Saturday, 27 August 2011

Covers to covet

Here at the Book Festival we love books. Of course we do. But it’s not just what’s inside that matters - we think that some book covers are pretty special too. Here is a small selection of some of our favourite covers from books that have featured in the Festival this year.

Just my type

This year we have invited a number of guest bloggers to write about the Book Festival. Today’s post is Toni Freitas who came to see Simon Garfield. Toni is part of the ESRC Genomics Forum Writers team.

Do you know what your font choice says about you? Have you ever really thought what people might feel when they read a letter or email that you have typed without considering the font? Do you just use the default setting? Or have you carefully chosen your font?

On Friday 19 August the Edinburgh International Book Festival hosted Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type. You might think a presentation and discussion about fonts would be quite a geeky, specialist talk, but you would be wrong! Fonts influence our lives every day: every email, billboard, newspaper article, junk flier through your mail slot, and wedding invitation you read has used a font that, no matter how subconsciously, evokes an emotional response.

Simon gave a fantastic presentation, giving examples of the stories about fonts that he tells in his book. He even interviewed Sir Paul McCartney. What does Sir Paul have to do with fonts? Just think of that particularly long ‘T’ in the Beatles logo. And did choosing Gotham as THE font for his campaign get Barack Obama elected President? Read Just My Type for the full story.

This event made me really think about how much fonts influence our lives. You may not be able to name more than two or three fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, and Helvetica perhaps) but you will feel something when you see a font. How does this make you feel? For example, Comic Sans may be the most controversial and emotional of all. There are campaigns and documentaries about Comic Sans; many want to ban the font from the world, others think it is the greatest font out there. You can also take someone back in time by using fonts that are iconic of the 1920’s or the 1960’s or a Ye Olde English font.

Many of the world’s biggest brands have logos that don’t have any symbols, but rather an iconic font that is recognised by everyone. Just think Coca-Cola or Disney, or even Gap. I’m sure you can instantly conjure up what these logos/fonts look like. These companies and thousands more know how fonts can make people feel. You may be aware of the furore that Gap encountered when it tried to change its logo in October 2010. ‘Tried’ being the operative word; after only one week, the company ‘listened’ to the public, who resoundingly ridiculed the change, and reverted back to its original logo/font. Many companies have run into outcries due to font choice. The London 2012 Olympics is another one everyone loves to disparage. (It took me two days to figure out that the shapes in the background were supposed to read ‘2012’.)

More things I learned from Simon Garfield: do you know why the phrase ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ exists? It’s a pangram used by typesetters and font makers to display all the letters of the alphabet. Ironically, thanks to YouTube, there is now actually a video of that very thing happening.

But more than anything, I learned that fonts aren’t to be taken lightly. When writing anything, I certainly don’t want to choose a font that someone may find offensive, or even worse, boring! So do you have a favourite font? Or is that pull-down box at the top of your Word document gathering dust? Go on, you know you want to play around…And if those don’t satisfy your font craving then there are thousands of fonts out there on the internet just waiting to be downloaded.

If you were a font, what font would you be?

As the Events Manager at ESRC Genomics Forum, Toni Freitas is responsible for conferences, exhibitions, seminars, workshops and public lectures. Originally from Washington State, USA, Toni has a Masters in Creative Writing and has had several short stories and poems published.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The best of Asian literature showcased at the Book Festival

On Thursday the Book Festival hosted some of the best writers from Asia including Chinese authors Chan Koonchung and Bi Feiyu, as well as Tabish Khair and Manu Joseph from India. 

During his event in the Writer’s Retreat, Chan Koonchung reflected on the work of creatives in contemporary China, commenting that ‘many writers are able to work within the limits of censorship and produce very good novels’. He went on to describe how many journalists ‘rush the yellow light’ before alerting the red light of the state, particularly in journalism.

The author later answered questions about his novel The Fat Years. Set in China in the year 2013 at a time when one month of official records have gone missing, The Fat Years has not yet been officially published in mainland China, but it has been circulated as a PDF download for the past year or so, causing great interest amongst Chinese intellectuals. The author said that the English translation was 99.9% accurate from the original and praised his translator Michael S Duke for doing such a great job.

The topic of translation was discussed again in the Voices of Asian Literature event, with three authors shortlisted for this year’s Man Asian Literary Prize, including the winner Bi Feiyu. Indian author Manu Joseph, whose novel Serious Men was written in English, joked that ‘I have even been translated into American!’. The three authors discussed the influence of their mother tongues and traditional languages on their writing with chair and co-founder of Jaipur Literary Festival Namita Gokhale. Author of The Thing About Thugs, Tabish Khair described how his writing has been influenced by European literature, ‘especially Russian literature’. All three writers commented on the growing importance of Asian literature and the attention it is receiving through events such as the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Jaipur Literary Festival, which is part of the Word Alliance of literary festivals, along with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

This weekend the Book Festival will host China’s first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gao Xingjian who won the prize for his novel Soul Mountain, and Costa shortlisted writer Aatish Taseer who will be appearing in an event with Libyan novelist Hisham Matar

The Museum of Acquired Authors’ Artefacts

If you’ve visited the Book Festival signing tent in the last few days you may have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of our unique pop-up museum. Only one shelf in size, it was, for a brief time, home to a small but precious collection of author ephemera. Our photographer managed to capture it, before it was gone…

The entire collection - small but perfectly formed

Exhibit A: Sarah Brown's wine glass

Exhibit B: Arlene Phillips's herbal tea

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Debate: The future of culture

Our popular debate series looks at familiar things that we often take for granted but which are threatened by change. Our reporter Charlotte sat in on the recent debate exploring culture, and the challenges it faces in the future. 

The participants were:

Robert Levine – Author Free Ride
Sam Leith – Former Literary Editor of the Daily Telegraph
Claire Armitstead – The Guardian’s Literary Editor
Chaired by Stuart Kelly, Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday

The Chair, Stuart Kelly, opened the debate by declaring that the entire panel agreed that there was a future for culture. 

How will creators create?

Kicking off, Robert Levine examined the culture business, its rises and its declines. In the past ten years the music business has been cut by half and film budgets have suffered dramatically especially those of small and medium sized movies. Book budgets also are decreasing as are cable TV and newspapers. Whilst online distribution is growing, it doesn’t pay well and Levine doesn’t believe it ever will.
All of these declines won’t kill culture but will change it, says Levine. New emerging forms of culture include blogs and multi-level video games but he cautions against crowd sourcing as the only form of innovation. 

The internet as a cultural medium

When Sam Leith took up the debate baton he announced that the internet is the greatest and most powerful medium for the communication of culture. He also claimed that there is more entertainment and more entertaining entertainment (yep it was a mouth full!) than ever before, citing the example of printed books as objects of beauty which are becoming increasingly valuable and not competing against electronic reading devices.
Acknowledging that music was the first industry to experience the negative consequences of the internet, Leith continued by noting that the internet is helping to revive communal TV viewing through Twitter and reality TV shows. Multi-player games are spaces for people to be creative and 3D is the next big thing. The constraints of the 350 page book or the three minute pop song no longer exist and Leith believes that ‘culture will find a way’.

The role of the cultural critic

Claire Armitstead argued that all art is an act of transmission. She said that the critic lies between the reader and the buyer, and that whilst this hasn’t changed, there is a new model emerging. Young people have an expectation to receive culture for free, often downloading music and films for no fee, and many people who download material will then write short critiques on websites such as Rotten Tomatoes.
She described a new phenomenon in literary circles called fanfiction. These are websites where avid readers of fiction develop their own storylines for established characters, and fellow fanfic writers comment on the newly created storylines. Armistead believes we are the generation of the self educated, that criticism is art and will never go away. 

Questions from the floor
The questions from the floor generated some interesting discussion. Regarding the relationship between state funding and the production of art Robert Levine called for wider low-level investment in new artists, to help them grow into success stories. Whilst Claire Armitstead believes that poetry needs targeted funding.
One audience member asked if we would ever leave our homes again in search of culture. In response Leith noted that there has been a huge return to public performance citing the recent rise in book festivals and music bands touring.
Robert Levine later commented that whilst people can make niche art and get it to an audience through the internet, we may end up losing mass culture reference points in the future. Leith said ‘the internet connects us all, our experience of community is changing’ explaining that although you may not know the names of your neighbours, you may have Skype friends in South Korea who share your interests.
To close the debate Stuart Kelly asked the panel – if you could change one thing what would it be? Levine called for investment in creating awareness around the cost of creating culture – that just because something is available for free doesn’t mean that it was free to create. Leith asked for audiences to be more grateful, to enjoy what we have and not lament over what is missing. Whilst, Armitstead called for greater investment in the education of children, because they are the future of culture.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Nothing beats a nice cup of tea… and a beautiful surprise gift

Over the past few months a number of mysterious and beautiful paper sculptures crafted from the leaves of books have appeared at various literary locations across Edinburgh.

Today we were astonished to discover not one, but two of these wondrous creations in Charlotte Square Gardens.

One sculpture – a gift for the Book Festival
was found in our signing tent. Shaped like a tea cup and cup cake it bears the truism 'Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really great book'.


The other masterpiece appeared in our entrance tent and was left there for the lovely folk at Edinburgh City of Literature.


There has been much speculation about the origins of these beautiful creations. Despite the fact that the Book Festival was buzzing with people today, nobody witnessed the sculptures being left and so, for now at least, the mystery continues. All we do know is that we’re delighted to be the lucky recipient of such a unique and extraordinary gift.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A long lunch, with Simon Hoggart

Simon Hoggart is the Guardian's parliamentary sketchwriter. Last week he came to Edinburgh to talk about his memoir, A Long Lunch, which charts his career observing the daily workings of Westminster. We sent Charlotte along…

Originally Simon Hoggart wanted to call his new book Booze, but his clever wife persuaded him that A Long Lunch might be more apt. Revealing a passion for wine drinking, Simon recounted amusing stories with famous authors and politicians, often making fantastic impressions of his subjects. The audience lapped it up, responding with laughter and cheering woops at the saucier tales.

After university Hoggart became a journalist with the Guardian newspaper in Manchester before moving to their Irish base some years later. Following three years in Ireland he requested relocation to London and, in particular, to the politics department where he is today. Through his work he has met every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan. 

Delivered with impeccable comic timing, Hoggart spoke of many different amusing incidences, such as the time when prolific poet W H Auden sat in his family kitchen and discussed in detail the greatness of Kenwood mixers with his mother. 

Another anecdote was set at the Westminster press gallery Christmas party, where the children of journalists and from the nearby school were invited and the guest of honour was Margaret Thatcher. There was a young boy crying in the corner. The then Prime Minister asked the child what was wrong, to which the boy replied: ‘They’ve given me blancmange, and I don’t like blancmange.’ to which Thatcher responded: ‘That’s what parties are all about, eating food you don’t like.’.

When questions opened to the floor, Simon revealed that phone hacking is very wide spread, especially in the tabloids. He questioned if the MPs were using it as revenge for the expenses scandal and believes that it could eventually collapse the entire Murdoch empire as we know it. 

Hoggart ended the event with a detailed description of David Cameron’s bald spot, comparing it to a goujon of plaice from Marks and Spencer, much to the amusement of the audience.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Art and artifice

This year we have invited a number of guest bloggers to write about the Book Festival. Today’s post is by Pippa Goldschmidt who came to see Philip Ball. Pippa is part of the ESRC Genomics Forum Writers team.

I went to Philip Ball’s talk based on his book ‘Unnatural’, about the fears and myths provoked by the processes of creating life through assisted conception, such as IVF.

Ball listed eight myths of what he called ‘anthropoeia’, the art of making people, and showed how those myths are frequently based on anxieties about the nature of human identity itself. If we have dismissed the idea of a soul as a physical entity, then how do we define our so-called uniqueness? Where does humanity enter the scientific process?

There are of course different ways of ‘artificially’ creating life, probably a continuum from the low-tech turkey-baster approach, to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis; where embryos created by IVF are screened for genetic disorders. And different myths attach to different processes. Some relate to the anxieties about the process apparently replacing the ‘natural’ method, as articulated by the Catholic Church’s claim that artificial insemination turns the domestic home into a ‘biological laboratory’. Others are concerned about the genetic content of people created through these processes. If their DNA has been manipulated, are they real people? What is the status of clones?

It’s clear that literature has been one of the most powerful ways of rehearsing and expressing these fears, but often the literature is more nuanced that its popular representation. Countless media stories about IVF invoke Frankenstein, but Ball argued that the main message of the book is often lost; the Creature is at his most human and gentle when he is living near and interacting with humans. And the Scientist is at his most inhumane when he is isolated from other people. It’s in the immaterial relations with each other that our humanity exists, not in the chemical formulations of DNA, or the processes by which we are created.

Originally from London Pippa used to be an astronomer. Now with an MLitt in creative writing from Glasgow University she has had several short stories published. Much of her writing is inspired by science and she is currently writing a novel about a female astronomer. Visit her website for more information

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Backstage at the Book Festival: The Event Tent

Beyond the bookshops, the decking and the venue tents, there is a whole world of backstage nooks and corners that we use to keep the Festival running smoothly.

One of these spaces is known as the Event Tent, and it's the central hub of activity in Charlotte Square Gardens during Festival time. The Event Tent is the first tent to go up before the Festival site is built, and it’s the last to come down at the end. It’s where we keep much of the stuff we need for the daily running of the Festival (exciting things like ladders, tools and vacuum cleaners) and it’s also home to lots of us Festival staff when we're not busy looking after authors and customers elsewhere on site.

If you thought that working at the Book Festival was glamorous, take a peek at these exclusive pics of the Event Tent to get a glimpse of what it's really like...

The hot desks. We're not quite sure why they're called that, because they're in a tent in Scotland so never actually hot. They are however, conveniently located next to the window which is great for sneaking a look at passing authors whist checking your email (or writing a blog post).
The coat rail - essential for storing the variety of outdoor clothing required for working in the random Scottish weather.

Snacks! An Event Tent essential. (And not just any old snacks, but homemade snacks, our favourite kind.)

The relaxation corner. Notice how empty it is. Also, please take note of the beautiful artwork (by an anonymous artist) on the whiteboard to the right of the picture, drawn especially to match the furniture.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Silence goes faster backwards

This year we have invited a number of guest bloggers to write about the Book Festival. Today’s post is by Pippa Goldschmidt who came to see Tom McCarthy. Pippa is part of the ESRC Genomics Forum Writers team.

It seemed appropriate to go and listen to Tom McCarthy talk about Orpheus, the first poet, on the opening day of the festival. Actually, this was more of an audio-visual event than a straightforward talk. The author of the Man Booker Prize short-listed ‘C’ and founder of the semi-fictional International Necronautical Society showed clips from Cocteau’s film Orphée, as well as a video of Kraftwerk performing their song ‘Antenna’.

The Orpheus myth (one of the oldest of the Greek myths) tells how Orpheus was the first poet and musician, making the animals and trees dance to his music. After his wedding to Eurydice and her subsequent death, Orpheus goes down to Hades to fetch her back to the land of the living. He is allowed to do so, on condition that as he leads her away, he doesn’t turn back to see if she is following him (perhaps a reminder to him that he is not in control). But as they make their way up to the surface, Orpheus starts to doubt if Euridice is following him, and turns to look. That backward glance banishes her down to Hades, and Orpheus, having remorsefully foresaken all other women, is torn from limb to limb and his remains scattered over the land and sea.

So, according to McCarthy, what we do when we create poetry is gather up the pieces and broadcast them again in a never-ending cycle of reception and transmission. Even the word ‘broadcast’ has its roots in agricultural practice; it means the spreading of seed.

Cocteau’s Orphée shows the poet being inspired by listening to messages from the dead transmitted over the radio, illustrating McCarthy’s point that transmission and reception of poetry and literature are symmetrical events; the idea that writers create something out of thin air is more of a myth than the Orpheus story. Rilke’s writing  ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ in a single month is a classic example of the poet channelling rather than creating from a vacuum.

And, although McCarthy didn’t mention this, perhaps we also know this from physics. The same antenna can be used to transmit radio waves as well as receive them. A couple of years ago, the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, normally used to receive information from stars and galaxies, was used to transmit poems to the Moon.

At one point, the talk was interrupted by a deafening roar from planes overhead, taking part in the Tattoo. Pure noise, or pure transcendence; it seemed appropriate.

Originally from London Pippa used to be an astronomer. Now with an MLitt in creative writing from Glasgow University she has had several short stories published. Much of her writing is inspired by science and she is currently writing a novel about a female astronomer. Visit her website for more information

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Debate: The End of Money?

Our popular debate series looks at familiar things that we take for granted but which are threatened by change. Our reporter Charlotte sat in on Monday's debate which explored the theme of money

Globally, countries are experiencing troubling financial times; worryingly this includes the USA, UK, Greece and Italy. On Monday evening the Book Festival took the time to question the future of money in its current form, and if we may in fact be nearing the end of money. Esteemed Scotsman Executive Editor Bill Jamieson chaired the debate with participating authors Ian Morris, Stephen Armstrong and Julie Hill.

Money will be redundant
Ian Morris proposed that presently money has three main uses: the medium of exchange, a unit of account and a score of value. Morris, who wrote Why the West Rules-For Now, went on to argue that we won’t need money in the future because the human body is fusing with machinery. Soon we will all pay for things, communicate and even surf the web by a silicon chip implanted in our arm or head. According to Morris the Six Million Dollar Man has become a reality but will cost a lot more than six million dollars. The roles that money currently has will be redundant in the future.

Price is the problem
While Stephen Armstrong wasn’t particularly impressed with Morris’ argument he agreed it was a true vision in science fiction. According to Armstrong, who wrote The Super-Rich Shall Inherit the Earth, price is the issue, not money, and in particular the price of debt is a huge problem for America and the UK. Stephen urged us to move towards a dawn of thoughts exchange and said that in order to to reach this place without money we need to remove the current price differential. Armstrong commented: ‘The feral rich won’t pay taxes and the feral poor can’t pay taxes’.

An issue of resources
Julie Hill, famed for her book The Secret Life of Stuff, didn’t agree with either gentleman. Hill believes that so far we have failed to price resources, particularly the natural ones that underpin our economy. Looking towards the future Hill is concerned that there won’t be sufficient natural resources for basic sanitation and food for our ever-growing population by 2050, and questioned what money will mean to us if we don’t have the natural resources to provide the solution.

Questions from the floor
Encouraged by floor questions the panel went on to discuss many of the issues relating to the influence of money today, and how we could perhaps move towards an equal society. Armstrong advocated that there is often less trouble in countries with higher wages and suggested that to help us become more equal we could raise the present UK wage bill. Hill commented that, although the health and science of a country was often linked to income disparity, the fear of crime often strengthened relationships with many poor societies rating themselves very happy and content because of their solid family and social interactions. 

The audience questioned the role of corporations in the end of money. Ian Morris believed that corporations as we know them presently will disappear in the future because the huge engines of economic growth will not be needed when we have implanted silicon chips inside our bodies. Armstrong highlighted that we should be more concerned with private equity funds than corporations because they are wealthy investors that buy businesses cheap and sell them on for high profits. Additionally they help to finance political parties and don’t have to bow to public demands. Most importantly the private equity funds pay little or no tax which will not help debt reduction. 

So What does the end of money mean?
To end the debate a brave audience member asked the panel: ’What does the end of money mean?’ Ian Morris stated: ‘if technology continues to advance why would we need money if we are living on a super technology highway?’ and claimed that, in many ways, we are already there. When we buy things on our mobiles or the web money is moving from buyer to seller conceptually, not physically. Julie Hill believes that the implications of creating a cashless economy would be enormous.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Revolution Will be Followed by a Signing Session in the Adjacent Tent

This year we have invited a number of guest bloggers to write about the Book Festival. Today’s post is by Ken MacLeod who came to see Alan Warner. Ken is part of the ESRC Genomics Forum writers team.

This year's theme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival was decided last year. With what was described at the launch party as uncanny prescience, the theme was 'revolution'. There was a definite echo of that in the voice of the first author I heard on Saturday: Alan Warner, Edinburgh University's newly appointed Writer in Residence. Catchily if clunkily billed as 'Sopranos author does trainspotting', the event, chaired by Zoë Strachan, centred on Warner's reading from the MS of his forthcoming novel The Dead Man's Pedal. It's about a lad who by mistake becomes a trainee engine-driver on a West Highland railway line in 1973-74: a moment when Britain seemed to edge closer to a pre-revolutionary situation than at any time before or since - though not quite as close as some of Simon's more radical work-mates think, as they trade banter in the station hotel bar. Warner first came to prominence with Morvern Callar, which like his later The Sopranos and his current The Stars in the Bright Sky was hailed for its brilliant evocation of young female voices. In the section he read, the man from Oban showed a similar - and on the face of it less surprising - fluency with a range of male voices, from political badinage over a pint to pained recollection of war's absurd horror between swigs of the hard stuff. But catching the cadence of the industrial work-place, and indeed of working-class socialism, isn't as easy as it seems or as easy as it used to be - not that many have tried.

Answering questions from the chair and the audience, Warner explained that
The Dead Man's Pedal takes place in the same 'place of the imagination' as his other novels set in and around 'The Port', a town which is not quite Oban. The place has become so vivid over the years that on visiting Oban he now finds himself wrong-footed by his own imaginary geography. His approach to writing is not to attempt a 'perfectly crafted 220-page Booker novel' but - following his exemplars Beckett and Kelman - to give his characters scope and freedom to develop, to say their piece; and then to edit down the long manuscript that results. He begins on more than one novel at a time, and works until he knows which is the one that demands to be finished - for which approach he's thankful he has an understanding editor with a steady nerve. Asked why the sentences in his later novels were easier to understand than some of those in his first, Warner wasn't sure he agreed, but added that he'd found that writing doesn't get easier if, as he does, you set yourself harder challenges as you go along. This bracing directive was followed by a reading of a passage he said was as close to its real-life source as he could make it: an account by the narrator's (and Warner's) father of a grotesquely needless loss of four lives in an armoured car in an Italian ditch. This sobering account was lightened by the interruption of loud explosions, from the fireworks opening the evening's Military Tattoo.

'Eighty-eights' Warner said, cocking an ear. 'I'd recognise them anywhere.' Even the most realistic writing has to go beyond experience. 


Born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Ken has been a full time writer since 1997 authoring thirteen novels, including The Star Fraction (1995) and Intrusion (forthcoming, 2012), plus many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards. In 2009 he was a Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum. Learn more from Ken’s blog The Early Days of a Better Nation.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A celebration of new writing talent

One of the great things about the Book Festival is seeing all the fresh new writing talent that comes through the doors every year. There’s nothing better than discovering a great debut novel, or sitting in an event listening to a writer at the very start of their career and who might, just might, be the next famous face on the literary scene.  

This year is no exception. The programme is packed with great first novels, as well as some fantastic international works of fiction translated into English for the first time. To celebrate this profusion of new writing the Book Festival is once again running its award for new novelists – the Newton First Book Award – the winner of which is selected by a public vote. This year there are 47 titles up for the award. All 47 authors are appearing at the Festival and you can buy their books in the bookshop in Charlotte Square Gardens. So pick your favourite and place your vote online!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Festival has landed!

The 2011 Book Festival got under way yesterday morning and what a first day it was!

The gates opened at 9.30am when the book-loving masses flooded through the doors to be greeted by the exuberant sounds of the Edinburgh Samba School.

First up was the amazing Julia Donaldson who took to the stage with an entourage of musicians and colourful characters - much to the delight of the packed audience. And the high-spirits continued throughout the day.

Despite the seemingly-endless downpours of late, the day was thankfully (almost) rain free!

Here’s to the rest of the Festival, to lots more sunshine, and to tons and tons of lovely authors, books and events.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

How to build a Book Festival

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put the Book Festival site together in Charlotte Square Gardens?

 In addition to the work that goes on behind the scenes, programming, organising and promoting the Book Festival, there’s the not-so-small matter of building the site where it all takes place. It takes over two weeks to construct and furnish all of our venues, bookshops, spaces to eat and drink, the entrance tent and all of the walkways, as well as everything else required to keep our customers and authors comfortable and happy.

Watching the whole thing come together is quite magical. Photographer Chris Scott captured some of this magic with his camera, and he’s written a lovely blog piece about it.

Friday, 5 August 2011

What we’re reading… Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru

Here at Book Festival HQ we’re lucky enough to have every book in the programme at our disposal. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you some reviews of what us Book Festival folk have been reading. Today it’s the brand new Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru…
In this striking novel by Hari Kunzru, what at first appears to be a series of disparate and unrelated stories soon emerges as the unfolding history of a place; a specific spot in the Arizona desert which acts as some kind of bizarre conduit to another dimension. This is a magical landscape where anything seems possible, but where time leaves little trace of the secrets and stories that it might hold.
Reading it, you often feel like you are in the middle of one of Louis Theroux's 'Weird Weekends' complete with wacky tales of alien encounters, hippy cults, creepy military bases set up as fake Iraqi encampments and mythical stories of voyages into the ancient native Indian Land of the Dead, but what emerges from all these 'far out' scenarios is both a sense of how little we know for sure about things beyond ourselves and a deep sense of interconnectedness.
Despite taking place decades or even centuries apart, the characters jump between stories, appearing in another character's tale in a different guise or a different age and reminding us that no act that we commit is a single, unrelated event and that even the most seemingly random and insignificant encounters are in fact only part of a much bigger chain of being. 
The episodes are often told with humour and a tongue-in-cheek playfulness whilst challenging our beliefs, or perhaps rather our lack of belief. Only one thing remains certain and that is that we can never know anything for sure…

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What we’re reading… Jack and the Flumflum Tree by Julia Donaldson

Here at Book Festival HQ we’re lucky enough to have every book in the programme at our disposal. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you some reviews of what us Book Festival folk have been reading. Today it’s one for the kids - Jack and the Flumflum Tree written by Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson with illustrations by David Roberts…

The hero of the tale, Jack, is tasked with going to the Isle of Blowyernose to seek out the fruit of the Flumflum tree – the only cure for his Grandmother’s Moozles (she’s is covered in large purple spots – EEK!).  

Accompanied by his pals Stu and Rose, and equipped with a patchwork sack full of objects kindly donated by his Granny, Jack sets sail on the open sea to a schnozzle shaped island. Overcoming shark infested waters, a leaky boat, a man overboard with balloons, chewing gum and a skipping rope, the trio succeed in fetching the fruit and curing Granny.

Julia Donaldson’s humorous rhyming text deals deftly with courage, adventure and teamwork and is a delight to read aloud. I’m sure the refrain ‘“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” said Jack “Let’s have a look in the patchwork sack”’ will soon be a popular catchphrase for little ones and adults alike.

David Roberts’ illustration has a wonderful retro feel. From patchwork quilts to a rather fetching Fair Isle jumper, the pages are reminiscent of the homes of grandparents across the land. Bright sections of primary and complementary colours dominate the pages, along with wonderfully expressive human and animal characters. Don’t forget to try and spy the witty illustrative reference to one of Julia's other picture books. Clue: it rhymes with Buffalo…  

We are delighted that Julia is our Guest Selector for this year’s RBS Children’s Programme. She will be joining us on several occasions across the Festival period.