|Image: Porto & Fi|
The thing about the Edinburgh Book Festival is that you never quite know what’s going to happen next. You find yourself in Charlotte Square in the morning with a coffee in one hand and your tickets in another. and your day is pretty much mapped out—or so you think. Then something happens that completely throws you right off track.
Take yesterday: I took my writing pal Diane Parkin to the Oxford Bar to see where John Rebus drinks in the Ian Rankin novels. As we supped our pints (and half pints) a shadowy figure appeared from the back room reaching out for another pint of ale. It was the big man himself; Rankin living up to every tourist’s dream. Diane was utterly starstruck and began a bout of tweets, only to be blown away when he returned them. He’s a good guy and Diane was delighted.
Later, while Diane had left the Square to get some warmer clothes on, I nipped into the Press tent for a coffee and to begin writing up some of the events. I bumped into Colin Fraser of ANON (the anonymous poetry magazine) and he pointed me towards Francesca from the Guardian who was recording a podcast for the Guardian about blogging, social media, etc. Before I knew it, I had a rather nifty microphone/digital recording device in my face and I was rambling all things such.
That’s kind of how it happens in Charlotte Square in August; sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Back to the events then and I had five events yesterday, although with the beverage in the Oxford Bar thrown in I missed the Steven Amsterdam and Kevin Barry event. If you want a proper read up of that one by their biggest fan, pop over and read Rob Burdock’s review here.
Carol Ann Lee
Biographical author, Carol Ann Lee, read from her book, One of Your Own: The Life and Death of Myra Hindley, in an event which always promised to contain a certain amount of heightened feelings.
With the backing of the families involved, Lee embarked on presenting purely the facts and figures of the story “with the intention that the reader make up his or her own mind about how they feel of Hindley and whether hate was too soft or strong a word to use.” She was determined to remove her own personal feelings from the book and “to tell the story of the untold voices; those that went unheard during the years after Hindley and Brady went down for their unspeakable acts.
Lee said she could not believe Hindley wasn’t a willing participant in the crimes, but also went on to say that she “felt that she did have it in her to be empathetic, eventually; being Godmother to her sister’s child the perfect example.”
Whatever we may feel about the Hindley/Brady story one can be sure that in Carol Ann Lee’s objective approach we now have the definitive account of what happened as best it can be told. I certainly felt that given the families support and involvement in the writing of the book, one must use this as a measure of the accuracy and objectiveness.
Ann Lee is a talented author who has now tackled one of the UK’s most notorious serial killing stories, one that cuts to the very heart of the human soul, and it is perhaps her gentle and intelligent approach to such a topic that makes her the perfect writer to do it.
Here was a woman who needed no introduction: the ex-head of MI5 turned writer of spy fiction, Dame Stella Rimington. If ever there was a full RBS Main Tent more suspicious of itself, this was it. It filled form the back to front!
Rimington gave us an overview of why she turned to writing fiction following her retirement from MI5. To some it may seem a logical step but it would appear she fell into it after a process of trying other things; fiction writing is her sixth chosen career.
Her new novel involving British security office, Liz Carlyle, was vetted like the rest of her novels but was permitted to be released after the security services enjoyed it first. Personally, I think they’re abusing their position in order to get the scoop on a talented writer, but that’s beside the point. “I dread the day I hand them a completed manuscript,” she said, “for them to turn around and say, ‘you’ll have to change the entire plot’.”
Many of the questions asked by the audience deviated from the release of the actual book she had come to promote, Rip Tide, with the audience preferring to try and chip away at her previous career. The impact it had on her family for one, when her daughter only began to suspect her mother was different when two men in Macs turned up at the door one day and snapped a photograph of Rimington in the house; tabloid intrusion not for the first time—but it could have been worse.
On which security agencies were better to work with: “there are various around Europe that are similar to ours but many that are different. The KGB, for example, clearly had no intention on changing to a democratic model when the Cold War ended but we went anyway. The American model is totally different—we’re the only real one that is civilian based.”
It was a fascination encounter with a woman who quite clearly enjoys the release that writing fiction allows, although being a Man Booker judge has been a double-edged sword once the lorries loads of books started to show up. She was pivotal in breaking the male-dominated “industry” as it was when she first joined, though, and her intelligence, seriousness and subtle humour were evident in every chosen word.
James Tait Black Memorial Prize
The James Tait Black prize is the oldest prize of its kind in the world. It is also the only one given by a University for works of biography and fiction.
This year’s ceremony was chaired by Sally Magnusson and filmed before a large audience inside the RBS Main Tent.
Hilary Spurling took the biography prize for her work, Burying the Bones, taking to the stage very emotional and admitting it was the achievement that had sparked the tears, but also that, “I became a grandmother earlier today so that might have something to do with too.”
In fiction, the winner was Tatjani Soli for her work, The Lotus Eaters. Promising not to cry, she said: “The lineage of the James Tait Black Prizes speaks for itself, and I am humbled and so proud to be part of it.”
Alexander McCall Smith
My final event of the day was the brilliant, Alexander McCall Smith, back at the book festival again to talk about his latest work Bertie Plays The Blues. McCall Smith is always hilarious: he tells great jokes, but one can also imagine quite easily, him sitting in his office writing and enjoying the process of writing his own fiction so much, he reduces himself to tears of laughter.
And that’s how it was for the audience tonight: reduced to tears of laughter as he went from one tangent to the other making up stories and tales and jokes as he went.
On a more serious note, Smith is planning on writing more Scotland Street and Corduroy Mansion books—he surely has to be Scotland’s busiest writer, churning out more books per annum than anyone else in the in industry.
He also revealed he has commissioned a tapestry of the entire history of Scotland, spanning from the Ice Age to the opening of the Scottish Parliament. At 107meters long, it will take two years to create, but once complete any organisation can request to show any part of it, particularly if they have some political or geographical connection with that precise segment. “It’s something for the whole nation,” explained Smith.
Book Fest Media
Catch up on all my reviews and articles on my sister site, the Edinburgh Book Festival Blog
For visual enjoyment of the Edinburgh Book Festival, click over to my constantly updated photograph feed at flickr.com/colinthewriter
Ciao for now!