Tag Archives: Simon Callow

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.

Blowing bubbles and buying boats

I suppose it’s good for the constitution to start as you (don’t) mean to go on, i.e. doing lots and lots, leaving us witches totally exhausted. Although Daughter says we can sleep some other time.

Andy Mulligan

We began our Saturday book festival with an interview. Andy Mulligan has returned from the Philippines and I really wanted to catch the man behind those crazy, lovely Ribblestrop books. Sitting in typical Scottish sunshine behind the yurt was good for the soul and very entertaining.

I ordered Andy not to give anything away, since I’m only part through his third Ribblestrop, and he was reasonably good about that. If I ever have to go back to school, I want him for my teacher. As for finding out more about the boat buying you will need to arm yourselves with patience.

Jacqueline Wilson

There followed a quick dash ‘backstage’ for a photo call with Jacqueline Wilson, who was back in black, looking absolutely fabulous. She has a new book out for Puffin, and her fans lined the square as they always do.

Simon and Alex Scarrow

There was no time to hear the Scarrow brothers talk, although when I think back, I find this just isn’t true. We heard plenty, because they were very noisy indeed, in their tent event. We just didn’t pay to go in, seeing how we were more intent on wolfing down Friday’s pizza, sitting outside on the grass.

Linda Strachan

We caught the brothers at their bookshop signing session, where we also noticed Linda Strachan engaged in some furtive signing. Good for her!

Post-pizza we went to hear more from the accident obsessed Andy Mulligan, who was talking ‘health and safety’ with Vanessa Robertson. He used to play with Action Man, which taught him early on that when imagination takes over, the game starts inventing itself. Just like writing books. He was a useless theatre director until Mrs Thatcher axed funds, and he ended up in India.

Basically, Andy says we want to watch the knife thrower because he might miss, not because it is guaranteed to be safe. He is beginning to run out of ways to get rid of parents (in books). More knife throwing, maybe?

Simon Callow

Since it was a day for dashing, we caught Simon Callow’s photo call, where he posed both with a mug of something, and without. He posed for a good long time, and we now have more Callow pics than we can use in a lifetime.

This time jigsawing allowed us to catch Meg Rosoff just before her event, where she talked to Eleanor Updale about God. Meg got the idea from a dyslexic atheist joke she once heard, and managed to remember, and she unwisely let her daughter name God Bob. Meg’s books  ‘might not be great, but at least the chapters are short.’

She forgot to bring her Eck, and described how she once pulled the plot out of There Is No Dog, which is the same as pulling the skeleton out of a chicken. (I rather wish she hadn’t mentioned that.) Meg admitted that her next book was relatively easy to write, but also talked about the importance of composting when you write. (I think that means you shouldn’t be too young.)

And I had no idea that when ‘proper, adult’ authors are given wine, children’s authors get orange juice…

Cathy MacPhail

Back to the bookshop we found Cathy MacPhail signing at the table next to Meg’s. Meg spent a long time talking to all her fans, which allowed us time to chat to the Parents of Dodo, who suddenly materialised in the children’s bookshop, of all places. They were going for Alexander McCall Smith, which reminded us we needed to rush off for his photo call. It was our first time, having spent every year always missing Edinburgh’s great man.

Alexander McCall Smith

Once she had avoided the orange juice hazard, and enjoyed something a bit more Scottishly grown-up, Meg got the Chris Close treatment and posed willingly, blowing bubbles and other stuff. I’m afraid we piggy-backed, because for a favourite author Meg always manages to escape the best photo situations. She also always disapproves of any photo we publish, so she’ll hate this one too. Except I hope not.

Meg Rosoff

We spied ‘Mr Updale,’ aka James Naughtie, who had been broadcasting from Edinburgh. All the ‘Puffins’ disappeared off for dinner somewhere, and so did we, but without much luck. Edinburgh is very busy in August, isn’t it?

(While internet connectivity remains a problem, we will post at funny hours. If we post at all. And, if we can’t blog, we can always tidy and clean. At least until the Parents of Dodo come and take over.)

Coming and going

The trains continue to be good. And bad. Horrendous late journey ‘home’ on Saturday night, with two coaches only, and rather a lot of passengers. Did they forget it’s the Edinburgh Festival? The next morning I looked at the number of people waiting for the train and trembled with fear. It’d have to be the roof. When the 10.02 arrived consisting of not two, nor of four coaches, but six, I very nearly kneeled on the platform to thank ScotRail. It was only the state of my knees that prevented this heartfelt thanks.

I want to be Nicola Morgan in my next life. That woman has the shoes and the wit that a witch can only aspire to. And she has it in a most colour coordinated way. On Monday Nicola had managed to sell out her Thrillers event, but I got in, courtesy of Nicola’s own ticket. It was a pity Nicola herself couldn’t get in after that…

Nicola Morgan

Joking aside, I spent the first few minutes admiring the turquoise suede boots and the light blue cardigan with matching turquoise brooch. It’s so hard to carry that combination off, but if anyone can, Nicola can. Then once she started talking I suspected I might have to leave rather hurriedly. She promised gore, and fainthearted that I am I could imagine myself lying on the floor at the back. It didn’t get as bad as that, but she had me worried. Who’d have thought an event could be so thrillerish?

It was Nicola’s novel Fleshmarket that scared me. It replaced the book on wolves she had been writing, and I’m sure it’s ‘very nice’, really. I breathed easier as she moved on to Death Watch and Wasted. I hadn’t realised Nicola actually tossed a coin to decide how to proceed in Wasted when she came to the forks in the road, so to speak. And in Death Watch it’s hardly surprising the reader can’t guess who the stalker is. Nicola herself didn’t know at the time.

So, if I had fainted ten minutes into the talk, would the event have turned out very differently?

Ian Rankin

Simon Callow

In my short break after the gore, I came across Ian Rankin doing something. I’m not sure what sort of something, and the photo was taken some distance off, which would explain the blur. Also found Simon Callow ‘being done’ at the entrance to the yurt, so gulped down my drink and joined the paparazzi at the back for a go at this ex-Pliny from the Roman Mysteries.

I believe the ducks have complained. It’s too dry.


The day’s second event featured Keith Gray and Tohby Riddle with Philippa Cochrane. They discussed Keith’s Ostrich Boys and Tohby’s first teen novel The Lucky Ones. The Australian is best known for his younger picture books, all of which looked very appealing in the bookshop, but I contained myself. Just.

Keith Gray

Tohby Riddle

Both books are about boys and, I think, about death. Girls feature as a plot device only, and in Ostrich Boys Keith ponders how ‘rubbish it must be to be dead’. Quite. He borrowed the idea from his favourite film Stand By Me. Tohby’s novel has something to do with Bob Dylan, and also Sydney Harbour Bridge. I think he described it as a metaphysical experience, but now might be the time to admit I didn’t understand much of what he said at all.

Linda Strachan was in the audience, and she wanted to know if they could see themselves writing about girls, to which the answer was a resounding ‘no’ from both. Boys need more books, and girls have quite enough as it is. Which may well be true. Although Keith’s inspiration came from a trailer for the girly film Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. That’s American pants. In case you wondered.

Linda Chapman

As usual I hung in the bookshop a bit, and I happened to find Linda Chapman signing in there a little earlier, as I passed. That’s what’s nice. This looking into the shops to see who might be there.