Thursday, 24 September 2009

2009 Podcast Series

We've been gradually adding a series of podcasts recorded by Lesley Fraser-Taylor at this year's Book Festival. Today we've added interviews with John O'Donoghue, author of Sectioned: A Life Interrupted, which chronicles a decade of his life spent in and out of institutions as he battled with mental illness; and Lucy Hawking, who talks about teaming up with her father Professor Stephen Hawking to create George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt, the second in a trilogy of books designed to explain physics to children in a fun way.

You can find these and more on our website, or subscribe (free) on the iTunes Store.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

More Audio for you to catch up with

Just added the Val McDermid talk, with great chat and some more tales from the casebooks of Dr Tony Hill and Detective Carol Jordan.

In case you haven't noticed, there's also another 5 full length talks we've added over the last few days.

William Boyd's latest, Ordinary Thunderstorms, is the thrilling tale of a young Londoner, victim of an unknown conspiracy, who seeks survival in the city's darkest reaches and in this event he tells us all about it.

Mark Millar candidly discusses comics, graphic novels and Hollywood with Stuart Kelly in this sold-out Book Festival event. His bestselling comic Kick-Ass is being made into a film this year.

In this event Alistair MacLeod agreed to travel across the Atlantic from his home in Ontario he discusses his life, work and the importance of his Scottish heritage with Richard Holloway. His work is epitomised by his award-winning novel No Great Mischief.

One of the hottest tickets of the 2009 Book Festival, we were thrilled the creator and writer of HBO’s universally acclaimed TV series The Wire, David Simon, took time out to come to Edinburgh for the Book Festival.

Finally for just now, Sebastian Barry, after being awarded the coveted Costa Book of the Year Award earlier in 2009, this multi-talented writer (he's a poet and playwright too) reads from his novel and chats to Diana Hope in an engrossing event.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Another five audio events

Eminent historian Paul Preston explores the courage and skill of leading foreign correspondents such as Hemmingway, Gellhorn, Orwell; Croatian writer Dubravka Ugresic introduces her new novel, Baba Yaga Laid an Egg; Malorie Blackman introduces Double Cross; Marina Lewycka, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian introduces her latest book We Are All Made Of Glue; and finally for now Alain de Botton brings us The Pleasure and Sorrows of Work.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

More Events Available Online

September may be the cruellest month, but it gives us a chance to catch up on permissions for audio events to go online!

Just added to the media site are events by the much anticipated Louise Rennison, many people's choice for chancellor Vince Cable, children's author Angie Sage, the irrepressible Raymond Blanc and picture book author Judith Kerr.

More to follow over the next 48 hours...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


September is the cruellest month. After almost a month of books and banter and parties and gaiety and days of adventures that are 'ever-changing, always beautiful' (in the now 3 year old words of EIBF photographer Pascal), and meeting people both new and exciting and comfortably familiar, the circus leaves town. Just like in that amazing poem that Carol Ann Duffy wrote in Harry Patch's memory, everything begins to happen in reverse. Books are packed up. The tents come down. Computers and cables and lights and microphones and chairpeople are returned to their rightful places. Goodbyes replace hellos. Cruel month!

So we shall have to focus on the lovely things three weeks in Charlotte Square brought to get us through. A roll call of honour, in no particular order: the press pod massive banter factory; the moon shining on Prince Albert and the seagull who sat on his head; lounging with a mint choc chip ice cream when the sun had his porkpie on and wearing wellies with a tweed skirt and adopting a war time spirit (the tweed helped) of keep calm and carry on when it didn't; quietly tapping one's toes over lunchtime jazz and big soup; jostling about in queues of people who just want to discuss the event they've been in, or the one they're going to; the woman who told Antony Sher, when signing a book for her son, to inscribe: 'be exactly who you want to be'; the unanimous audience reaction to Raymond Blanc's account of eating squid in Japan; Raymond Blanc in general; Carol Ann Duffy's beautiful poem, 'Inside the Yurt', for Catherine Lockerbie on her departure; people swaying and clapping in the aisles to Emmanuel Jal; the thrillingly large queue for the Scottish Poetry Library's 25th birthday event; Chris Close's work-in-progress photo exhibition 'Between the Lines'; Charlie Connelly taking a photograph of himself with a backdrop of audience to prove to his mate Steve that he did manage to make it to his event, having been in Dublin a mere hour and a half before; a well-timed bookshop brownie run and Claudia's cockaleekie soup; taking visiting friends for a quick nosy round and ending up tipsy 3 hours later in the middle of some hugely digressional conversations wondering how on earth that happened; brilliant Johnson's knowing exactly how to blag free strawberry tarts and pecan pies and one's fortuitous proximity to the press pod when this happened; Helen's glorious return and that stookie; the yurt girls' charm; audience member: 'Mr (Alistair) MacLeod, please tell us you are working on something new...' AM: 'I hope to, before death'; moths in the Spiegeltent, Gruffalos in the Yurt; overhearing this prime cutlet en passant the Spiegeltent: 'well I couldn't possibly tell you. Oh go on then. Brace yourself...'; meeting people, both old friends and new; parties; gaiety. Books.

Hurray for this cosy blanket of memories, of good times, good people and great banter to keep cruel old September's chilly blast at bay.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Me Vs Children

As Sponsorship Assistant with Team Sponsorship here at the Book Festival, my duties vary widely- one day I'm overseeing elegant Scandinavians quaffing fizz in a Georgian Board Room, the next I'm giving out free milk (courtesy of the lovely Graham's Family Dairy) to eager children.

Which brings me nicely to the topic in hand. Children.

The Book Festival loves children. We have a whole bookshop just for them. Not to mention a free Activity Corner run by some lovely ladies who know a thing or two about colouring in. We also have an amazing kids programme, run by Sara Grady.

The thing is, I am a big kid at heart, and I quite often get jealous of all the great stuff we have on offer for children. I mean, even my book of the year so far is a kid's book. Check out The
Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently - no matter what age you are!

When Team Sponsorship recently played host to Scottish Power's Family Day- a day where the sponsor and guests can have some good food, good fun and see some great events- they hired some brilliant entertainment to keep the kids amused between eating and viewing, and facepainting and a genius balloon modeller were on hand. So you can imagine I was in my element. Face-paint stars? Check! Silly balloon hat? Check!

However, it seems that the children are not always on my side. For, when outside playing with some of the boys, they took it upon themselves to attack me with their balloon swords, telling me to 'Talk to the blade!' Which is all very well and good, but I was completely defenseless. A small girl took pity on me and lent me her balloon-butterfly, but it was hardly a match for those swords.

Children- 1, Me- 0.

The same day none other than The Gruffalo was visiting the Festival. After Julia Donaldson's event, The Gruffalo himself left the theatre, followed by a horde of small children, much like a hairy Pied Piper. Those children didn't get their sticky mitts on the Gruffalo though, he hot-footed it to the sanctuary of the Author's yurt, where Press & Marketing Assistant Julia and I found him. We politely asked Mr. Gruffalo if he would have his picture taken with us, and we got to give him the biggest hug!

Children- 0, Me- 1.


Beyond the ‘No Public Access’ sign on site lies the Author’s Yurt, a mystical hideaway for all the authors, participants and guests who grace our lovely gardens. For those of us lucky enough to work here, the Yurt is a fascinating place to observe the great and the good of the literary world, as well as the newbies and debut authors who are appearing at the festival.

The Yurt is home to secrets, rarely belying the clandestine goings on that occur beneath the fairy lights. But I’m offering you a sneaky glimpse beyond the boardwalk, a fly on the wall opportunity to see what we see. Obviously, I have to watch what I say here – there are a crack team of Yurtlets scurrying around who keep a keen eye on any potential intruders, and they would be quick to throw me out if I divulged too much information from behind the scenes. So I will give you merely a few snippets of what we have witnessed in the Yurt over the past two weeks:

  • A giant papier mache seagull’s head (named Gully by the creator, a name too friendly to convey how terrifying he actually looks).
  • An inflatable snake and cat food.
  • An inflatable palm tree, propped up against the reception desk.
  • Fairy wings hanging on the coat rail.
  • 600 Gruffalo badges, 600 Gruffalo balloons, and one real, live Gruffalo.
  • Several cake thieves who shall remain unnamed – but they know who they are.
  • The impressive quick-change routine at the back of the Yurt by our lovely British Sign Language interpreters.
  • Increasingly early requests for us to bring out the wine (earliest request has been 11.30am. Breakfast wine and croissants – how very continental).
  • A small child pushing a dog on wheels (a toy, so permitted on site).
  • Will Self’s dog (a guest of the author, so technically permitted on site).
  • Roy Hattersley’s dog (an author himself, so technically permitted on site).
  • Numerous musical instruments, including Frank Skinner’s banjo, Mathias Malzieu’s ukulele and Richard Holloway’s marvellous singing voice.
  • Icelandic snacks (Thank you Ran, Hermann and Ingunn – not so keen on the cough sweets, but we love the chocolate wafers).
  • The most impressive stookie this festival has ever seen.

And that’s just the stuff that we can tell you.

There's a moose loose aboot this...festival garden.

Poor Catherine Rayner. If one of your most famous characters is an animal which rhymes, then people are going to spout poor poetry at you whenever occasion arises. Occasion did arise, rather marvellously, yesterday, when a giant MDF Ernest the Moose was lovingly illustrated with exceptional skill by Catherine, to the wonder of children and adults alike.

The Moose was yet another seemingly unsolvable puzzle cracked by our phenomenal tech team. Seriously, those boys and girls are good. Not only do they sort out all of the author's technical requests (including one memorable incident with two step ladders, a curtain rail and some sheeting), they also ensure that our toilets don't block, our heating doesn't falter, our tents don't blow away, and our radios, well, keep radio-ing. So mounting a moose to the railings surrounding Prince Albert, and then protecting it from the rain with a bolted-on parasol was nothing, nothing!

As if a Moose wasn't exciting enough, yesterday was also a day of birthdays, and therefore, naturally, of cake and fizz and rounds of applause. Lois and Jennifer looked radiant in their balloon hats (the height of sophistication, let me assure you) and everybody was particularly tickled by the presence of several old staff members, and one especially sweet Icelandic baby.

Today is a day of goodbyes: our luggage shed is overflowing. Our Yurt is full of authors promising to catch up with one another soon ('in London', usually, which fills my little Scottish heart with indignation). We are hailing fleets of taxis to transport out authors northward, southward, and often back over the sea. But it is not not not not not all over yet. For a start, the fat lady has not sung yet. And although there is no fat lady to hand, there will be karaoke at the staff party, and I imagine that will suffice. And we still have a couple of marvellous days ahead of us.

And oh, the memories: for example, Rachel Hazell's blog with its haunting picture of EIBF audience heads (see top of page): Not to mention the Guest Book, with its generous words of thanks. And definitely not to mention my slightly cavalier style of filing, which means that I will probably be disentangling threads of admin for the rest of my youth, and thus will be eternally encumbered by the finer points of travel and fees 2009. But until that glorious close, fill up your Sunday wisely: spare some time to come and view the Moose.

Raymond Blanc recommends...

Raymond Blanc graced the RBS Main Theatre last night with his presence and he was as lovely and entertaining and passionate about food as his television appearances would suggest. I'm a terrible cook who lives vicariously through cookery programmes (Blanc's 'The Restaurant', 'Masterchef' and its celebrity variant, anything with a good montage scene and fabulous tasting sessions...), so it was a bit of a thrill to hear him talk so engagingly on his life and journey as a chef, from nurse, cleaner, glass polisher and tray carrier, to Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons today. Getting him to tell me a quick and tasty recipe started out as a dare, but after he'd spoken I found myself propelled along to the end of the signing queue to do just that. Even though he'd been sitting there for an hour and a half, patiently answering questions and signing books, he indulged my bizarre request and said, 'we'll do a fish bouillabaisse.' My spelling bee skills failed me in the speed and nervousness of the moment. So he said, 'ok, we do a stew instead'...

Enough for 4 people:
200g cod steak with skin on
2 pinches of salt
4 twists of black pepper
40g unsalted butter (my one wise moment was to ask if the butter should be salted or not)
capers (he initially said these could be optional but changed his mind at the end and said, no, they're lovely, keep them in)
diced croutons
2 tablespoons of parsley (I seem to have written 'parsnip' but know that to be wrong - see point above about nervousness)
juice of 1 lemon
50ml of water

Season cod with salt and pepper
Panfry cod on both sides for 4 - 5 minutes till caramelised
Start to melt the butter on a medium heat (if it's too high it'll burn) and add the hot water to form an emulsion. The water should sizzle onto the butter (is this how recipes are normally written and am I making sense? RB certainly did, though my notes, less so)
Pour emulsion over the fish and add your capers, parsley and croutons and squeeze lemon over.
Tuck in.

If life doesn't give you enough time to make a four minute omelette, life isn't worth living.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

In the limelight

Photographers huddle in the rain, in the sun, under brollies and awnings and every single day, every thirty minutes or so, an author creeps from the yurt - often bashfully - to have his or her photo taken. There's a nice little area set up just behind the press pod, a backdrop of carpet held up by what looks like scaffolding poles, expertly put together by our magnificent site team and made to resemble a mini outdoor studio. And it is here those bashful authors pose for the cameras. This isn't the most comfortable moment of their visit of course - writers by nature are quite unlike the luvvies of the show-biz world - courting the limelight and showing-off in front of the cameras isn't really their style. I should add that there are of course some notable exceptions to this but I shan't divulge details... So, it takes a skillful photographer to come up with beautiful and interesting shots of our authors especially as the subject is available for no more than a few minutes before being whisked off to do their event. Murdo MacLeod is one such photographer - have a look at his brilliant photo montage from this year's Book Festival. Make sure you view it with speakers as he's also included a soundtrack of event excerpts to accompany the images:

Questions and mobiles

Events usually end with a Q & A session: house lights go up, hands fly in the air (or worse, don't) and front of house people sprint about with roving microphones. Audiences have the chance to ask the burning questions they've been chewing on ever since they clapped eyes on an author's work, and sometimes these can be very surprising indeed. 'Would you two care to come for dinner and talk to my grandchildren about history? You'd be very welcome.' and: 'Your shoes are wonderful. I wonder where they're from.'

Other spontaneous material comes from the dreaded sound of a mobile phone going off; despite the chairperson threatening custard pies in the face in the event of such a crime, there's often a gentle bleat to be heard somewhere in a tent, followed by a reddening face and a deft scurry into pockets or handbags. On one occasion, an author responded to those shrill tones with, 'Oh just answer it. I'd love you to tell them you're busy, but I'm not sure how engaged you really are', while a children's author stilled a teenage fan's embarrassment by squealing, 'oh, it's your dad! Let me speak to him! Serve him right for phoning in the middle!' Brings to mind the lovely story about the Queen, doing walkabout and stopping with one lady, whose phone proceeded to go off. 'Answer it', urged the Queen. 'Might be someone important.'

Friday, 28 August 2009

Stookies, spy-pens, and the sound of rejoicing.

Not many people get welcomed into the Book Festival with a round of applause. But then not many people are Helen: unofficial queen of the yurt, she has been sadly out of action, and barely-even-walking wounded, after having been involved in an accident.

But now, stookie proudly on show, she has made a quick-stop visit, to refresh us in our sleepy and every-so-slightly frayed festival state.

Stylish enough to refrain from the usual sharpie marker-ed slogans across her leg, Helen will have a stookie covered in nothing less than MAGIC SPY PEN INK. Yes, that is right, ladies and gentleman, pick up your jaws from the floor. Whatever you could conceive of, the Book Festival will provide.

The pens are easy to operate: a UV light illuminates invisible ink. Promotional material for Michael Buckley's 'Nerds', they are quite simply the most marvellous piece of writing apparatus I have ever encountered.

But back to Helen. Wired up with a site radio, and raring to go, she is surrounded by a packet of Jellybabies who look a bit like courtiers, and swathes of authors and chairpeople whom she barely knows but who have heard all about her. From a distance it looks like some subtley gothic tableau of an unusual family day out.

And that is the best thing about this place. The best thing about a twenty-four-hour-a-day village of last minute requests, even more last minute changes, and frustrating IT, and mud, and endless tea, and food snatched in not-quite-quiet-just-less-frenetic moments, and the thrum and drone of conversation containing words as wonderful to roll on your tongue as pebbles washed by the sea are to roll in your palms.

The family that emerges from the commas in between these things. That is the best thing we have. The 'good-nights' on the radio. The people who pop out to buy lunch and will bring you back a curry. The staff party. The way the staff share their jumpers. The cutting-out or emailing of things we know the other people will like. The letting other people catch a wink of sleep on a sofa, and not waking them up, not even when there is gossip to be shared.

And Helen, even in absentia, is proper, important, wonderful family. And we are very, very glad that she's ok, and rocking her stookie with unflappable glamour.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

More 2009 Author Events Online

We've just added another 8 audio events from the Festival for you to download.

New authors featured are Sharon Olds, Jackie Kay, Alasdair Gray, Kate Summerscale, Jacqueline Wilson (listen to the fantastic audience welcome!), Tracy Chevalier, Irvine Welsh (contains strong language) and Narinder Dhami.

Despite all these new authors, web stats say Louise Rennison is the most popular author so far today, although that may be visitors looking for this years event - currently we only have her 2007 event - otherwise Jackie Kay is the most popular so far.

More soon.

Look at our beautiful things.

Do you ever wonder what life would be like if it was entirely composed out of snatches of overheard conversation?

It might be a little like this:

'May I compliment you - you have a wonderful wife.'

'Buttons for eyes, no wonder he can't sleep at night.'

'No, I took the night bus, in order to spy on the owls.'

'It is alright my darling. He died, but he turned into an elf.'

'Inspiration? Inspiration? No, just a cigarette for me.'

'Wonderful audience, wonderful workshop and now...wonderful whiskey for me.'

"'Don't they have a section about true life when its really miserable, like when people put babies in cupboards...'

'And then they turn into wizards?'

'No, not Harry Potter: painful life fiction. No wizards. More crying.'"

"'Do you think the short story is dead?'
'Really? Why?'
'I write short stories. For a living.'"

'Can you let me know when the participants for the Peter Rabbit event arrive? You'll know them, they're the ones with the ears, the lettuce, and the distinctive spring in their step.'

'Can I just leave this here for a moment? Its only inflatable snakes and catfood.'

'Please don't let anyone open this door. I'm just popping into the luggage shed to put some proper clothes on.'

See? Life is distinctly more fun when experienced in literary soundbites.

Appetite for Writing

I’ve just spent the last couple of days making sure that the Creative Writing Expo went smoothly – a chance for editors, agents and the general public to hear some of the great writing coming out of Scotland. We had a delicious lunch reception to give the writers and publishers time to mingle – thank you Appetite for the spicy prawns and strawberry tarts. All involved seemed to have a good time, and the high quality of the writing got as many compliments as the food.

The event reminded me of my very first Book Festival launch party, five years ago. Itchy Coo were launching their Scots picture book Katie’s Coo (delicious free ice-cream) and had a life-sized cow that moo-ed for the children to play with. ‘Secret service’-style bodyguards swooped in to check out the Party Pavilion before First Minister Jack McConnell arrived to launch the book. The most memorable line from them – “The First Minister will pat the cow; the First Minister will not milk the cow.” Not even the hint of a smile…

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Parmesan and poetry

Yesterday, day 11 in Charlotte Square and a list! To the gardens, to the press pod (spotted en route: Russell Brand teetering on cowboy boot heels surrounded by massive entourage; heart-shaped balloon scudding along South Bridge): banana and chocolate chip cupcakes, courtesy of freelance journalist (and domestic goddess?) Senay Boztas. Good start! 6.30pm; sun; then rain, suddenly; vast, snaking queues for Shirley Williams' event, then poet Tim Turnbull, met on the walkway, drinking coffee in preparation for the long drive north and home, having just performed his most unutterably sad sack routine at Utter, had one punter tell him that the sky still in place was reason to be happy, following that. To the Studio Theatre for the 2nd Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition ceremony - and how fab to see poetry competitions given such a platform: 2 runners up - Kiwi Laura Solomon and Edinburgh-based Diana Hendry, 3rd: Sheenagh Pugh; 2nd: Emily Hasler; 1st: Paul Batchelor, for the very lovely 'Comeuppance', a poem about his grandmother's superstitions (there's now more about the winners on the Vital Synz website). Speaking of grandparents, in the middle of the post-event reception, a quick call to my grandfather on his 83rd birthday - he requested a few bars of the Fields of Athenry - I obliged: if you witnessed this, I wasn't being Irish, drunk and maudlin - just singing a birthday present down the phone, as you do. Meanwhile, back at t'party: Valvona and Crolla goodies - we applauded the parmesan on retro sticks and mini pizzas, nice red and fine chat from Emma Turnbull and Nat Edwards, prize-winning poets Paul (and brilliantly be-striped partner Rachael of Inpress Books) and Diana (and partner Hamish Whyte) and Emily Hasler and judge Polly Clark. To the Yurt, to warm our hands by the fireside, to admire David Bishop's shoes and Sam Kelly's dress, to muse upon the question, can writing really be taught? and to congratulate Loïs 'Logocop' Wolffe on the many lovely parties. A phone call: press pod's Claudia: come to Bramble! 'Mint 500'. 'Gin and Jam'. Something with bananas and liquor, all in stemmed china cups. So it was that the night ended as poetical and bananas and lovely as it had begun.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Across The Footlights

As an author or chairperson you seldom really see your audience. The house lights are down during the first part of the event, and when they come up for questions, you can usually only single out the person speaking from the surrounding sea of faces. But as a musician in the Spiegeltent, it’s quite different. The lights remain up, and in the café-style intimacy of the place, you have plenty of time to study your audience as you play.

Last night we (the Birnam Quartet: two fiddles, mandolin and piano) began our set at 9.00 and by 9.30 the tables were filling up with exactly the kind of cross-section of people one would expect to find at the Book Festival. Young, old and middle-aged, couples, singles and small groups of friends, some Scottish (judging from the nods of recognition as we worked through our repertoire of the tunes Robert Burns set his songs to), some visitors I guessed from appearances, and also from the looks of intrigue at this perhaps unfamiliar music.

People came and went. By the second set, as we moved onto some more up-tempo sets of tunes, the Spiegeltent, or maybe it was Charlotte Square itself, was really working its magic and (happily for us) there were smiles and looks of appreciation. Feet tapped, fingers drummed table tops. A well-known broadcaster sprang from her booth and twirled her partner in the aisle. The place felt relaxed, warm, womb-like almost, and I imagined that all the literary experiences of the day were being released by the members of our audience to mingle with the music we were making, words and notes swirling around inside the softly lit, mirrored, wooden panelled tent.

It was just one of the many moments that make August in Charlotte Square so extraordinarily special.

More Audio Events Online

We've just added another 7 audio events featuring 10 authors from the first half of the Festival for you to download.

New authors featured are
Tom Parker Bowles, Griff Rhys Jones, Arthur Smith, Martin Stannard (author of Muriel Spark's biography), Irish authors Patrick McCabe and Colm Tóibín, and two sets of Scottish authors - Alex Gray and Denise Mina, and Alan Bissett and Ewan Morrison.

Web stats say Alan Bissett and Ewan Morrison are the most popular so far today!


Because Alice just mentioned them. An excuse to post this photo if ever I read one...

Feet and inches.

Being part of a book festival, we are often asked to measure things: how full are our theatres? How long is the signing queue? What is the total height of the participants of each event if they stood on each others shoulders? (Answer: results vary wildly. Frank Skinner, suprisingly diminutive, and Will Self who, armed with tiny dog, is a towering specimen of manhood, are living proof). Often we try to measure things well in advance, and to predict exactly what each measurement will mean.

But there are some things which, until they happen, you simply cannot predict: how many inches of rain will it take until the infamous EIBF ducks can be seen floating merrily in the puddles? How many hours of sunshine until the mud turns into lawn again, and becomes picnicable on? (Answer: not many. Book festival go-ers are very brave, and will picnic on even the swampiest lawns.)

And there are some things which it is most delightful not to measure. The joy, wisdom, and twinklings of genius which shine through in the portraits of authors hung around the site. The rapture of a happy audience member who has finally met an author. It is always magical for a reader to meet someone whose fictional worlds they enjoy. The laughter of the seemingly endless seas of children who pour through the doors. The amount of ice cream and cake you can eat in a day.

So while we might know how many tickets we've sold, and how many authors we've given sandwiches to, we don't know the details of every nice experience, every happy coincidence, every joyful picnic on our swampy lawn.

So do tell us. We are curious to know, even if we cannot ever truly measure it.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Moths in the Spiegeltent

Saturday night in the Spiegeltent…

The wine was poured and all seats taken. It was finally about to happen: one of the events in this year’s programme that the staff were especially excited about. The Moth. Live storytelling. All the way from New York. European premiere. That’s the basic information, but if you haven’t heard of The Moth then a quick Google search will provide you with no less than 2,690,000 hits (although admittedly, some of them may refer to the insect).

Novelist George Dawes Green, who recently published his thriller Ravens, founded this cult gathering back in 1997. The idea is simple and all of us will have done it in one way or another: a cosy night with friends, sitting around a fire for example (or in George’s case, perching on a porch in the deep south of Georgia) telling each other (more or less) spellbinding stories.

Having relocated to New York, George missed these moments. So he decided to organise regular storytelling get-togethers which soon became so popular that George was forced to move them from his living room to a much larger venue. Since then, hundreds of storytellers – ranging from Moby and Ethan Hawke to Richard Price (one of the genius heads behind The Wire, due to appear in Charlotte Square this Friday night) – have shared their stories. There are only two rules: the stories must be no longer than ten minutes and must be true(ish).

Opening storyteller Jessi Klein recalled a trip to Disney World, when she nearly ended up bedding a person (man or woman?) dressed as a chipmunk at her sister’s wedding. Very much like stand-up comedy, it seemed a good warm up for George’s own story from his early adulthood spent in the Deep South. Next up the audience laughed at Jeff Solomon’s hilarious story of his Bar Mitzvah, complicated by his rowing divorced parents being forced into the same room.

Last, but for me the stand out performer of the night, was Edgar Oliver with a story from his remarkable childhood which constantly ranged from highly comic to deeply tragic. Sitting close to the stage I could see the genuine emotion in his face. He had perhaps the most amazing voice I have ever heard, deep yet gentle with exaggerated prolonged vowel sounds, and I was truly mesmerized by his performance. You can imagine how disappointed I was to discover the next day that his play at The Traverse had already finished its run. If you missed The Moth there is however some consolation. You can subscribe to their podcast at Happy listening!

A child's garden of verses

Today marks the halfway point of the Festival. More importantly for me, it's the first day of the RBS Schools Programme.

Coach load by coach load, Charlotte Square fills up with the most boisterous, excited young people. It's a wonderful part of what we do, and their youthful enthusiasm is infectious - just the shot in the arm we all need as we hit the halfway mark.

Plus, to be completely saccharine, it warms my heart to think of all the happy school kids, many of whom wouldn't be able to meet talented writers without our subsidised tickets and transport fund.

Today over 2,000 school children from Inverness, Lochgilphead, Perth and beyond descended upon the gardens in the highest of spirits. Even the too-cool-for-school teenagers (ties askew, skirts hiked up) managed to enjoy themselves. But then again, who wouldn't with the tempting fare on offer?

We opened with Edinburgh's own Maisie (the adorable kitten from Morningside) and her creator Aileen Paterson.Then we finished the day with a powerhouse duo: Melvin Burgess and Kevin Brooks. These two brilliant and talented writers certainly managed to keep the Secondary students on their toes.

A dozen other amazing authors (including one all the way from Australia!) rounded out a lovely day, which was fortuitously bursting with glorious sunshine. What's better than a school trip full of brilliant books and an ice cream picnic?

For the moment (as we breathe a collective sigh of relief that it all went smoothly) the garden is sans crested jumpers, blazers and knee socks. That is until our lollipop lady escorts tomorrow's visitors to the gate...

I think I'll seize the moment and find myself a wee glass of something to celebrate with.

Skint? Fear not...

Pay day's a few days away and the dreaded current economic climate may have tightened your purse strings. Maybe, like me, you're just hopeless with money. Don't sweat! Charlotte Square's cheap thrills won't disappoint...

It's completely free to enter the garden!

Ten at Ten offers a fresh surprise every morning at 10am in the Writers' Retreat. Short story, poetry, flash fiction, suck it and see, for free.

Free reading matter! The Entrance Tent offers a wealth of thrills for the eyes and grey matter: the Times newspaper is available every day; there's the London Review of Books, and the UNESCO City of Literature stall heaving with information about the literary scene in Edinburgh.

Story Shop! Every day at 4pm a writer will appear as if by magic in The Bookshop and read you a story. You will sit on cushions and listen. You could find yourself enthralled, saddened, excited or titillated. You won't have to spend a penny. We lucked upon Gavin Inglis (above) yesterday - always entertaining company.

Treat yourself to a hearty soup from the Spiegeltent. £3.50 with an almighty doorstep of bread, it'll set you up for the day.

For £1.50, you can take a trip back to your childhood with a 99 from Di Rollo's ice cream bike. A constant fixture in the gardens, and an always welcome one.

Missed an event? Check out this year's media archive. They'll be adding to it as they go along. You can download the recordings for free and listen to them wherever you please.

Overhearing heated debates on the lawn: priceless (yet free).

Sleb author spotting: cheap thrills for your inner geek.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Press Office Snapshots

Some snapshot moments from the Press Pod in Charlotte Square in the first week:

Introducing A L Kennedy to wildlife photographer Simon King in the door of the Authors' Yurt which resulted not only in a conversation about dead rats, but in my bumping into Alison shortly afterwards clutching two copies of Simon's book and heading for the signing queue - thrilled to have talked to him about choughs and ravens. Who would have thought it?

Griff Rhys Jones sitting at my desk in the Press Pod answering my phone, thinking it was to do a live radio interview with BBC Radio Suffolk, only to find himself discussing a photocall with Malcolm McLaren which confused everybody concerned.

Sitting deep underground in the basement bar of the Rutland Hotel, transfixed by an interview filmed for the BBC Culture Show with Neil Gaiman and Denise Mina (watch out for it on BBC2 on Wednesday at 7.00pm). Not being a graphic novel afficionado, Gaiman is a new discovery for me - and listening to him speak for 30 mins, I am most certainly converted.

Glasses very much half-full

We are now halfway through the 2009 Book Festival. Nine days have passed, and another nine days will elapse before the site empties and folds down onto itself like a tired, happy sigh.

But until then, we have all sorts of magic and mystery left to encounter.

Last night saw some fascinating jazz in the Spiegeltent, which tried - and very nearly succeeded - in making Portuguese a sing-along language. Aided and abetted by a tambourine, a triangle, and a drum with a hole in it, they strummed their way late into the night.

Inside the Author's Yurt, the whisky was flowing (indeed, several people commented on the heavy scent of liquor which hit you on entry). It became a place where cultures mixed: the delegation of newly arrived Swedish authors received an unusually gritty introduction to Edinburgh folk in the form of Irvine Welsh. The Yurt even looked the part: a roaring fire had transformed it from a respectable green-room into a fantastical Mongolian speakeasy.

The Yurt is not the only element of the Festival usually shielded from the public. The staff radios carry secret messages throughout the site, and they range from the banal to the ridiculous, often with very little middle ground. There are some tricky elements to radio manipulation: it is easy, for example, to forget just how many people can hear you. This particular blogger recently informed a good twenty or so people that she was on the loo, and just the other day a babe in arms grabbed someobody's microphone and coo'd angelically into the ears of the festival staff. Whether seeking lost handbags in the shape of dogs, or confirming that certain authors have indeed invited their two-hundred-strong audience to the pub after their event, there is always someone burbling away into a microphone.

There have been moments in the last week where you could have been forgiven for believing the site had turned into a dairy. Grahams Dairy have been giving out free milk at Storytime twice daily; there has been so much of the stuff around that visitors have consumed enough calcium to stave off osteoporosis for all eternity. As if that were not exciting enough, there have been bi-weekly ice-cream showdowns, when Graham's give away free samples of ice-cream mere metres from the Di Rollo stall...

So between Highland Park Whisky, oodles of milk, and August's obligatory buckets of rain, this year's Book Festival is turning out to have a distinctly liquid feel.

Inside the Yurt by Carol Ann Duffy

Poet Laureate and long-time friend of the Book Festival, Carol Ann Duffy has written a wonderful poem in tribute to our outgoing director Catherine Lockerbie. She read Inside the Yurt – a humorous and occasionally emotional homage to the book festival – at Catherine’s leaving do on Sunday 16 August and again at her public event on the Monday. It has subsequently been printed in the Times newspaper for everyone to enjoy.

Duffy said that it was difficult to put into words Catherine’s contribution to “the most magnificent, most important and most generous book festival in the world.”

“Catherine has got total integrity. That’s what makes it so special. It’s a shining light for language.”
Inside the Yurt by Carol Ann Duffy (for Catherine Lockerbie)
Inside the yurt was a pond where goldfish swam
and the poets fished for haiku, undisturbed
by the piper playing an old lament outside.
Inside the yurt was a parliament, the politicians
took off their masks at the door and lay down
with the truth, a dram, from where they watched
London Town floating away like a dream.
Inside the yurt was an elephant, a hump-backed whale,
a swarm of bees, a Vice-President of the USA
who had come to say enough was enough. Inside
the yurt was a mosque at dusk, the sound of a wholly
human voice. A novelist whizzed round and round
in the yurt in her red Ferrari. A scientist checked
his notes on the next tsunami. A polemicist helped himself
to a large red wine and salami. Inside the yurt
was a loch where the National Monster swam
and another dram … and another dram … and another dram …
Inside the yurt was a magic pen which signed the name
of someone who wasn't there. Inside the yurt was the key
to a prison cell; a candle burned. Inside the yurt
was a wishing-well, a Gaelic spell, the Hogmanay bells,
a nine-year queue of children, women, men,
two million, then, all in the yurt in a singing ring
for Catherine, for Catherine, for Catherine,
who brought to the yurt the living, giving word
and the bells and the books and the candles. Thank her.

Mankell & Wallander

There’s a touch of the inevitable with Henning Mankell’s appearances at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and yesterday’s was no exception as the Swedish author had to rush into his event in Charlotte Square Gardens after being trapped in a hotel elevator for over an hour. Once on stage, Mankell recalled his appearance in the literary city of Edinburgh a decade before, when he shared the stage with fellow crime fiction author Ian Rankin. Even then Mankell’s arrival was fraught with suspense and plot twists as he got lost walking through the New Town, just about making it to his own event. Inevitably, as if he was putting words to paper Mankell asked “what will happen next time?”

Unveiling some of the mysteries which surround the writer’s secret craft Mankell told the audience his infamous police inspector was named after… a scramble through a telephone directory. Shedding further light into the literary ways that have shot Wallander to fame Mankell revealed how a spot of bother – namely the inspector’s diabetes, diagnosed after the fourth book – have sweetened his popularity and generated worldwide sympathy.

The author could see how Edinburgh’s best loved detective, Rebus, and his own Wallander would have been friends and how their home towns – Edinburgh and Ystad – are infinitely brighter and more enlightened than the detectives’ dark minds.
Numbers of tourists in Ystad are steadily going up and, pretty much like in Edinburgh, the first UNESCO City of Literature, fictional characters draw real people to the city.

Between the Lines with Chris Close

A radio call went up the other night: 'A L Kennedy and Carol Ann Duffy have fallen on site'. Several members of staff beetled out to help, looking for the two stricken writers (and wondering about the circumstances that led to such a freak accident), only to find that it was Chris Close's photographs of them which had fallen.

'Between the Lines' is a work in progress and the brain child of Chris (left, as David Peace). He pitched the idea to the EIBF; having specialised in landscape photgraphy before, he wanted to indulge his love of photographing people. After thrashing out the idea, they decided he'd take them of whoever was around and up for it, and they would be hung around the site. Carolyn
blogged about them the other day, and you can see some photos of the likes of Emmanuel Jal and Carol Ann Duffy (hiding behind an onion).

I had a chinwag with Chris this morning in the press pod (coffee; pecan pie) as I wanted to know how he makes them. Quite simply he takes the photos throughout the day, and prints the snaps onto canvas at home in the evening. The canvas is sprayed to protect it from the Scottish monsoon, riveted, set to dry, and hung the next morning. Finding a way to secure them was a learning curve: nylon string snapped and plastic boards behind were too sharp. Garden poles from Homebase were just the ticket. If you're in Charlotte Square, make sure to check them out. Alasdair Gray's is especially marvellous.

Otherwise, very jealous hearing stories about last night's The Moth event. Stories in the Spiegeltent are the talk of the site.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

James Tait Black (out)

Friday brought poetry riches: Jen Hadfield, Aonghas MacNeacail and Liz Lochhead united their considerable forces to help celebrate the 25th year of the Scottish Poetry Library. Each read some of their own work, and some of the work of past presidents of the library: stars in the starry sky that is Scottish poetry. I may be biased, but the many people drifting out with beatific smiles upon their faces aren't. Also, a new favourite poem discovered! 'The Alban Goes Out: 1939' by Naomi Mitchison read wonderfully by Jen Hadfield.

Pitstop: mint choc chip ice cream with a flake. The sun was shining.

The evening brought the James Tait Black Awards ceremony. Though I wasn't able to be there in person, a friend played roving reporter, for which thanks... The normal format is, that after acknowledging the often tipsy postgraduate reading panel, the two judges, professors of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, give their summaries of the five nominees in fiction and biography – enlivened with some chat by the chair – and a winner in each category is announced. This year, although the formula was followed, the event was chaotic and rather special, thanks to the almost total failure of lighting and sound systems across the site.

The audience – and the judges – sat in the dark, as Ian Rankin fumbled with his notes, producing a small torch. ‘In Edinburgh, we do things the hard way’, he announced. Almost immediately, the audience found themselves liberated; a vocal fan of a biography of Humphrey Carpenter yelled ‘Go Sheila’ when the nomination was announced. Soon after, another, less pleased audience member complained of an inability to hear Rankin’s conversation with biography judge Laura Marcus. Explaining that everyone was doing the best they could, Rankin kindly invited those who couldn’t hear to move to the front or, indeed, to leave, at which spontaneous applause was heard from several quarters. From that point, the event only grew more anarchic. Michael Holroyd’s moving reading from his winning biography of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry became, in the dark, almost magical. The audience was enraptured to hear of Irving’s final performances, in 1905, as Tennyson’s Thomas Beckett. Holroyd paced the stage as he detailed the story of a man slowly dying on stage, and a number of readers with little previous interest in theatrical biography were unaccountably moved.

As the announcement of fiction nominees began, Rankin questioned whether Andrew Crumey pronounced his name ‘Croomey’ or ‘Crummy’, and was loudly corrected from the audience, presumably by the man himself. Injokes with the more esteemed members of the audience grew thick: Mohammed Hanif’s ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’ was announced as ‘a wonderfully McCall Smithian title, as we must now call them’, while the increasing hoarseness of Rankin and fiction judge Colin Nicholson only added to the joy the audience was now feeling. Fiction winner Sebastian Barry invoked a hotline to previous winner Arnold Bennett, calling the James Tait Black ‘an award of magic, a sort of sympathetic magic’. Barry’s reading was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening. Sentences into a passage from ‘The Secret Scripture’, he suddenly yelled ‘Jeezus, give me the light’, and Rankin spent the next few minutes perched over Barry’s shoulder with his torch. Barry’s enthusiasm, coupled with Rankin’s lighting acrobatics, must have few parallels on the main theatre stage. As Rankin said at the end of the evening, everyone, once in his or her life, should get the chance to be in a two-hander by Beckett.

And if there is a magic – sympathetic or otherwise – to the book festival, this is it. What could have been a simple catalogue of names and titles became something much more, a chance to recapture those experiences of listening to a storyteller in the dark. The audience was – largely – delighted: the show went on, and as we tumbled out into the evening dull, we knew we had had something reawakened, the sheer primacy of the word.

Friday, 21 August 2009

2009 Audio Events now available

We've just added 6 audio events from the first few days, with more to follow over the next couple of days. This year you can download the files to your mp3 player or computer to listen to when you want.

The first authors featured are
Garrison Keillor, Cornelia Funke, Tom Kitchin, Emmanuel Jal, Carol Ann Duffy and Kate Atkinson.

Web stats say Cornelia Funke is the most popular so far today!

A reminder we'll be adding podcasts soon so you can subscribe to our 2009 events on the
iTunes Music Store by clicking that link.

Party time... Excellent!

Thursday night in the square saw not one but two parties (is there such a thing as too much bubbly?) - the launch of the Scotland on Sunday's Headshook (Hachette) in the afore-mentioned number 5, and EIBF founder Jenny Brown's knees up for agents and publishers in the Party Pavilion. Headshook is a handsome anthology of commissioned pieces challenging some of the nation's finest writers to envisage Scotland's future, featuring the scribblings of a veritable dream team, including William McIlvanney, Liz Lochhead, Alasdair Gray and Kathleen Jamie, to name but 4 of 24. In his speech, Scotland on Sunday's deputy editor Kenny Farquharson told the tale of two scrawny 18 year olds rocking up to McIlvanney's house to borrow £50 to start a literary magazine. They were himself and Ali Smith, and, McIlvanney mused aloud, they still owe him the money...

Skipping over the road to give wonderful press officer Claudia some chat, I stuck my brass neck into the publishers' party. It was in full swing and bustling with many industry types shooting the breeze and eating smoked salmon. It was press pod fodder of lentils and stolen crisps for me thereafter (I think they were The Property of General Frances Sutton, press manager extraordinaire. I better watch my back...), as Claudia filled me in on all the day's details while waiting for the Culture Show crew to wrap for the evening. There was also time for the taking of a loving linger round the book shop. Too many wants, not enough funds, one can but dream of bending one's plastic till the heart's content and one's bank balance isnae...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Michael Russell's Selected Works and Other Stories

On a night fit for Heathcliff and Cathy, a troupe of us decamped from the Scottish Poetry Library in the Canongate for Minister for Culture Michael Russell's Selected Works in the Studio Theatre. Hardly a hardship, as jobs go! We got there nice and early and pitched a spot outside the LRB signing tent, where we had tea and cake (not like us at all!) and watched the people watch the pigeons watch the crumbs go by. It was nice to see so much jollity despite the weather: the book selling team were having a high old time; Sean, erstwhile of the EIBF security boys, is about to leave these wind swept climes to teach English in Azerbaijan (good luck, Sean!) and Neil Gaiman's signing queue really did go on for ages.

Selected Works is like Desert Island Discs, except the audience hears about poems, not music, and SPL director Robyn Marsack replaces Kirsty Young. Michael Russell admitted that he often uses bits of poems in his speeches, and that it was really important in his life. Music to SPL ears! His selection began with Tennyson, ended with Alastair Reid and took in Neruda, Eliot, Akhmatova and very much alive poet Jim Carruth, who agreed to read his poem aloud after a pre-event glass of wine with the Minister. We also learned the circumstances of Sorley MacLean's Collected Works being published by Carcanet: he told Robyn to come round and pick up the manuscript. She obliged, only to find him collecting the poems, quite literally, from various parts of the room, floor, desk... There are some he never did find.

Afterwards, it was over to the Spiegeltent, jooking fat rain drops (the indefatigable Claudine Quinn of the Children's Activity Corner lent her eye to the above photo), where a busy house were being entertained by Phillip Contini's Neapolitan love songs (here's the
full playlist of the Spiegeltent players, if you'd like to plan ahead), then a little half pint and a little dander home. If only Kate Bush had appeared singing about wild and windy moors, a great night would've been a perfect one...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It's buzzing

It's positively buzzing here in Charlotte Square Gardens. Photographer Chris Close has been taking pictures of authors every day - whoever is here and willing - and hangs them in the Gardens for all to see. It's already shaping up to be a wonderful exhibition of literary faces in all their detail and day by day the number on display grows (see photos). We already have two of the maddest book signings under our belt: Darren Shan's lasted so long we had to move him and his hundreds of young fans (mainly boys) to different venues three times so as not to have a clash of signings in our signing tent and Neil Gaiman's stretched our queue managing skills to the limit! And we still have plenty of challenges coming up it being still the first week of the festival.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Selling books to John Calder

To our left is the vision that sends shivers down the spine of Ian Rankin. As he stood to welcome us all to 5 Charlotte Square, former home of 4th Marquess of Bute John Crichton-Stuart and neighbouring building of Alex Salmond's Bute House at number 6, (you should see the ceiling) for the launch event and party of Crimespotting: An Edinburgh Crime Collection, (Birlinn) thrown by Edinburgh Napier University, he revealed that this is the map on his dentist's ceiling.

This collection contains specially commissioned crime stories inspired by the city of Edinburgh ('a city the size of a town that feels like a village' said Rankin), and 'right and proper it is too, given that Scotland is becoming the IBM, Microsoft and Apple' of the crime writing world. In a swirl of canapes involving mini chicken, coriander naan and homemade strawberry and cream shortcake, I learned that when Rankin chaired Swedish crime maestro Henning Mankell at the EIBF many moons ago, only 12 people were in attendance. I also had the honour of selling a book to the legendary publisher John Calder while filling in for Birlinn's Kenny at the book stall.

Speaking of people called Ian, at Iain Banks' event immediately preceding this party, he was asked what it feels like to be a writer who straddles sci fi and fiction and he replied with this useful summary: sometimes you make a table, sometimes a chair, sometimes even a 'tair' or a 'chable'. But you are, after all is said and done, still a furniture maker. He also told a packed out Main Theatre about his upcoming title Transitions, spoke about his writing process and why you shouldn't write an entire novel under the influence of fine malt whisky.

In other news, Carol Ann Duffy obliged in signing an onion for bookseller James' daughter. If you haven't read her poem 'Valentine', you will be out of the loop here, but that gives you a lovely excuse to read it.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Now you can post on Flickr

We've just added a Flickr gallery for the Book Festival, if you are around Charlotte Square gardens with your digital camera or mobile phone this August, submit your favourite images (using Add to set in Flickr) and we'll add them in. The address you will need is To get things started I took a couple of images in the author's yurt this morning, since most visitors to the Book Festival don't get inside...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Hissing cockroaches & rubber faces

Yesterday was great fun! With 18,000 visitors to the gardens we were kept busy all day. A number of events proved particularly memorable: children in the Exotic Creatures with Sharon Tregenza event were thrilled to be able to handle a four foot python, a Mexican red-kneed tarantula, hissing cockroaches and a giant millipede, courtesy of Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World. Posh Josh - a brand new Beano character - was created by the excited audience of The Beano event. Look out for the cheeky chappy in October as he makes his debut in the Minnie the Minx comic strip.

Despite hearing Emmanuel Jal’s tragic story of his brutal childhood as a Sudanese child soldier, his audience left uplifted after dancing in the aisles to an impromptu performance of his peace-promoting hip hop. As Peg mentioned earlier Garrison Keillor proved yet again that he is the consummate raconteur, keeping his audience amused with both tales of bizarre small-town American characters and his not inconsiderable rubber face! (See below.)

Today saw my wee baby nephew wreak havoc in his Rhymetime event. Getting up on stage to perform when not invited and pulling the hair of other babies’ mums is just not on - that’s the last time he’ll be allowed into an event. So much to look forward to for the rest of us though!

Opening party!

Tradition dictates that the first Saturday night at the EIBF is party night, and so it was! The Highland Park Spiegeltent was creaky with the weight of the many party people who came from far and wide. Susan Rice welcomed everyone and toasted the opening of another three weeks of literary shenanigans in the dramatically lit garden of Charlotte Square, before handing over to this year's guest director Richard Holloway to declare the party started. Five piece electric band Rosy Blue kicked up with a rousing mix of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll while people quaffed curious concoctions of whisky, ginger ale and lime and nibbled at pakora, samosas and dips.

Despite the rising winds, the terrace was as busy as the inviting velvety-red interior. The chatter revolved around Carol Ann Duffy's powerful reading earlier in the evening; how Garrison Keillor's event put a smile on the face that lasted all day, all the more thrilling for his arriving on stage laden with luggage having nearly missed it due to flight troubles. Someone enjoyed the mild stushy between Lyn Gardner and Ruth Wishart over feminism, and recommended film-goers to see the film of Lyn's book, with screenplay by Nick Hornby, due in November. Fashion wise, there was more than one kilt and a fabulous blue cardigan; an unnamed source was heard to remark upon the pleasingly high numbers of attractive women wearing red.

Among the revellers were contemporary Scottish ladies' man Alan Bissett, sci-fi writer Ken MacLeod, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, novelist Ewan Morrison and poet Emily Ballou (who missed her train and was preparing to taxi home to Glasgow to make dinner for Hilda Doolittle. Hilda is 14 years old, and Emily's dog). By far the most intriguing line of the evening goes to this snippet, surreptitiously uttered: 'And of course, she spent her whole life not being able to tell A SOUL'. A novel born, perhaps... People danced. The wind caroused with the trees. The rain stayed away and the fireworks burst over George Street to the delighted noises people reserve for fireworks just as the party-goers started to totter home, tipsy with anticipation of what the next three weeks could bring.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Wet but riding high

The gates have finally opened for the 2009 Edinburgh International Book Festival and although it's a little wet, we're certainly not down. We invited the Soweto Gospel Choir, so full of life and colour, to sing in the first of the many visitors through the gates - and what a performance! Such a big and wonderful noise they make, filling Charlotte Square Gardens with the kind of joyful sounds that bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. Despite the profusion of waterproofs and wellies on site this morning, we're riding high and looking forward to what's to come - Ruth Padel's sold-out event is already underway as are no less than five events for children; Kate Atkinson will be on later this morning and Carlos Ruiz Zafon this afternoon. Actually there are about forty-two events today but a list here would be ridiculous - you'll just have to look them all up on the website! And 17 days still to go. The sun WILL shine on us - we feel it in our bones!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Down the rabbithole

So it’s opening day tomorrow - and once again I feel that marvellous annual sense of anticipation, and pride, that has been building for the last few weeks, reaching a crescendo. As a board member I’m several stages removed from the nitty gritty of hard hats and tent poles, sound checks and sandwiches, but the email traffic hots up, there are more phone calls and the excitement seems to leak out of the gardens till the air is thrumming between Charlotte Square and Dunkeld, where I live. I know the tented village is ready – a literary souk, bristling with pleasures, treasures and surprises – and I can’t wait to disappear into it, like Alice down her rabbithole, a parallel universe of the utmost benignity. It’s the highlight of my year, and every summer I look forward to plugging myself into this huge, extraordinary generator that charges my batteries and nourishes me for the year ahead. Roll on Saturday!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Site build well underway

It's so nearly festival time - not long to go now for the Book Festival starts on the 15th. The city is gearing up too, just holding its breath for the first of the many festival shows to start - any minute now for the Fringe. Our site build in Charlotte Square Gardens is already well underway and the sun is still shining on us. The crew are very happy about that as you can imagine! And here they are laying out the floor of the RBS Main Theatre.

Not wanting to be sitting in the office in such good weather and rather jealous of those on site (although not so envious of all that heavy lifting), we at Book Festival HQ dropped in to take a few pics.

Trucks, poles, panels, rope, fenceposts, grass and even some tents. It's amazing to think that in just a week or so there will be 8 fully equipped venues up and running, a press pod, an authors' yurt, 2 bookshops, a signing tent, cafes, bars, a Spiegeltent, walkways and awnings.