Tag Archives: Nick Barley

The reign of Barley

I can see why Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is planning on leaving in the autumn. From a practical point of view, it’s – probably – best to leave after the next big effort has been put to bed. In this case, that’s the festival in August 2023. It’s also the last one before the festival moves across the road.

So, new home, new blood, new lots of things. New start. It will be good, but not the same. This is partly because the EIBF are having to do what nearly all of us have to do; tighten the belt and save where possible.

I was reminded that Nick began directoring in my second EIBF year. The first year I was oblivious to who the boss might be anyway. But since then I have got used to seeing him around. I remember telling an author that I had spied him in the audience of her event. Her response was that she was glad she hadn’t known. But I’m sure Nick was there to enjoy himself, not to check whether the invited guests were up to scratch.

She was, though.

That will be fourteen years for director Barley, and it is going to be fourteen for Bookwitch. With press officer Frances Sutton retiring last year, that’s my EIBF covered. It will continue to be good, but I can also see the sense in leaving at the right time.

With Gordon Brown in 2012.

(Photo Helen Giles)


Two weeks on, back at the book festival

With migraines rampaging quietly around Bookwitch Towers on Saturday morning, I decided to risk it and still travel through to Edinburgh where Daniel Hahn ‘was waiting’. Drugged and with enough nice sandwiches to last the afternoon, but perhaps not enough water, I got to the Edinburgh College of Art, and found Albertina’s where I interrupted Daniel mid-chat with director Nick Barley himself. He handed over the ‘goods’ and I left again.

Well, I did cast a quick look at the Spectacular Translation Machine Daniel was running with Sarah Ardizzone, asking non-French speakers to translate a picture book from French into English. Because that is so easy. I’ve seen them trying to trick people like this before.

Clutching my chairperson’s ticket for the day’s event [with Michael Rosen], I went over to the signing tent where I hoped to find most of the relevant books I’d been after. With hindsight I might have bought too few, but three are better than two. Or one. Ran into blogger Lizzy Siddall, Daniel’s ‘other stalker’ and we chatted a bit, about chairs* – as you do – and how to get rid of books.

Clutching my new ones, I went and sat in the ‘car park’ again, having developed a fondness for somewhere to picnic that’s level. Should have refilled my water bottle too, seeing as I was sitting right next to the tap.

After my sandwiches, it was time for Michael Rosen and his chair, Daniel Hahn. More about that tomorrow…

*Ones you sit on.

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.)

The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival Programme

I have kept my diary clear. Not knowing what to expect from this year’s online EdBookFest, I felt it was my duty to be prepared, for everything and anything. And there is certainly a lot going on during the usual period at the end of August. 140 online events is very good.

One big difference I am sensing, is that the online aspect means they have perhaps been able to put together a different kind of programme from what we are used to. Now any author from anywhere in the world can take part with few considerations as to travel arrangements, visas and the general cost of going places. So for some that must mean they are able to participate in something that might otherwise not have been possible.

There are not as many children’s and YA events as I’d have liked, but I can see that this is a group of readers who would be less likely to hang out in cyber space for this sort of thing. It’s different if you can actually be there. But I look forward to what there is.

Trying to understand how their promised signings with selected authors will work, but no doubt that will become clearer. Not sure I have the courage to go for an actual chat with an author, so will leave that to the diehard fans of those who will be doing this.

The other kind of chat that is often so nice is when you strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, and in order for that not to be the Resident IT Consultant [in my case] they are organising chatrooms before events. (I’m more used to standing in line in the bookshops, encouraging young readers that they really want to get that book by A Author, at the same time as their accompanying adult is feeling disinclined to let them…)

There was a photo session with Nick Barley, in the actual Charlotte Square this morning. My Photographer was invited, but understandably she didn’t crawl out of bed to be in Edinburgh that early, needing to avoid train travel, and suspecting that parking a car conveniently close was going to be impossible.

So here is a shot of Nick Barley we ‘prepared’ earlier; doing what he seems so good at, which is hanging out with famous people.

The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.

All right, maybe some more last photos then

Nearly twenty years after J K Rowling was here with her first book, it has been illustrated by Jim Kay, and become much, much larger.

J K Rowling and Jim Kay, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

From Potter to poetry with Zaffar Kunial and the Scottish Makar. And festival director Nick Barley.

Zaffar Kunial, Jackie Kay and Nick Barley

And Pufflings, as in Lynne Rickards’ Skye the Puffling, with Jon Mitchell.

Lynne Rickards and Jon Mitchell, Skye the Puffling

Sticking with my letter P theme, here is Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies, busy entertaining fans in the children’s bookshop.

Petr Horáček and Nicola Davies

Slightly scarier stuff in Zom-B Goddess, but Darren Shan is as polite as they come.

Darren Shan, Zom-B Goddess

And before I leave you with another image of my favourite lights in trees, I offer you two people who always make my book festival a pleasanter place; local agent Lindsey Fraser in conversation with Mr B.

Lindsey Fraser and Mr B

Charlotte Square

(In order to find our first encounter with Mr B, I went down Memory Lane, which is about seven years away, and I was astounded to see how many authors were around then. We were only there for a week, but had authors practically coming out of our ears.)

Hell has already frozen over

If a book title contains the word snow, it’s sure to be real literature and will eventually win the Man Booker. Whether winning is a good thing or not was on debate on Saturday afternoon in Bloody Stirling. Nick Barley from the EdBookFest tried to keep order as Ian Rankin and Peter James told us why crime novels should be allowed to win the Man Booker, while Stuart Kelly and Willy Maley was of the opposite opinion.

Stuart Kelly, Willy Maley, Nick Barley, Ian Rankin and Peter James

Crime has already won the award by stealth, pretending to be ‘real’ literature, and as someone pointed out, perhaps these rich crime writers should let others enjoy the fame and money that comes with winning. It’s a well known fact you can write a crime novel in three days and spend the rest of the year in the pub.

The fascinating thing is that during the debate, people changed their minds. Both the debaters and the audience shifted in what they think is right and what should happen. Nick Barley pronounced Stuart and Willy the winners, because they argued successfully against.

But there is that ‘phoney halo of respectability’ which goes with reading Man Booker shortlisted novels to consider…

Before lunch we had dragged ourselves up the hill from the Albert Halls to the Highland Hotel for some forensics with Lin Anderson and Andy Rolph. Andy runs a company called R2S, return to scene, which has revolutionised crime scene forensics.

Andy Rolph and Lin Anderson with volunteer

It could have been boring. But I didn’t expect it to be, and Lin didn’t let me down. She chirpily predicted what fun we were going to have, and then she read from her new book Picture Her Dead, stopping just as we wanted to know what was hiding behind the…

Then it was volunteer time, when they dressed a member of the audience up as a forensics expert in one of those white overall things. There is a lot to it, you know. It’s hot. Uncomfortable. And the many layers of stuff, including the double gloves are easily missed on television. Our plucky volunteer even did a forensics catwalk strut.

The forensic outfit

It was a quick, but serendipitous, decision for Lin to let her main character work in forensics, and she is excited about quite how fascinating it all is. So were we.

I got my Lin Anderson book signed, as I said hello to her afterwards, while my photographer caught the group from the Fresh Blood event posing obediently. I hope it means what I hope it means, and not the other way round.

Gordon Brown, Frank Muir, Anna Smith, Sara Sheridan and John Gordon Sinclair

Working backwards here, we began the day with evil things. Denise Mina, who looked as nice as ever, talked evil with Peter James, who has been to Broadmoor. Not as an inmate, though.

Denise Mina, Alan Riach and Peter James

Reading from their books, Peter offered up the shortest chapter one I have ever met. So he read a little more. Denise stopped just as she got to the bit about orgies, which was mildly disappointing. But there could have been young people in the audience, or we could have become so well informed we wouldn’t then need to buy the book.

Peter James

Grandiosity is the sign of a psychopath, and somewhere in the discussion Americans entered into this. And there were more sock puppets.

Authors writing their own book blurbs is another kind of self advertising.

Denise never knows how her books are going to end, whereas Peter does. And then he changes his mind.

Denise Mina

The hotel turned out to be easier to leave than to arrive at. Both by picking the right door this time, but also because we made good use of the geriatric shuttle bus laid on. The authors, on the other hand, had been allocated their own named parking spots in the car park. We saw an empty one, bearing the name of Val McDermid, for instance.

Peter Guttridge

Val, along with Karin Fossum, spoke to Peter Guttridge on the subject of Deadlier Than The Male, and Peter felt distinctly spooked at times. I think it was Karin’s no-nonsense approach to death, which made him burst out with ‘you are seriously freaking me out.’ Wimp.

Trying to get rid of her character by moving her to America didn’t work for Val. She immediately felt the need to have her back, except her agent said ‘you can’t just leave the dog in America!’ So on discussing the dog conundrum with Laurie King, Val’s fictional dog has now moved crime series in order to avoid months of quarantine.

Val McDermid

Fans who know best can make the oddest comments. Between hardback and paperback Val was asked ‘are you aware that you can no longer turn right at those traffic lights?’ along with the suggestion she change it.

Karin has discovered that when she puts back in what she has already taken out of a book once, it’s time to stop editing. She mentioned how she wanted to make her detective dizzy, so she did. She didn’t know why he was dizzy, so this is something she now has to work out. This also worried Peter.

He compared her to Ruth Rendell, whom Karin admires, and who admires her in return. Karin also writes poetry, which is mainly about death, so it has a lot in common with her crime novels.

Both Karin and Val had long signing queues afterwards, which is why I didn’t practise what I’d been talking about over afternoon tea earlier. The lovely Keith Charters drove over to Stirling for a chat with the witches, and to deliver a vacuum. He is very kind. Keiths really do seem to come bearing gifts.

Karin Fossum

Anyway, we were talking languages. He was intrigued to hear that when Scandinavians talk to each other, we do it in our own languages. So I really should have ‘pratat’ with Karin, giving her the opportunity to ‘snakke’ to me.

And she’s not scary!

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.

Book Power 100

I had so hoped to be on it. Or would have, if I’d known it was being done. ‘It’ being the oddly named Guardian list of the most powerful people in the book world. The top one hundred names, except they have cheated by having pairs of names for some entries, making it 100+.

Unlike other commentators I am not horrified by having J K Rowling at no. two. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be. It’s quite interesting to see how they have picked people I know quite well, and also people I’ve never heard of.

First I went on the website showing the lucky one hundred as un-named photos, and came to the conclusion I recognised about twenty of them. Furnished with names I ‘recognised’ a lot more. I have spoken to six, and met another two.

And I finally know who that chap with the wild beard is. Not Ardagh. The other one. (Have already forgotten his name…)

The thing is, I have talked to people who know many of these important ones. Or who have met them, or heard some juicy gossip about them. And somehow, when that is the case, it’s harder to take them seriously. There is one author in particular, highly thought of by many, who sank considerably in my estimation on hearing a personal account of their behaviour.

But then, they can behave as they wish. It’s their books that matter. I do find that the best books are written by decent human beings. At least in the children’s books world. And they haven’t been forgotten here.

Good to see so many women on there, and interesting that so many CEOs are female. Two Swedes, albeit one dead, which didn’t go down well with some. (Bet he’d have preferred not to be dead, too.) And it’s odd, what I know. I couldn’t have put a name to Nick Barley. But seeing his photo I could have told you he is the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, as he is a visible kind of leader, who is always out and about in Charlotte Square.

Books 100

And it turns out that I am indeed on the list. I made it as no.100, which is a round and pleasing figure. Rather like myself.