Wednesday, 29 August 2012

346 days to go

August 2012 watched two hundred thousand people fall in literary love with eight hundred authors.

Michael Morpurgo sang ‘Only Remembered’, unaccompanied. Jackie Kay stood up and by way of introduction said “I'm from Scotland and I'm a lesbian”. David Walliams made four hundred kids fire questions at him. Chris Riddell drew a monster in the middle of the Gardens. Val McDermid dressed up as a pirate. Jeremy Paxman admitted he can't dance. John McCarthy told us how to laugh when you're locked away without sunlight. Neil Gaiman rolled about on the walkway. Michael Palin did the Bolt pose. John Sampson made everyone sing. Ali Smith caused two journalists to throw away their pens and just listen.

That's about 1% of what caused a mass outbreak of glee and awe this month in Charlotte Square Gardens.

I'm loathe to say what I'm about to say, because it seems obvious to the point of being hackneyed. But I'm going to say it anyway, because it's the truth: my highlight of the 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival was the World Writers' Conference. The keynote speeches were astounding, and I've never known a Book Festival venue to be so alive. There were guffaws, swearing, hissing, cries of “hear hear!”, and a philosophical quandary the size of a small planet. Actually there were a few of those.

If you're one of the Writers' Conference delegates and you're reading this, please know that your mind is bloomin' delicious and I would like to eat it. (If that's okay with you.)

The Book Festival would not simply whip itself out from under us like a tablecloth and leave us shivering. It's left plenty of stuff for us to be getting on with. The memories, yes, and the books, and the autograph you got Jeanette Winterson to scribble on your left hip (admit it) – but there's also all this:

Video & audio recordings
Five video recordings of some of the biggest events from this year's Book Festival, along with a plethora of audio recordings, will become available – completely free of charge – in the Book Festival media gallery over the next few weeks. So if you weren't in Edinburgh this August, you won't miss out after all.

Writers' Conference
This was just the beginning. The biting intellectuality of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference events will continue, starting with the Berlin International Literature Festival next week and then moving on to sixteen countries around the globe. Keep an eye on the Writers' Conference website for videos and updates. And continue the debates on Twitter with hashtag #worldwritersconf

The Book Festival's very own book packed with brand new writing on the subject of “Elsewhere” will be available in shops soon. You can read the pieces (by a great range of writers, from Theresa Breslin to A L Kennedy) on the website; and listen to many of them being read out by the authors themselves.

The Anobii First Book Award
A celebration of debut novelists, the Anobii First Book Award gives us – the readers – forty six nominees to choose from. Which new book really awed you? Voting closes at 4.30pm on Friday the 12th of October 2012.

The next Edinburgh International Book Festival programme will be announced in June 2013. Charlotte Square Gardens will open its gates once more to the book-loving public on Saturday the 10th of August 2013.

This is me signing off. If you've been reading – thank you! For tolerating my silliness and my strange punctuation, and for taking part in the social media side of the Book Festival, which has been just as triumphant as the grassy bits.

I'm tempted to finish on a stream of mushy adjectives. But instead I'll finish with a quote from John Calder (Writers' Conference founder, and supporter of the Book Festival long before it was even conceived). He stood up during the debate on the future of the novel and said this:

"Literature is art.

As long as there is life, there will be art". 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Day 18

A 9-year-old boy planning out his career as a novelist with help from a Book Festival author; a trio of girls squealing at writer Jacqueline Wilson as if she were Justin Beiber; a group of school kids sitting on the grass with their noses buried in freshly-bought books.

Those were just some of the scenes from this month in Charlotte Square Gardens. We have nothing to fear from the future of literature – the youngest generation of book fans will make sure no page goes unturned. Or indeed unwritten.

By the way, I'm not just venting randomly. Today was the Schools Gala day at the Book Festival, which meant a full day of events just for schoolkids. We had Julia Donaldson and Tom Pow, Theresa Breslin and Joan Lingard, many other talented and good-spirited contributors, and loads of bunting and balloons (which of course meant a number of helium-voices over the radios). All of it added a great party atmosphere to the sun-filled Gardens.

Oh, and there were about a zillion Where's Wallys.

Where's Wa- THERE HE IS.

I'll post one last time here on the blog tomorrow with m'final thoughts on this year's record-breaking Book Festival, but, for now, it's time to fold up the deckchairs, take down the tents, pull up the walkways, pack up the books, and sweep up all the sleeping authors.

Day 17

Okay so I didn't go to eight events at the Book Festival today. I went to nine. Oho that's right. I've spent hours (sleepily) boasting about it and have been reliably informed that it's a Book Festival record. Allow me to boast some more by telling you about my day.

10:00 Ten at Ten. These have been consistently good-quality little events every morning at the Book Festival, and they ended this year on a high. Samkela Stamper read from her poetry and diary with contagious gusto.

10:15 Deborah Levy & Gwendoline Riley. Two powerful authors with a captivating way with words. There's something exciting about an author reading from their own works, and this event was a perfect example of that. Author readings have been among my favourite moments this August.

11:30 Kathy Lette. Kathy began her event with a mini highland fling! And it only got better from there. Full of outrageous true stories (from keeping Julian Assange in her attic to kissing Prince Harry on the lips), Kathy fused moving insights into her character's (and son's) autism, with laugh-out-loud humour.

14:00 Tom Bullough & Jane Sullivan. It's inspiring when speakers can work a small venue to great effect. Tom gripped the audience with tales of the deaf protagonist in his latest novel, and Jane shared the thinking and history behind her remarkable book about little people.

15:30 Harriet Walter. “We never tell older people that they're beautiful”, said Harriet. “So I went up to her and told her”. Harriet earned the adoration of a large audience as she shared her photography project celebrating the beauty of the older woman.

17:00 Robert Macfarlane. This was a motivating event about walking through landscape, and thinking as you do so. Robert is possibly the most instinctively articulate author I've heard at the Book Festival this year; and that's really, really saying something.

18:30 James Meek. This novelist writes about love as few others can; meticulously and without restraint. In his event this evening he gave us an insight into how, and why.

20:00 John McCarthy. Famously, John McCarthy is the BBC journalist who spent five years as a captive in Lebanon. He spent that whole time without a glimpse of sunlight. Tonight he gave a personal, fascinating account of his experience. It wasn't a surprise that the event was moving – but it was a surprise that it was hilarious. An absolutely extraordinary hour. Furthermore, it was the inaugural Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture at the Book Festival, celebrating the life of the late Frederick Hood, a young Charlotte Square-based investment manager who had a profound impact on those around him. Tonight, Hood's father presented John McCarthy with a Frederick-inspired fedora hat as a thank you and a memento.

21:00 Unbound. The Book Festival's late-night series of events has been a joy and – as ever – a phenomenal success. Sending it out on a high for another year was comedian Sian Bevan and the talented winners of Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award. Lots of interaction, lots of brilliant readings, and LOTS of laughs.

The 2012 Edinburgh International Book Festival has come to an end for another year. But let us not mourn! Let us look back and sigh with great – and happily smug – contentment. And, of course, let us look forward. The Book Festival is getting better every year – so imagine what 2013 is going to be like.

Incidentally, it's not really the end of the Book Festival for this year...

Tomorrow is School Gala Day; a whole day in Charlotte Square Gardens open only to schools. So I'll report back to you tomorrow, and then – maybe – we can start thinking about closure...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Day 16

My discoveries on the penultimate day of this year's Book Festival.

Alistair McIntosh was sharing his views on Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day' recently, and although he was as eloquent as ever, he didn't dare use certain words he was keen to utilise. But as he said today, where better than the Book Festival to use words like “epistemological” and “ontological”? As Alistair says, “at the Book Festival you're not only likely to understand what those words mean; you're likely to buy me a drink for using them”.

Gavin Esler today chaired an event on the value of the environment, and he mentions sitting in an plane the other day (tut tut), musing over how many people deny climate change, when suddenly, as if in answer to the question as to to whether climate change is a real issue, the heavens opened up and flooding at Heathrow delayed his flight for over three hours.

Masha Gessen has written a book on Vladimir Putin ('The Man Without a Face'), uncovering some startling facts – but she has never met or even seen the subject of her book. This is because she is the first Russian journalist to be blacklisted by Russian authorities.

Struan Stevenson has sounded his support for politically-motivated Russian punk band Pussy Riot. In his words, their controversial anti-Putin protest was courageous, and the orthodox church was the ideal place to hold it. It may be easy to turn your nose up at support from the likes of Paul McCartney and Madonna, but Struan praises their participation as similarly brave and worthwhile and encourages others to add their voices.

Have you been enjoying the pre- and post-event music in the Book Festival venues? I discovered today that the selection is thanks to Spanish DJ José Padilla of Café del Mar, who has had a great influence on those who choose the Book Festival music.

Will Self today admitted to fleeting to the States in an attempt to escape the Olympics. His efforts were completely successful; except at one point when he was approached in a gas station by an enthusiastic Olympics fan who said; “isn't Bradley Wiggins fantastic?” To which Will Self replied; “who?”

This evening Nick Papadimitriou shared that he had a fairly troubled childhood, and as a boy would play truant from school for weeks at a time. He would “inhabit wastelands”, lighting a fire to keep himself warm, and sometimes building a little shack to sleep in until it was time to join the other children in their walk home at the end of the school day.

So, tomorrow is the la... the las...

No, I can't say it. I won't say it.

Suffice to say, I'm planning on going to eight Book Festival events tomorrow.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Day 15

Lots of discoveries from Day 15 at the Book Festival.

Look! There on the left! It's Horace the Haggis. He's from Sally Magnusson's children's book, and he's been wandering happily around the Book Festival today with great aplomb. Black & White Publishing have put together an enjoyable little collage of Horace's day out in Charlotte Square Gardens.

As Chris Hoy is normally a blur, it's difficult to hold him still and check if it's really him, but – yes – it's been confirmed – that was the Olympic champion himself visiting the Book Festival. He was watching his great uncle Andy Coogan's (left) event this evening.

Jeremy Paxman confesses he couldn't dance to save his life. Not that he was expected to dance in his event today. But he did mention he was once out with some Anglo-Indian people who were doing the jive (as in the ballroom dance style), and when complimented they said sincerely that they “got their natural rhythm from the British”. The audience laughed for about five minutes when Paxman told us this.

You've seen – or at least heard of – the Lewis Chessmen, but have you noticed how utterly despondent they look? 'Horrid Henry' author Francesca Simon has, and today she shared her theory as to why they are so gloomy. They're real people, frozen and shrunk. You'd be at least a little bit frowny if that happened to you.

Censorship has been a sizzling hot topic at the Book Festival this year, and this morning Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reminded us that she herself was censored by Britain's biggest exam board back when (as she puts it) “Meryl Streep was Prime Minister”. Carol Ann Duffy's 'Education for Leisure' was thought to be a potential provoker of knife crime in schools.
I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of some knife-wielding teenage hoodlum being influenced by a poem.

The other day, Nile Rodgers persuasively re-branded the Book Festival “The World, In Words (& Music)”. From the talented trills of M J McCarthy, to the veritably touching song of Michael Morpurgo (left), to the eclectic mix of musicians that have performed at Unbound over the last couple of weeks, the Book Festival has enjoyed a truly successful soundtrack this year. And it's wonderful what music can do. Just today, woodwind musician John Sampson had a packed audience bent double with laughter, and he didn't have to say a word.

Oh go on then. Let's admit it. Let's admit it so we can embrace it. It's been raining – a lot. The humming of rain on the tents, the whisper of drizzle on the green grass – it's all been damply atmospheric. And what do Book Festival fans do in the rain? We sip hot coffee in the Signing Tent, stretch out in the Bookshop – oh, and laze around on the deckchairs in the rain, of course. Preferably with an ice cream.

Day 14 and a half

Here are a few recommendations for the next (and final!) few days of the Book Festival.

Tonight (Saturday 25th)

Have you read 'The Woman Who Died a Lot'? Jasper Fforde has, because he wrote it. And as you can tell by the title, this is a writer full of humour and intrigue and brilliantly unexpected quirks. But you already know that. Come to his event at 8.30PM in the ScottishPower Studio Theatre this evening and you'll know it even more.

Tonight at 9.30PM in the the RBS Main Theatre, the prince of pronunciation himself will be talking about his new novel 'Umbrella' and the implications therein. If you're not going to this event, go and sit in the corner and have a long hard think about your life. And then go to the event.

Tomorrow (Sunday 26th)

There has been a fair bit of buzz on Twitter about this event, so I'll say it again: Susannah Clapp's event at 3.30PM in the ScottishPower Studio Theatre looks to be very interesting indeed. And not only that, but moving. Susannah will be discussing her novel about the great Angela Carter, with whom she was close friends.

He was a stand-up comedian, and now he writes crime fiction. That's what we at the Book Festival call a very, very, very promising event. He's on at 4.30PM in the RBS Main Theatre. Prepare to make all manner of intrigued noises.

The day after tomorrow (Monday 27th)

A powerful, likeable author with a remarkable novel. And there's two of them. In the same room. At the same time. To take full advantage of this fact, see you at 10.15AM in the famously atmospheric Guardian Spiegeltent.

A crime writer with intelligence, with passion, and with a brilliant character that's really getting people talking. This character, DCI Banks, recently starred in a four-part series on ITV, and is now back in book form with a vengeance. 7PM in the ScottishPower Studio Theatre.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Day 14

Today's discoveries!

Today I met a lady who'd visited the Book Festival annually for thirteen years! I also met a 12-year-old boy who'd been to the Book Festival every year of his entire life. A born fan, then. Both attest that it gets better by the year. They'd know.

In an event this afternoon, chair Rodge Glass was schooled by (a beautifully playful) Howard Jacobson on what authors he's allowed to say he enjoys. And the rule, apparently, is this: if you're chairing an event at the Book Festival, you are permitted only to adore the books of the author you're interviewing, and no other. Unless the other authors you're referring to are dead. That's allowed.

Time for quite an immature discovery. You may have seen the “Hopes of a Nation” board in the children's bookshop. It's full of sweet and inspiring thoughts from the kids that contribute to it. But take that same insightful child and put it with a group of its schoolmates, and what do you get? “Books are gay”. Ahh, hopes of a nation indeed!

Our Book Festival authors have some enjoyably unexpected backgrounds, and the list grows day by day. Politicians, artists, priests, police officers, chefs, film-makers, teachers, scientists, athletes, an Islamic fundamentalist, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. See if you can guess who's who.

Howard Jacobson today spoke of a bittersweet honour. His work is packed with references to how the novel is failing and how literature is under-appreciated.

Unfortunately, in 2010 'The Finkler Question' won the Man Booker prize.

This ruined his point completely.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Day 13

First, a couple of discoveries.

When the bookshop staff came into the signing tent, they found that the Ian McEwan books – ready for his events today and yesterday – had mysteriously arranged themselves into artful stacks. Further investigation confirmed that this was the work of the warehouse staff, who delivered the books to the signing tent and happened to be in a particularly arty mood.

Mark Haddon, author of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time', confessed today that he believes himself to be a fairly poor writer by nature. He says his first drafts are awful. What he is, however, is a very good “editor”. It takes him endless drafts to reach the glowing quality we enjoy in his books. He explains that the process is like combing a very dirty Afghan Hound. It starts off a mess, but gradually gets smoother and tidier and more beautiful until it's quite pristine.

Recently I got my hands on four tickets to Susannah Clapp at the Book Festival, so I can brandish them gleefully as a prize to the winner of... a Book Festival caption competition!

There are so many impressed “hmm!” noises at Chris Close's portraits around Charlotte Square Gardens that it's like having a bee stuck in your ear. Today I picked out one of my favourites, and am opening it your captions. Tomorrow, Chris himself will help me pick the winner.

Susannah Clapp's event is this Sunday the 26th at 3.30PM. She has penned a remarkable book on the late Angela Carter, one of the most influential artists of the last fifty years. Susannah will be discussing her book and her moving, fascinating meetings with Carter.

As if that wasn't a tempting enough prize, the event is sponsored by the Folio Society, a company renowned for its beautiful and creative cover designs. And for its generosity, which means – yes that's right – goody bags. Expect free book vouchers and other such treats.

So, on with the picture!

This is Chris' photograph of Professors Frank Close and Peter Higgs (as in Higgs boson).

You can contribute your captions on Twitter (with hashtag #edbookfestcomp) or here in the comments section. If you do use the comments section, please leave your full name or/and email address.

This competition will close at 12 noon tomorrow (Friday)!

Good luck!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Day 12

My discoveries for the day...

The last time Adam Thorpe was in the Spiegeltent he was doing an event with Hilary Mantel (left), who was writing 'Wolf Hall' at the time. Adam asked her what she was working on, and she said it was a novel about Thomas Cromwell. “Oh”, Adam remembers saying sarcastically; “that'll go down well”.

The rest is history.

Given that Charlotte Square Gardens is slap bang in the middle of Scotland's capital city (which, in turn, is slap bang in the middle of festival season), noise from the outside world sometimes slips into the ambiance of the theatres. But this has always been dealt with to great effect in the events I've been to. Danny Wallace said of the rainstorm - “I have angered Thor”. Adam Thorpe said of the sirens - “I specifically asked for these sound effects”. When a plane flew very low over the Gardens, Stuart Kelly remarked - “you'll always remember you were at the Book Festival the day war broke out”. And, the other day, when a group of girls were heard squealing outside the Main Theatre, an audience member leaned over and said to me “crikey, you'd think Jacqueline Wilson was out there or something”. Sure enough, when I went outside, there was Jacqueline Wilson herself, talking animatedly to a group of eager fans. What a lucky guess.

Claire Kilroy's gothic novel, 'The Devil I Know', was not supposed to be gothic. But while she was writing it, the Irish economic situation was dominating the news, which she heard through the radio. “ATMs will freeze, hospitals will close. Go buy some tin peaches because it might be the last meal you have in a while”. And, before she knew it, her writing was reflecting that looming asperity.

Each day at the Book Festival has been jam-packed with authors performing readings of their work, be them funny, moving, haunting, inspiring, or all of the above. But next time you hear a reading, make sure you bring the original text along... because Karen Campbell has confessed to occasionally self-editing as she reads out her work to an audience! I wonder if any other Book Festival authors do this. Let's keep a very sharp eye out. And if you catch someone doing it, heckle! Loudly.


(I said don't!)