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)

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)

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


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:

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

Grand Finale: Alasdair Gray’s ‘The Comedy of Fleck’

30 08 2011

The Cast of ‘Fleck’As far as closing night finales go, it had it all: top names in Scottish literature performing a script written by one of our own living legends, that so delighted an audience thrilled to see the book festival go out on a high.

Narrated by Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead, we had Alasdair Gray as the meddling Satan (Nick), Will Self as Fleck, a failed chemistry professor to whom Nick promises unlimited wealth, power and sex, Aonghas MacNeacail as God, AL Kennedy as Fleck’s love interest, and other names such as Louise Welsh as May’s friend, Ian Rankin as a lawyer, Janice Galloway as an Earth Spirit, and Alan Bissett as a gangster!

It was a mixture of old-fashioned radio-play slapstick, Scottish pantomime and classic Gray; “It’s an odd piece” to quote Will Self in the Guardian, “but then everything Alasdair does is pretty odd.”

Fleck came to being as Gray’s attempt to imitate Goethe’s Faust but in a contemporary setting and time. He disliked the ending to Faust so much that he “wanted to wrench the story into his own vision,” and so for the 2011 book festival finale, we got the result.

The basis of the story is that Fleck becomes the pawn in a bet between God and Nick. The play moves between media and political commentary as well as a spot of satire in the delivery of Nick’s opinions on humanity.

There were some special moments during the performance, such as the sparks of humour between Will Self and AL Kennedy, a hilarious duo where words were often not requierd, their glances and chuckling more than enough to set the audience rolling.

A mobile phone rang out somewhere in the tent and Liz Lochhead, still perfectly narrating the play, reached into her handbag to retrieve her phone. It wasn’t hers, though. And right at the end, Aonghas MacNeacail spoke the wrong line, stealing one from Gray to his annoyance but to the hilarity of the audience.

Some wanted more from the night but for what it was, it was a rare treat to see. On a wider note, it’s good to see the festival marking such occasions with something special, albeit not to everyone’s taste, but nevertheless it’s one of the many examples of the impact that Nick Barley’s positive stewardship is having on the development of the festival.

A great night and a fitting end to what was a wonderful 17 days at the 2011 Edinburgh International Book Festival.

A Day in the Life of a Book Festival Blogger

25 08 2011

The life of an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival is one of giddy hard work. We get to mix with the backstage folk, see first hand the authors as they arrive and have their photo call, and we get to enjoy the some of the perks afforded to the press. We also get to do what we came for: blog about the world’s biggest and best festival of literature.

A blogger does not have an employer, does not get paid, and has to accept that journalistically they’re bottom of the ladder. But that’s why it’s so much fun! Being an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival is so enjoyable, it’s akin to being on a “busman’s holiday” in the best holiday park in the world.

Unlike a professional journalist though, the blogger has no restrictions on what he can write about. There are no editors telling us the line to take or the mood a piece should be in, and it is this freedom, this freelancing attitude, that gives us a leg up over the newspaper columnists. Editorial control is ours and ours alone, but this can also mean we have the potential to make mistakes and then pay for them personally.

However, an accredited blogger can come and go as he likes (I’m using the male view here because I am one but there are females here too). He can move around most areas behind the scenes (barring the main office and the author’s Yurt), which means that the freedom to really explore is very tempting and very available.

This freedom gives us a unique view of the book festival since we are in the position that we can watch the watchers; we are writers writing about what we see, while all around us the buzz and chaos that goes on behind the scenes is constant.

But just because a blogger is essentially an amateur, doesn’t mean it’s not hard work. The more one puts into it, the more one gets out. I’ve been attending on average five or six events on each of my full days, and each one deserves to be written about. Finding the time, however, is not always that easy.

Which is what the Press Pod provides: peace and quiet away from the crowds to write up reports and get the scoop on who might be passing through, or be up next for a photo call. It’s a never ending whirl of activity, rumours and hearsay that are generated all around Charlotte Square and that usually end up being discussed in the Pod.

The Press Pod itself is a small haven of calm with lovely coffee and if you get there early enough in the day, plates of croissants, scones and biscuits. It’s a very welcoming and warm place to chill between events.

It’s the same idea as the Author’s Yurt but smaller and divided into three distinct “pods”: the chill out area, the press team, and an area set aside for the journalists to plug in at a table and chair and get to work.

Getting Involved
There is no requirement for a blogger to get involved though, all you really need is a pair of ears and eyes and a little bit of savvy, and even the smallest of dreams can come true. Take the other night when I found myself taking photographs of a fake photo call between ska legend, Pauline Black, and official site photographer Chris Close—all because I had the balls to ask.

The main thing about being an accredited blogger is to remember your place. While it is true that you are writing about the same events as the professionals, and it may also be true that in some cases you might be writing more than the professionals, they are the ones earning a living from what they do while we are only doing it for the love of it.

That is why a blogger must always be wary never to step on the toes of anyone in the press office, the other staff, and certainly must never get in the way of book festival’s official guests. Cross that line and you should either apologise profusely and rectify the mistake, or be prepared never to be invited back. Thankfully this has never happened to me but you get the drift.

Every day around the book festival there are a number of faces you will always see. This is true whether you’re there for a day or just an evening, the same people always seem to pop up in some respect either around the gardens or popping in and out of the Press Pod or any of the event tents.

  • Nick Barley (@nickbarleyedin) – always in and around somewhere, whether greeting high profile guests, introducing events, or dealing with day to day behind the scenes issues, this man never stops.
  • Francis, Esme and Harrison in the Press Team – a small team that is alive with activity and seem to be everywhere all at once, yet will always stop to try and accommodate a request. How they keep those smiles on for so long is beyond me; it takes a special person to balance the Media in one hand and the demands of the festival organisers.
  • Chris Scott (@chrisdonia) – you’ll see him wandering around in his knee-length shorts and baggy shirt, always with a camera in hand seeking out his next snap. If you can’t spot him by that description he’s usually the only one with coloured hair. He can often be seen creeping around underneath the stands inside the tents then popping up on the scaffolding to try to get that perfect shot of an author on stage.
  • Colin Fraser (@anonpoetry) – the official tweeter of @edbookfest, he attends a lot of events and can often be seen sitting near the back or a corner, tapping away into his iPad furiously as he live tweets discussions and debates to the world that’s watching.

So there it is, life as an accredited blogger at the Edinburgh Book Festival. I use the term accredited because anyone can come and blog from Charlotte Square, and while being accredited gives you something of a leg up in getting to know and see that little bit more, it also means there is a little bit of pressure thrown in too.

There’s no point in going through with it if you aren’t going to write, and writing takes time. It takes a good understanding of the craft to squeeze out an event article event in half an hour before you have to go and do it again for the next one. And if it’s a poor event, you have to make it sound good (or at least not cause any offence) and then post it to the blog safely aware that there will be a lot of people reading it (sometimes the subject) and that means concentration in long spells.

Take notes; take lots of photographs; record sound clips—do everything it takes to get the article you want to write. But remember not to take it too far; the stereotype of journalists turning to the bottle isn’t that far off!

You can find photographs from the book festival at my live image feed on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/colinthewriter

The Magic of the Book Festival

14 08 2011
Kick Off at Charlotte Square
Image: Colin Galbraith

When I arrived at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday morning, the atmosphere around the Square was of excited trepidation.

For many, it was their first time at the festival and for others a chance to be reacquainted after one year away. As I turned the corner of Castle Street into George Street at around half past nine, the sight of the white tents and the book festival sign partly hidden by the branches, my excitement swelled at the thoughts of what was to come over the next 3 weeks.

Walking through the main door, past the ticket office and foyer then into the sheltered gardens, it is akin to being welcomed home, to being cuddled into a bosom of literary love.

I was back and it felt great!

A samba band were playing drums and dancing on the grass, entertaining the early arrivals with a loud hypnotic beat, only serving to up my pulse rate that little bit more. I had a quick scout around; I like to make sure everything is as I remember it or some things have evolved in any way.

Walking clockwise, the Spiegeltent was first on my left, standing proudly and always different from the rest. But that’s fine, because it is different—somehow. It’s where I usually go for a break, a chat or a pint.

Next up is the toilets—no need to describe that very much and I can assure you they do remain the same—before I got to the bookshop, always the one place I tend to spend most ‘between event’ time. All the usual publisher stalls were there, and reems upon reams of freshly unpacked books sat proudly on tables and shelves just waiting to be bought.

With the Guardian the new sponsor of the book festival, there’s a new addition to the bookshop: an internet portal where you can don a pair of headphones and interact with their dedicated book fest website.

Past the children’s bookshop and round the bend, the RBS Corner Theatre and Peppers Theatre form the far away side of the festival square. Both tents are smaller but have grand memories of special events I’ve attended over the years, as they do also as I round the next corner and look up to the Writer’s Retreat, hidden away in the farthest corner, a place where I’ve attended many workshops and readings in the past, and plan to again.

Then it’s the biggie: The RBS Main Tent where I’ve seen the biggest and best read and talk about their work: William McIlvanney, Sean Connery, Seamus Heaney, the list goes on.

Source of my coffee stream is next as we come to the London Review of Book signing tent, a place where I’ve never once managed to find a table to sit at, and then next door is the Scottish Power Studio Theatre, a smaller replica of the RBS Main tent, but one where much magic has been spun over the years.

Then it’s mystery corner. Peering down the path one can just see into the press tent, where words of reflection and inspiration are penned to the greater masses, and further beyond that, the author’s Yurt. It’s the writer’s Mecca, the holiest of holies, a place where I’ve promised myself, one day…

And so I was back in Charlotte Square; nervous, excited, relieved. I attended several events (reviews will follow) such as the Ten at Ten, the eccentric and wonderful Scottish literary giant, Alasdair Gray, Simon Stephenson talking about his book about the brother he lost to the 2004 tsunami, Lin Anderson and Tony Black discussing why Glasgow and Edinburgh make such great cities to write crime fiction, the Story Shop, and then an hour with Alexei Sayle to finish off.

It was an exhausting day, but we got the sun in places and we got some drizzle. It all went as well as anyone could have dreamt – me included.

You can find photographs from the book festival at my live image feed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colinthewriter

The Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop and Men

1 08 2011
The Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop and Men
Image: JA Cosgrove

The Edinburgh City of Literature Story Shop
I’m not one to cast unfounded accusations or remarks—I’m the kind of guy who likes to gather evidence when building a case first—but yesterday I raised an eyebrow at something that concerned a suspicion I kept quiet about last year.

The Story Shop programme is run by the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and is aimed at giving new writers a chance to be seen and heard at the Edinburgh Book Festival. A bunch of writers are selected from applications to read a short story or couple of flash fiction pieces, to an audience at the world’s biggest and best festival of literature.

Last year the organiser selected 14 female writers to fill the 17 available slots (view the 2010 list here). I went to several of the readings and the writers were well deserving—no complaints there. However, this year the number is 15 female authors out of the 17 available slots (view the 2011 list here).

Hence my raised eyebrow.

These are, of course, merely statistics and they are all that I offer. It may be that there were no male applications good enough. And while I am also aware there are a lot of excellent female writers in Edinburgh and around the world, many of whom I have worked with and some remain good friends, it strikes me that for a programme being run for new writers of both sexes there appears, at first sight, to be an unfavourable imbalance against male writers.

I’m not saying I am a better author than any of the people that were give a slot this year or last—congratulations to all of them and I look forward to hearing as many of them read as I can manage—but Edinburgh does have some rather excellent new writers that are male, yet it seems we are unable to successfully tap into this programme.

I like to think I’m not a half bad writer and I would dearly have loved to been a part of the Story Shop, hence why I applied these last two years. I’m at the stage of my career where I’ve had short stories published and longer fiction picked up by independent publishers, and through my chapbook poetry, I’ve managed to glean a fairly healthy readership and name for myself. So I find myself feeling slightly frustrated to view these figures and wonder how much of a chance I really had.

So my point is this: over two years, were the Story Shop organisers really only able to find 5 male writers worthy of doing a reading out of the 34 slots available?

Colin Galbraith
www.colingalbraith.co.uk | @colingalbraith


31 07 2011

Welcome to a new blog for all things Edinburgh Book Festival.

During the 2011 Edinburgh Book Festival, I’ll be launching an integrated media and marketing project aimed at seeing just how far modern social and media networking tools can be taken from an author’s angle.

I’m an author and poet, not a social marketing or internet guru, so how this pans out will be a new experience.

I will be embracing all kinds of social media platforms during the book festival, which will allow you to embrace the fun and excitement of the festival if you live afar, or if you are attending yourself, hopefully provide a new angle to all that happens down at Charlotte Square.

To stay in touch with us, please subscribe using the links on the top right.

Here’s to a great August in Charlotte Square!

Colin Galbraith