonstrating something to do with paintballing to Jonathan Stroud’s son. This is not in the slightest out of character, although I had just suggested she might need to ‘break into’ the authors’ yurt for her coat. Kathryn was cold, and I didn’t lend her my down jacket, but instead suggested to someone else that they should give her theirs. Which they did…

Kathryn Evans

Anyway, we both made it to Edinburgh in the end. Kathy had more than one plane delayed, which in turn made me wonder if it was worth going if she wasn’t going to make it. But it was all fine. Who needs hours to prepare for an event? And she even had time to change into her gorgeous frock. Even if it did make her cold.

I began the evening by being confused, getting two crime writers mixed up. Then I went to catch Cathy MacPhail signing after her event with Nicci Cloke, and got Alex Nye as a bonus. Didn’t know Alex was chairing.

Nicci Cloke, Alex Nye and Cathy MacPhail

Popped over to the other bookshop for Gill Arbuthnott, who had just de-vampired a whole tent, or something. She seemed to be busy planning to put this girl’s beautiful ribbons into her next book. It’s the kind of thing that happens at book festivals.

Gill Arbuthnott

And then it was time for the event of the evening, The Great Gender Debate with Kathy and Jonathan Stroud and David Levithan.

In the bookshop afterwards, I might possibly have rolled my eyes at Kathryn (when she mentioned selfies), so she told me off. Had a very senior moment when I realised that I was in the same room as Jonathan, and I had left every single Lockwood at home. Chatted to him anyway, and then convinced a potential new fan that he needed to start by reading the first Lockwood, and luckily Jonathan backed me up on this. I even found a copy, among all the later books.

Jonathan Stroud

It seems David Levithan is the kind of gentleman who signs standing up. It looks like such hard work, but maybe it isn’t. There were lots of fans, for all three of them.

David Levithan

I ran into a few people again, because these events are that kind of, well, event. It’s where you meet likeminded people. And it would have been nice to go for drinks, but I had a late train to wrestle with, and Kathryn had this floor to lie on, so we hugged a second time (I could get used to all this hugging), and I left while I still had a nice warm jacket to call mine.

Charlotte Square

‘I am Mary Queen of Scots’

Or so Alex Nye claimed, when she launched For My Sins at Blackwells last night. (She laughed when she said it. So she’s perhaps not entirely serious about it.) It’s her first adult novel, and it’s about Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots

The real Mary was there too, and she was looking good for her age. Actually, on such a dark and stormy night when the rest of us were pretty drenched, I have to point out that Mary looked both dry and beautiful.

As I ran in, Tesco prawn sandwich in hand, Alex and her publisher Clare were already there, and Mary turned up soon after. She posed for photos like Royals tend to do, and I believe she even showed off what was under her skirt. Honestly. I ate my sandwich, turned down the offer of wine and was rescued from dying of thirst by the lovely Ann Landmann of Blackwells.

Roy Gill, Kirkland Ciccone and Mary Queen of Scots

We admired the book, which has unusually nice looking pages. I know this sounds strange, but it does. Several other authors turned up to celebrate, among them Kirkland Ciccone wearing a rather loud outfit, Roy Gill who looked suitably handsome, Gill Arbuthnott, Philip Caveney (or was it Danny Weston? They look so alike…) with Lady Caveney, and then Kate Leiper came and sat next to me again.

Alex talked about her love of Scottish history, and for Mary, about her research, and walking round Edinburgh for two years (that must have been tiring) to see the places Mary went, and visiting all her castles. And 28 years on, the book is finally here.

Alex Nye and Mary Queen of Scots

Luckily Alex has managed to get hold of Mary’s diary from her time ‘in jail,’ which must be considered a bit of a royal scoop.

Kate Leiper, Gill Arbuthnott, Kirkland Ciccone and Roy Gill

There was a signing afterwards, and much literary gossip. It was almost a shame some of us had to go home, but I couldn’t leave my chauffeur in the Park&Ride all night.

Alex Nye

I’m just over halfway through the book so far, and I have a dreadful feeling this isn’t going to end well.

Your top ten for Book Week Scotland

In just two weeks’s time Book Week Scotland will be upon you, at least if you’re in Scotland. Otherwise Scottish Book Trust’s powers might not reach all the way to where you are. But it won’t be for want of trying.

Many events are for schools and not public, but I have found a few I like the look of, and were it not for my vow of not stirring ever again, I’d head off for some of these.

Top choice is obviously Mairi Hedderwick in Helensburgh, when it’s Party Time with Katie Morag on Saturday 26th November at 10.30. It hits the right spot for me in so many ways.

Jonathan Meres is a very funny man. His show May Contain Nuts at Fauldhouse, West Lothian, on Wednesday 23rd at 9.30, should be great. If you can get out of bed that early.

Children’s Book Swap with Alan Durant in Strathpeffer on Friday 25th at 15.00. Get rid of books you don’t want, and choose someone else’s unwanted books instead…

Stories by Starlight in Inverkeithing on Saturday 26th at 16.30. How they can be so sure of stars I am not, ahem, sure, but it sounds good.

A Beginner’s Guide to Electricity and Magnetism. Well, what could be more fun? That’s Gill Arbuthnott and Nick Armstrong in Fife on the 24th at 18.30.

John Fardell will be in Orkney on Saturday 26th at 10.30. Lovely, for anyone already up there.

Tom Nicoll: Writer of Nonsense! (and Mini-Dragons) entertains in Airdrie, also on Saturday 26th at 11.00.

Badger the Mystical Mutt and the Loch Ness Mystery (and Lyn McNicol) are in Glasgow on the 24th at 11.00. (Actually, make that the 26th! See Lyn’s comment below.)

A Library Ghost Tour in Rutherglen, also on the 24th, at 18.00. Boo!

City Lines featuring Chris Brookmyre in Glasgow on the 22nd at 19.00.

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND PROGRAMME LAUNCH

And number eleven is a Book Trail in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral, every morning Monday 21st to Saturday 26th at 10.00. Clues to be found to win a prize.

Go on, go!

A wee week

It’s enough to make me wish I still travelled to St Andrews regularly. I know I can still go, but the other end of Fife is just that wee bit too far, even for me. At least when I feel all travelled out and all that.

Wee Book Fest

Toppings, the bookshop that opened a branch in St Andrews a couple of years ago, have taken up the book festival baton, after the closing of the theatre. And that is very nice of them, and good for the town. There are a few children in St Andrews. It’s not all Royal Princes and students.

So, this week is their Wee Book Fest, which I believe means it’s for the wee ones, not that it’s all that wee. They have a programme for the whole week, which is ambitious for a smallish town. And most of the programme looks good, and some of it so tempting that I almost got the train time table out to see if maybe perhaps I could go after all.

Wee Book Fest

But then I told myself not be silly and that I can see most of these authors somewhere closer and more convenient some other time. Probably.

It does look good, though, doesn’t it?