Tag Archives: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

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)

Advertisements

The Commonwealth course

For some reason the student witch joined a Commonwealth literature course at university, back in the early 1980s. Or was it late 1970s? With no right to sit the exam (I had already passed the level at which it was set), I only joined the classroom discussions every week, presumably thinking it’d broaden my mind. Or something.

That’s where I was introduced to books by people I’d never heard of before, including Chinua Achebe. We read Things Fall Apart, which I don’t remember anything of, except that I didn’t understand it very well. I’ve always had this thing that I need to know where characters are coming from, and I didn’t know Africa at all.

Other authors included Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinka, Canadian Mordecai Richler (whom the Resident IT Consultant found in the bookcase only the other day, and said he’d never heard of) and a couple of Australians, like David Malouf and David Ireland. Indian authors such as R K Narayan and Anita Desai. I’ve probably forgotten some, but it was only for one term, so the list won’t have been too long.

It was good, because these were the days when – even more than now – I stuck to what I knew. And these I didn’t know. Some, like Narayan, I simply could not get on with. At the time I almost wondered why I did it. I’m guessing it’s so that now I can know a little of what the world has lost with the death of Chinua Achebe.

Not being a native English speaker it was difficult to grasp how English was used back then, by people who had other first languages. And I suspect I expected anyone who wrote in English to somehow write as though they were English.

In more recent years, when seeing photos of Chinua Achebe, I’ve always been struck by how much he looked like my Uncle. Not skin colour, obviously, but apart from that. It made me feel closer, and occasionally I have wondered if I ought to re-read what I didn’t quite get in those days.

(I looked up my then tutor, Britta Olinder, to see what  she’s up to these days. I remembered that she did her PhD on Dryden, but after that it seems as if she has stuck to her Commonwealth literature. Good to know I was in good hands. I mean, I knew that even then, but I like having it confirmed. Intrigued to see I narrowly missed meeting Salman Rushdie.)