Wrapping Up the 2011 Edinburgh International Book Festival

30 10 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival LogoEdinburgh International Book Festival closed its doors to the public for another year. And now that we’ve all had time to reverse levitate back to earth from the euphoria that went with another hugely successful festival, I think now’s as good a time as any to look back at the highlights of August in Charlotte Square.

As I write this, the white tents are being dismantled by the workmen and new grass is being readied for a fresh layer to see it through whatever a Scottish autumn and winter can throw at it. The smell around the Square is awful after all the mud churned up with the several days of heavy rain, but the magic still hovers as do the many great memories.

Events Galore
The morning of Saturday 13th August seems so very far away already. So much happened in such a short space of time that it’s almost impossible to take it all in while it’s happening, and only through a certain amount of retrospective analysis can it fully be absorbed.

It was a very wide ranging festival for me as I attended 58 separate events through fiction, poetry, biography, political, historical, religious and cultural themes. My total attendances comprised thus:

  • 40 author events
  • 11 Ten at Tens3 debates
  • 1 full day workshop
  • 1 lecture
  • 1 play
  • 1 award ceremony

I also attended half a dozen or so Story Shop readings and a couple of Unbound events in the evening. Only 13 of the events I attended were through the free Press facilities, i.e., I paid my way and supported the Festival.

Pauline Black's Photoshoot with Book Festival Photographer Chris CloseTop 10 Memorable Moments
I had many, many highlights during the festival. Having now had enough time to contemplate them all and reminisce, I can reveal that for me, the cream of the crop were the following:

  1. Alasdair Gray was a brilliant way to start the 2011 book festival with Glasgow’s favourite artist, as he led us through his life and in his new book, A Life in Pictures.
  2. The day long novel writing workshop with Caroline Dunford was money well spent and I made a few new friends into the bargain.
  3. Finally meeting my great writing pal, Diane Parkin, who travelled up from England to spend a few days at the book festival.
  4. Robin Robertson’s hour in the Spiegeltent was packed with gripping poetry that was so moving, even Nick Barley admitted over Twitter to shedding a tear.
  5. Tobias Wolff’s surprise appearance at a free Ten at Ten event, which I was lucky enough to catch.
  6. Managing to bag a ticket to one of the hottest events of the festival: Neil Gaiman’s appearance at the Guardian Book Club.
  7. Pauline Black agreeing to me photographing her staged photo shoot with Chris Close.
  8. Meeting Shereen Nanjiani in the Press Pod. I used to have *such* a crush on her!
  9. The fantastic hour of literary entertainment and laddish nonsense during the Alan Bissett and Doug Johnstone event. I’d love to share a beer with these guys.
  10. Michael Scheuer and his views on the CIA and the American war on terror, so controversial that one bloke couldn’t handle it and had to be ejected.

Amazing People
I was lucky to meet some amazing people over the 17 days of the festival, either through the blogging network, other authors, pure chance, or through my media credentials. However it happened, I’d like to say a huge thanks to all of the following that helped make my Edinburgh Book Festival go with such a BANG!

Inside the Perss PodAuthors
Diane Parkin (author, journalist, long-time friend – website)
Caroline Dunford (author, journalist, awesome tutor – website)
Tina Finch and Andy Corelli from Siege Perilous
JF Derry (author, academic – website)
Pauline Black (for being such a great sport during her photo call)

Journalists
Michael MacLeod (Guardian Blogger)
Francesca Panetta (Guardian Audio)
Charlotte Higgins (Guardian Culture)
Shereen Nanjiani (STV)
Kirsty Wark (BBC)

Press Team
Frances Sutton
Esme (sorry, never got your surname :-(  )
Harrison “Harry” Kelly

Bookie People
Rob Burdock (blogger – RobAroundBooks)
Lizzie Siddall (blogger – Lizzy’s Literary Life)
Janette Currie (blogger – Book Rambler)
Vanessa from the Edinburgh Bookshop
Colin Fraser (ANON Poetry and official @edbookfest tweeter)

Photographers
Chris Close (official site photographer – website)
Chris Scott (another official photographer – website)
The few Press photographers that came and went in the press tent that took time to chat

Technical Console in the RBS Main TentBehind the Scenes
Of course, none of the above could have been possible without the many behind the scenes staff that work at the book festival. One of the things I quickly learned when I received my media accreditation, was the amount of work that actually goes into making the festival run smoothly day by day.

To the visitor, more often than not the experience of attending the book festival is a pleasant one. I never tire of hearing the many compliments paid to the staff and how they are always so nice and polite, and how amazing it is that they carry out their work with permanent smiles on their faces, and a glow that tells how much they actually enjoy working there—and who wouldn’t, right?

But there are others, too, that make the festival run smoothly, people who you don’t often see but without whom, none of it would come off at all. There are the assistants like Fiona Rae who set each tent up as required for the next event, the staff that sit by the technical consoles like Izzy hour after hour to make sure the tents are powered and the microphones work, the staff in the box office like Hanna Wright who sit day by day answering queries and selling tickets. There are the administrative staff in the back office, photographers like Chris Close, and the press team managed by Frances Sutton, all of whom work long days but somehow manage to keep smiling and do all they can to keep the media people happy.

Charlotte Square - The Edinburgh International Book FestivalAnd so this next section is dedicated to all of these people. I took the liberty of interviewing a small selection of staff for this article and you can find what they had to say in the podcast link at the end.

Everyone who visited, worked at, or was a guest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival owes a massive thanks to all of these people and all of their colleagues for making it all run so smoothly.

The Colin Galbraith Podcast

Ep.2: Wrapping up the 2011 Edinburgh Book Festival





West Port Book Festival: David Gaffney and Hannah McGill

17 10 2011

WPBF Event: Hannah McGillPeter Bell’s Books was the venue for Sunday’s Short Story Hour. Reading first was Review Show regular, critic and writer, Hannah McGill. Her fiction is a delicately balanced mix of poetic phrases and story telling; you find yourself drawn into her reading.

Coming across as more nervous in front of the closely-packed twenty people as when I’ve seen on television, she nevertheless delivered her reading expertly and without question.

Also reading was David Gaffney, the superb author of flash and longer fiction books such as Sawn-Off Tales and Aromabingo, and the author of the newly available, The Half-Life of Songs.

WPBF Event: David GaffneyGaffney’s fiction is engaging and striking from the start—it has to be as most of the stories he deals with are around 150 words long—but it’s his ability to capture the nuances of human nature in every day situations, to tell a fully plotted story or deliver a funny tale with such an acute turn of phrase, that makes his brand of fiction stand out.

Immediately engaging with his audience as he read from Sawn-Off Tales, he showed why he is an expert at delivering great live readings to back up the excellent books he writes.

Related Links
www.davidgaffney.org
www.peterbell.net





West Port Book Festival: Rob Shearman

17 10 2011

WPBF Event: Rob ShearmanShearman’s event was held in the very nice surroundings of a brand new bookshop in Edinburgh, Pulp Fiction, specialising in genre fiction. Shearman, who is most famous for writing the “Dalek” episode of Doctor Who, is more widely regarded by those in the know as an accomplished fiction writer.

He comes across as a very friendly and welcoming chap, who delivered a superb reading of a short story called Coming in to Land, complete with rolling pitches, comical and tension loaded pauses, and a sense of a real connection with his small, but attentive audience.

Expertly guided through his interview with Stuart Kelly of The Scotsman, Shearman admitted that he regards his Doctor Who connection as the difference “when people ask me if they know anything I’ve written. In the past they never used to, now I get to say well, yes, actually.” Yet despite his awards, he still regards himself and his acting as “stunningly mediocre”, something his audience generally disagreed with.

Pulp Fiction, apart from being perfect in the sense it’s a genre fiction bookshop, is also a splendid bookshop in its own right. There’s no stuffiness, it has an honesty about it, and the owners are very friendly to boot; a fresh and welcome addition to West Port’s growing collection of bookshops if ever it was needed.

Related Links
www.robertshearman.net
www.pulp-books.com





West Port Book Festival: Emily Dodd

14 10 2011

WPBF Event: Emily Dodd

Emily Dodd entertained a full house in West Port’s Edinburgh Books last night, with her own unique brand of poetry and song.

Through tales of insomnia as a child, to Percy the Puffin, meeting The Queen, and the amazing things that can be done with a banana skin and one’s knee, Dodd pushed the boundaries of children’s entertainment into the adult world, “so often lost in the ability to retain innocence through curiosity”, and even had the enchanted audience hooting like owls and neighing like horses.

It was a highly entertaining hour with one of the country’s fastest rising stars. Not only is she a working freelance writer, digital editor, presenter and educator, but her first book, Banana me Beautiful came out in July 2011 as an ebook, with the paperback following in January 2012.

She has also produced short films and podcasts for SCCIP, Changeworks, Greener Leith and the City of Edinburgh Council, and currently has a children’s TV series idea under pilot with BBC Scotland’s CBeebies production company.

Engaging and entertaining to an audience of all ages, it was as she recalled the week when she was due to be presented to The Queen at the Scottish Seabird Centre, but at the same had a suspected case of swine flu, did the evening provide most drama.

The future looks bright for Emily Dodd.

Related Links
http://auntyemily.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/bananamebeautiful
www.edinburghbooks.net
www.westportbookfestival.org
Click here to purchase Banana me Beautiful





Portobello Book Festival: From Ideas to Page

10 10 2011

A Day at the Portobello Book FestivalIn the Sunday morning event at Portobello Library, a small group of writers from all across the literary spectrum with various levels of experience, gathered to listen to the advice and musings of three members at different stages of the publishing cycle.

The panel consisted of Marianne Paget, a local author, most recently involved in the City of Literature’s Story Shop. Allan Guthrie, a well known crime writer, shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger and winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year in 2007. He also acts as a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates. And finally, Francis Bickmore, editorial director of Canongate Books in Edinburgh.

Each panelist came armed with advice and tips for writers, new and experienced, on how one might make that elusive breakthrough, whether it’s an agent that’s needed or a publisher, self-publishing advice, the advantages and disadvantages of being published traditionally, what editors and agents look for in a writer, and bags of other tips.

Paget, complete with handouts on organisations that can help budding new writers, talked through her experiences to date and the path she has followed to achieve her successes so far.

Guthrie’s five minutes consisted of the five vital questions all writers should ask themselves to ascertain whether they “need a publisher or an agent”, or if a career in self-publishing might suit more. The questions were designed to give positive answers, providing the author answered them honestly. They’re hard-hitting, but in the hard world of publishing, the answers this writer came up with were very revealing indeed.

The final “five minute slot” (it went on much longer) came from Francis Bickmore, the newly promoted editorial director of the internationally respected Canongate Books. His advice also revolved around a series of points that all writers should take strong heed of.

His views were remarkably enlightening, particularly on the importance of having great blurbs as opposed to synopses, that a writer should “write what you don’t know” as opposed to the general understanding that a writer should write what they do.

He continued with a series of brilliant points to consider, such as: “submissions should be properly researched, not the actual book”, that the author should “be the artist and the gallery agent” and should “find his or her community”. He also said it was vital to “give out but don’t give up”, and perhaps the most memorable piece of advice to a man in my position: “hair shines with brushing”.

The Q&A session could have gone on much longer, but one thing that stuck out was the reality of the publishing industry today in the form of a very simple statistic. On why publishers like Canongate spread their bets through different genres, and through the publication of high profile celebrities like Katie Price, it comes down to simple survival and the 85/15 rule.

When you understand that “85% of a publisher’s money comes from 15% of their books,” you start to see why the publishing industry as a whole is so risk averse.

Kudos to the organisers of this event and the whole of the Portobello Book Festival. Hopefully next year I’ll get to spend more time there as it has a vibe and energy all of its own.





The Edinburgh Literary Salon

28 09 2011

A Night at the Edinburgh Literary Salon

The Literary Salon is a monthly event run by Edinburgh City of Literature. Held on the last Tuesday of each month (apart from August), it aims to bring together writer, poets, agents, publishers, bloggers, bookshop owners and all other kinds of bookie people under the one roof to socialize in an informal manner.

And guess what? It works.

Held in Edinburgh’s centrally located Wash Bar, last night’s gathering was my first. The theme of the evening was that of graphic novels but it varies each month and there is no restriction on what anyone can talk about.

The first person I spotted on walking through the door into a packed pub, was Darwin in Scotland author JF Derry. He was in conversation with Ian Rankin and two graphic novel authors. I said hello to everyone but graphic novels aren’t really my thing so I struggled to get into it.

I spoke to Ian Rankin for a bit, sharing a couple of jokes, and discussing Twitter and the intricacies of posting URLs to it, then got talking to a lady about a myriad of topics including social media, books, the book festival and writing. It was only when I write out my name sticker we were all supposed to have on, that we realized who each other were—we’ve been swapping tweets for a while—it was @lillylyle!

The topic of how small the literary and artistic communities are in Edinburgh came up all over the place as I met a few other people in the same vein. Ali Bowden, the Director of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, came over and said hi. She knew my name and thought we’d previously met but I was pretty sure we hadn’t. I think she maybe recognised me from my book festival blogging exploits but we got interrupted so I never managed to finish the conversation to find out.

Ian Rankin photograph copyright © Scott Hunter
Image: Copyright © Scott Hunter

I saw an old face from my old writing group back in the day: Andrew Stott had popped in and despite not recognising me at first (me!), we caught up with the all the gossip from the old group and what we’ve both been working on since we last met.

I’d taken the time to check out Chris Scott’s online portfolio after this year’s book fest, as he’s one of the official photographers often to be seen scouting around for shots of authors in and around the tents. His work is really good and he does a lot within the literature community in Edinburgh, so when I bumped into him I asked him about some of it. Remarkably, he’s still a student although his work doesn’t reflect it.

JF Derry, who had been working around the room in the other direction to me, came back around and we got another pint in. He introduced me to Peggy Hughes from the Scottish Poetry Library. Peggy is also the person who created the West Port Book Festival, and so you can now expect me to be writing a blog or two from there when it kicks off mid-October.

I finished the night by sharing another pint with Derry. We covered a wide range of topics including, but not restricted to, publishing, writing (where we want both to be with it), the influence of higher status authors on us, parenting and travelling.

By the time I left, my head was buzzing. It was a great night and well worth being there, and I get the feeling that my first experience of the salon was a typical one for many. It attracts, and is supported by, authors and literary people from all levels, but in the salon everyone is equal.

wash barThere is no star-studded autograph hunters or people openly pitching work, just a widening of a social network with a professional theme over a couple of drinks.

Outwith the book festival, some authors can find it a struggle to find ways of interacting with other writers and people in the industry on such a basis, so the literary salon is perfect. I’d recommend any writer wanting to meet other writers and people in the business should get along.

Information on the Literary Salon can be found here:
www.cityofliterature.com/litsalon

The City of Literature can be found here: www.cityofliterature.com





EBS Event: Alistair Darling

20 09 2011

EBS Event: Alistair DarlingAlistair Darling was in town last night to promote his new book, Back From the Brink, “a first-hand account of the (economic) crisis of 2007, and a fascinating view of life inside the Downing Street bubble and of Gordon Brown’s premiership”.

Darling, current MP for Edinburgh South West, was at the centre of the crash as then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last night he was a guest of the Edinburgh Bookshop in an event held in Christ Church, Morningside, where he was grilled by ex-Newsnight and BBC Radio 4 World at One producer, Eleanor Updale.

Despite early sound problems with the Church’s flagging p.a. system, the event turned into a fascinating session as Darling recounted the crux matter of his book, managing the economic crash of 2007.

Eleanor Updale, who ended up doing the interview while standing alongside Darling, looked somewhat uncomfortable but the shift seemed to give Darling a comfortable platform from which to shine. “I’m very reluctant to get in pool-pit, though,” he joked.

Suave, tanned, and with a shiny head of soft silver hair, Darling spoke honestly and plainly about his time in the British Cabinet. Still clearly passionate about politics, and seemingly with much to offer the country, he came across very likeable and at times quite camp in his delivery of his answers to Updale’s forthright yet subtle questioning.

“I took out a bank account with the RBS 40 years ago and watched as it grew to be one of the world’s biggest banks,” he began. “So to be told it was within hours from closing, and that by mid-afternoon the ATMs would be switched off and the economy literally shut down, wasn’t really the best phone call I ever took at 5am.”

“The chain effect from Northern Rock’s exposure to the American banking system was inevitable given the intertwined and complicated worldwide banking system,” explained Darling. “Unfortunately more people say they saw it coming these days then they did at the time,” he said. “But the truth was nobody saw it coming. We got used to living in a culture that led to it.”

The crash led to the biggest government bail out in a century, the controversy being that tax payers’ money was used to achieve it. Darling insists the country will get its money back, but while lightly joking that “I’d written some largish cheques in my time…” admitted it was no laughing matter when faced with the dilemma of public revulsion, against the prospect of watching the country grind to a halt.

“The way to deal with a problem like that is not to sit and hope something turns up, you have to act. I believe the decision we took was the right one.”

On the problems still continuing today, which Darling predicts may still last another few years, he also admitted: “A year ago I would have said it to be unlikely that Greece would default, but now it’s a question of how badly it will be when it does.”

Back from the Bring by Alistair DarlingDarling opened up to his failings with equal humility as his highlights, lacking in any form of visible arrogance rarely seen in politicians these days. Perhaps now he has been knocked off the top, we as an audience were prepared to be less critical of him than if her were the incumbent Chancellor.

With a strong sense of underlying loyalty, despite why the newspapers may have reflected (or perhaps through vivid memories of the experience), Darling refused to rip into ex-prime minister Gordon Brown as many would have hoped. Among his many plaudits for the man: “The G20 would never have happened if it weren’t for him.”

Pragmatic about Labour’s election defeat, he said: “the system isn’t broken because we lost; we lost because we lost. I didn’t like the result, obviously, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working. The Conservatives didn’t win it either, which is why they had to form a coalition but that still doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been right to hold on. Not all my colleagues agreed with my assessment, though.”

On his future career Darling was more vague. As MP for Edinburgh South West, he hinted that he hopes to still be in a job after the Electoral Commission changes the constituency boundaries in which Edinburgh will lose one seat. But he finished an entertaining by saying of his career: “I’ll see what happens. There’s something to be said for not making a decision unless you have to.”