Ten at Ten: Tracey S. Rosenberg

28 08 2011

Tracey S RosenbergThis morning’s free Ten at Ten was a remarkable vignette of historical fiction, that proved as inspiring to readers as much as it did for aspiring authors.

Tracey S. Rosenberg read an extract from her debut novel, The Girl in the Bunker, with rays of confidence and talent, but her story is unique in that she is an ex-employee of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

“It’s great to be here as the local girl that did good,” she joked with her early Sunday morning audience, before launching into a ten minute long, polished performance.

Author Event: Adam Levin

27 08 2011

Adam Levin

A very disappointing 19 people showed up at the RBS Corner Theatre for this event to showcase an exciting new talent from America: Adam Levin. For those that missed it, all I can say is you missed an absolute treat!

Not only is Levin a superb talker but he is very funny both when reading from his new novel, The Instructions, and when answering the questions put to him by chair, Stuart Kelly.

“It took me nine years to write,” explains the Chicago author. “I write every day but ended up deleting most of it then re-writing what was left to death.”

Levin doesn’t feel like he belongs to any particular movement of contemporary writers in America, and proved this by getting Kelly out of his seat to demonstrate the mechanics of a “Penny Gun”, and how to get an audience of any size out of their seats and running for cover!

Born Jewish, the intricacies of what that means right down to the construction of the word itself was analysed, because through the protagonist of his 1000 page masterpiece, he has addressed some of the issues he feels close to “I’ve tried to define it to an extent,” he said, “but much of it is done through comedy, dark comedy, slapstick really.” Levin cited Woody Allen as inspiration for him in that respect.

Given the time it took him to write The Instructions, Levin promised his next work wouldn’t be quite so long in coming. “It’s a collection of short stories,” he said, “but I recently got a pet and have become quite intrigued about what cute things mean to us, for example, when you say things like: ‘you’re so cute I wanna eat you’—that’s something I think I want to explore.

As they say, what this space, only watch it closely.

Author Event: Denise Mina

27 08 2011

Denise MinaDenise Mina’s crime fiction seems to be going from strength to strength. As the the only female and only Scot on the Golden Dagger shortlist, she continually raises the bar of contemporary crime fiction in the UK.

“Crime fiction is reflecting society just now the way literary novels just aren’t these days,” she said, by way of trying to explain why the genre was still proving so popular. “Real life isn’t what turns readers on, they want something extra.”

With each question asked Mina wandered off on tangents and jokes that only served to warm the audience more to her personality. It was almost as though she was talking to you personally, a rare thing for any author to achieve in a room full of fans.

Continuing on her obsession with crime, her home town of Glasgow inevitably came up. “There’s a lot of inter-personal violence in Glasgow, it’s apparently now the crime capital of Europe. But then, nobody buys crime fiction about people stealing stamps.”

There was good news for her fans too, as she revealed that her novel Garnethill is with HBO at the moment. “But then again, I live in really big house now because of all the people that have optioned it. It’s been sold about 8 times!”

When pressed how much she wanted Garnethill or any of her books to be made into films, she replied :”To be honest, I don’t know if I want it I be made; it’s my baby and I don’t want them television people to fuck it up.”

One Swedish fan in the audience who praised the translations of her novels, prompted Mina to state that “translators don’t get the credit they deserve.”

And on the merry-go-round that is almost compulsory for any successful crime writer, Mina said: “Crime writers are supposed to think about sales all the time, but the ones I enjoy most write for one person: themselves.”

Finishing up, Mina recalled the best line she ever wrote when an old university friend reintroduced herself in the audience. “Theory is nice bit it can’t stop things from existing.” It was the high point of my Thesis,” she joked.

Author Event: Alan Bissett and Doug Johnstone

26 08 2011

Alan Bissett and Doug Johnstone

As is now fast becoming the norm for any event involving Alan Bissett at the book festival, the audience at this latest shindig along with Doug Johnstone left with sore bellies and cheeks from an hour of laughter.

Bissett is a force of nature, managing to capture the essence of youthful humour and couple it with adult, mature themes that he addresses through his fiction. And with Johnstone, a worthy partner in their double act, we have two authors who fit together like two proverbial peas in the same pod.

Both authors began the proceedings by reading from their latest works: Bissett from Pack Men and Johnstone from Smokeheads. Johnstone’s reading was rich and vibrant, allowing the audience to follow the story and be pulled immediately into a fascinating world in the highlands that is brimming with adventure and disaster for the protagonists. Bissett didn’t so much read his but perform it, as he read from the moment in Manchester in 2008 just prior to Rangers fans going on the rampage at the UEFA Cup Final.

On Bissett’s attempt to record the events of that fateful night through fiction, he said: “Although a novel may be based on reality, there are layers of fiction that go on top that change it to something else,” and that unless there’s risk in a book what’s the point in writing it?” referring to the fact that the sensitivity of one half of the Old Firm may be pricked by his novel.

Johnstone’s book comes from a different source altogether, in that he writes for himself first and foremost. “I write because I don’t see the world I live in reflected in any of the fiction I read.”

Throughout the event both authors parried and pattered, providing much entertainment as they pushed open the barriers that both men faced in bringing both of these novels into the public domain.

The best question of the festival came from a lady in the audience who asked both authors what their worst criminal act was. Johnstone admitted to having taking drugs, pee’d in a public pace and to have been cautioned by a police officer while a student. Bissett then shocked everyone by coming clean to having a habit of eating four Weetabixes from a bowl at any one time. “It’s not a crime!” he pleaded.

A hilarious night from two very talented writers, I’ll be picking up copies of both of their books before the end of the week.

Author Event: Louise Welsh

25 08 2011

Louise WelshLouise Welsh wrote in the query letter for her first book that, “my favourite novelists are Robert Louis Stevenson, Muriel Spark and William Burroughs.” It was enough to make her agent sit up and pay attention then, and to this day it’s this remarkable taste in authors that provides the unique mix that gives the special author that we now have in Louise Welsh.

Reading from her new novel – still a wip – she enthralled the lucky audience that had come to see her with a glimpse of the novel to come.

Her new book looks as though it’s going to be as hard to pigeon the as the others. “Most people feel happy to read genre fiction fiction,” she said. “I’m happy to be read on the top deck of a bus.”

And her new novel, she assures us, “will force us to examine where our own prejudices lie.” It’s powerful stuff from one of Scotland’s highest impact writers. “I’m a storyteller and nothing else really. I like strong characters, strong narration and a great plot.”

So how does Welsh create such memorable and well-rounded characters in her novels? “I always look backwards to see where a story has come from. A book will be in my head for up to two years so I have a clear view of them all, what they wear, talk like, etc.”

As for what genre she’s writing in, it’s the least planned element of her writing. “When I sit down to write, I don’t worry about genre. I think about plot and characters.”

Welsh took time to look back on the positive effect her previous career as a second hand book dealer may have had on her work, and it appears to have given her an amount of perspective: “Our lives are similar to those of books; we’re here and then we’re not.”

When asked about her thoughts on McIlvanney’s recent comments about being unable to find an English publisher, Welsh said: “It’s not my perception there is any Scottish prejudice from English publishers. I think Scottish literature is on the up and I hope in the near future we will hear more from Polish or Asian writers in Scotland. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Author Event: James Robertson

25 08 2011

James RobertsonA packed RBS Main Tent welcomed Scottish author James Robertson into its bosom this evening, to be interviewed by cult Scottish author, Irvine Welsh.

Robertson began with a reading from an intense passage from his new novel, And The Land Lay Still, a passage which immediately pricked up my ears when he explained it was about mining disaster.

Set in 1950, it had been inspired by the Knockshinnoch mining disaster in which 13 men died in 1950, after they attempted a new method of drilling out from the shaft. Unfortunately they drilled into a peat bog, which then flooded and the ground collapsed in on them trapping the 108 miners underneath.

Robertson’s reading was intense and clear, evoking vivid images of what Scotland was and wasn’t at that time. Next to Welsh who was chairing, who isn’t perhaps known as being the greatest orator in the world, but who hosted the event admirably, Robertson put most Scottish authors public reading skills to shame.

Robertson explained that he “always thought there was a great modern Scottish novel to be told through fiction, that couldn’t necessarily be found in the history books.” That said, however, he also admitted that “it was extremely hard to write this kind of book because of the balance that must be achieved between fact and fiction.”

Moving the discussion into the here and now, he said: “When does now become history? The poll tax is history to anyone under the age of 21. History happens really quickly.”

But the romance of any Scottish chat especially given the type of novel written by Robertson, inevitably turned back to the landscape. “The wild land of Scotland still resonates deeply with people,” he said. “Its fascinating the pull places where you can actually touch the land have on us.”

As far as identity goes it’s a massive question for any Scot looking at the separation from England right up until devolution a decade ago. “I believe we Scots,” he said in closing to a mesmerised audience, “we’re much more conscious of our Scottishness than we were 30 years ago.”

As to what “Scottishness” actually means, he wouldn’t be drawn.

Author Event: Ian Rankin

23 08 2011

Ian RankinThe scene was set for Rankin’s first of two main appearances at this year’s book festival, as first the Rolling Stones followed by John Martyn’s Solid Air, accompanied his arrival in a packed RBS Main Tent.

He explained that as well as the song being key to his Desert Island Discs choice some years ago, the song actually meant much more to him in that it was always the first song he played—on vinyl—when he moved into a new house.

As far as his most famous literary creation goes, his music tastes used to differ to that of Inspector Rebus. “Rebus used to be a jazz fan,” said Rankin, “until John Harvey came along. I soon realised that by making Rebus a fan of what I liked, I could research it further and build a music collection that was tax deductible,” he joked.

Rankin wrote his new novel, The Impossible Dead, in the first two months of this year but it won’t see publication until October 13th. “All I have is this dust jacket,” he said, holding one up. “The title wasn’t my first choice but the publisher’s liked it.”

Talking a bit more about his writing process, he explained that he is a firm news junkie: “I read several newspapers a day and always have the news on, and it’s from this that stories just keep leaping out at me.” With that, he briefly held up a newspaper cutting that he said had provided the inspiration for the new book, but later refused to divulge any more about what the book was about. “It’s about jugglers going mad in Belarus,” he joked.

Rankin’s latest novel was written in the public spotlight through Twitter in January and February. His followers were able to accompany him on the highs and lows as the novel developed, and he is believed to be the first top author to open the door in such a way. “As well as it being a kind of diary,” he explained, “it also highlighted to me that my life is actually quite mundane—it’s not all glamour like people are inclined to think—but in my head it’s a fairground ride.”

He continued: “I don’t see the point in being a full time writer if you have to spend your whole time writing,” referring to the amount of procrastinating that became visible through the Twittersphere.

Turning his attention to the greater body of his work, Rankin admitted to still getting a buzz from opening the jiffy bag to be able to hold the first physical copy of any novel he has written. When asked by Richard Havers what he does then he replied: “I usually go to the pub.”

And of his success as a crime writer, Rankin also admitted that he wishes his parents had lived to see past the first few published books, and to have enjoyed his success. “It would have been good to show them that it is possible to make a career from making stuff up.”

Author Event: Esther Freud

23 08 2011

Esther Freud

Daughter of Lucian and granddaughter of Sigmund, Esther Freud’s name is synonymous the world over with brains and intelligence; it’s not something she feels is as much of an issue in the UK as it is on mainland Europe though, but nevertheless she admitted to feeling happy to be experiencing the freedom that the people in the UK offer her.

At the book festival she came to promote hew new novel, her seventh since she made the switch from acting to novelist, Lucky Break. It was a move she made after a career in acting that saw her rejected from acting school, “but then acting is all about rejection—it comes with the industry just as it does in writing.” Later she added: “Failed actors often re-train and can be very successful in some cases, but a lot also tend to go into the healing industry.”

The move to writing finally came for Freud after her acting and writing partner qualified with an Equity Card and was soon off to America to make a film. Their acting company, Norfolk Broads, broke up and left Freud unsure how to progress, forcing her to face up to the fact that she would have to write alone for the first time in her life.

This was a real moment of epiphany for her, however, because it was during the writing of this first novel that Freud had her eyes opened. “I realised that I still wanted to tell stories, but to tell them in a different way.”

And just as with writers or artists that are obsessed with their work, be it a novel or a painter, Freud also came to the realisation that actors too are obsessed, “but because their art, their vehicle is their own bodies—hair, weight, shape, etc.—this obsession is often confused with narcissism,” a mistake that she regrets happening quite so often as it does.

Freud read a passage from her latest novel (it was such a good reading I would recommend her for any audio recordings of books), a book she says was very difficult to write after it was “rejected by my own husband,” she joked. “He said it wasn’t true to what acting was about, and sure enough when I re-read it, I could see that I had lost sight of what acting is about. So I re-wrote large chunks of it.”

Freud closed up with a statement that would appeal to actors and writers the world over, when she remarked: “Whatever way you approach it, writing a novel is hard work!”

Author Event: Linda Grant

23 08 2011

Linda Grant

Rush Wishart was in sparkling form again today as she interviewed Orange Prize for Fiction winner, Linda Grant about her new novel, We Had It So Good. While taking their seats on the RBS Main tent stage, Wishart quipped: “That’s the kind of handbag that doubles as a filing cabinet,” much to the amusement of the audience.

“We baby boomers were the generation that wasn’t supposed to grow up,” said Grant launching into the background to her new book. “We were supposed to stay young forever. In the period between adolescence and adulthood, we think we know who we are—know who the real us is.”

Grant’s reading consisted of a hilarious section about Ivan, an anarchist who is recommending that “LSD is an old-school drug because it takes so much time; 8 hours to do it then another two days to recover! How are you meant to fit anything else in round about that?”

But the larger issues surrounding Grant’s book were never far from being analysed. “Perhaps our parents’ lives were more interesting than we thought they were when we were growing up,” she said. “And at some level we certainly refer to their lives to see how far we’ve come in our own.”

Looking back fondly at the 60s and all it stood for, Grant commented that “the only revolution in the 60s worth its salt was feminism and we were responsible for that—the baby boomers.” When asked how she thought this political view sits with modern girls of the same age, Grant said: “Young girls often say to me that they can’t be bothered with feminism any more, and its not because we’ve done the job. So I say to them, do they really want to go back to the day when they had to get their husband’s signature so they can apply for their own credit card?”

In We Had It So Good, Grant is trying to capture what it is to be married today, to be in a marriage that is not one wanting to develop, but rather fighting to just keep it together. “What’s it like to be in a marriage that you need to hang onto for the love of the children?” she asks. “Besides, I wanted to explore other ideas—you can’t do sexual politics in every book.”

Grant tied up her fascinating hour with confirmation that there will be a sequel to this latest novel and that she is due to start work on it imminently. “The characters are going to be forced to face up to their difficulties,” she said with determination, “and want to follow that through.”

Author Event: A L Kennedy

21 08 2011

A L KennedyA L Kennedy
The RBS Main Tent and A L Kennedy appeared on stage a slight of her former self, confirming reports that she had indeed been very ill since the completion of her latest novel, The Blue Book – her first since the Costa winning novel, Day published in 2007.

Visibly not herself, she appeared rattled and offended after a woman in the audience left after only five minutes. Kennedy stopped her and asked if it was something she had done, to which the woman replied: “this wasn’t what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?” asked Kennedy, as the woman toddled off to the mutterings of a disgusted crowd, and leaving Kennedy unable to complete the first selected reading she had prepared.

She picked herself up, however, and before long was churning out jokes and sarcastic quips like the old days but even then these only came in patches. The main focus became political as she delved into the manipulation of the government, and it was a much quieter audience she held under her spell until Jamie Jauncey called an end to the event.