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.