|Image: Porto & Fi|
Another cracking, if somewhat shorter day at the Edinburgh Book Festival–only 8 hours spent in Charlotte Square instead of the requisite dozen.
Tiredness, however, is beginning to creep into affairs. Long days coupled with intense periods of writing and concentration during and after events, not to mention the stress of socialising over beers and coffees (*ahem*) is beginning to take its toll. I need some sleep—but that’s what September is for, right?
The free ‘Ten at Ten’ event threw up a huge name in world poetry yesterday: Northern Irish poet, Paul Mundoon, a T S Eliot and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry, took to the the small and intimate stage in the Writers’ Retreat tent and wowed the couple of dozen people who had been lucky enough to get tickets.
His poetry was smooth, rounded and pleasant on the ear, like cool water running over one’s neck on a hot day; the perfect start to any weekend, I’m sure you can imagine.
The poems he read were touching to the soul and glistening with imagery, and I was lucky enough to capture one or two of them for my book festival podcast (I just need to get the time to be able to mix and produce it). I spoke to him briefly afterwards and took his picture, and I can honestly say that the rumours about the Irish being famously friendly are totally true!
I dashed off from talking with Paul to hear another poet read, this time in the Spiegeltent and the darker poems of Robin Robertson.
It was an astounding hour of poetry, so deep and beautiful and sad, that even the festival director Nick Barley tweeted after the event how he had been reduced to tears by Robertson’s reading of At Roane Head.
Robertson’s work is very dark, often with a cruel edge of humour, but always thoroughly gripping. One does not need to concentrate during a reading of his in order to appreciate the picture he is painting—it is crystal clear, as though one were standing within the very poem itself.
Time then for a coffee and to start writing up the previous day’s blog and the day’s events already covered. While in the Press tent, I was joined by author JF Derry. We sat for a while chatting about publishing and music, when suddenly he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a gift for me. I doubt I can say what it is for legal reasons, needless to say, to both my wife and I it means a great deal. Thank you Mr Derry!
I finished up my writing in the tent, drained my coffee and nibbled on one of the lovely croissants on offer, while just outside the tent a photographer had set up a pitch and was photographing Andy Stanton posing in all kinds of ridiculously funny poses for his official festival photo shoot. It was hilarious to watch—I dropped a few crumbs!—and I remember thinking how Stanton reminded me very much of a young Rory McGrath.
I waved goodbye to my good pal, Diane Parkin, as she headed off from Charlotte Square fully recharged after a very rewarding event called “Get An Audience For Your Writing” with Allan Guthrie, Gavin Inglis and Peggy Hughes.
We had one more coffee and a beautiful slice of carrot cake in the Spiegeltent, before Diane headed off for the train back south. I’m missing her chatter and support already!
Joseph Brooker and Ray Ryan
Mid-afternoon and I fond myself in Peppers Theatre for a discussion between a Scotsman, an Englishman and an Irishman. No joke, and nor was the discussion.
The event had been billed especially for bibliophiles, in which Brooker’s analysis of British literature since the 1980s in a collection of essays called The Good of the Novel, co-edited by Ray Ryan, which “brings together some of the most strenuous and perceptive critics of the present moment, and puts them in contact with some of the finest novels of the past three decades.”
Chaired by the literary editor of The Scotsman, Stuart Kelly, we had the potential for a really interesting discussion. Brooker and Ryan provided a new angle on publishing, with the latter relating how “each novel sets its own constitution; the truth of fiction cannot be rendered in any other form.”
Ryan remains convinced that “small presses take chances on making reputations of authors whereas large ones are more cautious,” and I have to agree with him. In my experience this has been important in opening the door to the proliferation of self-publishing.
On the question as to whether Shakespeare is a great writer, Brooker argued that “It’s far too early to say—maybe in another 400 years or so but how are we supposed to guess that now?” And bringing the discussion back (or forward) to the 21st century and the introduction of e-readers, Ryan commented that he was “amazed that these things still only display mainly text, and that even in the 21st century with all the technology available to use, people who use them still only want them for that sole reason.”
As for hyperlinks within text to websites and informative articles, “these things are a distraction,” says Ryan. “But for the publisher and critic alike,” explained Brooker, “they mean much more work!”
Sam Leith and Simon Lelic
The sun was well and truly out in Charlotte Square by 15.30 and already the day had been long, chilled, hard work, but very enjoyable.
Attendance in the Square looked to be very good with the sun brining people into the book festival to lie about (avoiding the mud), socialise and read in the shade. Summer was very much here for the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday.
My final event of the day involved two new writers for me, Sam Leith and Simon Lelic. Both writers have written quite remarkable novels in that they are very much satirical and often, judging by the readings, fantastical. “Sometimes reality is more absurd than fiction,” said Leith.
To quote from the book festival programme: “Leith’s, The Coincidence Engine, mashes up a gaggle of fantastical characters in a tale of an imaginary America haunted by madness, murder, mistaken identity and unhealthy snacks. Lelic’s, The Facility, features a man tasked with running a secret government prison, where he has to deal with frightened inmates, the sinister Dr Silk and his own conscience.”
Interesting stuff, and as both writers read for their novels and then explained their backgrounds and what prompted them to write them, it became apparent that we may well have a couple of potential cult novelists on our hands.
Leith, in particular, cited Douglas Adams as a major influence, although he admitted that he “doesn’t know nearly as much science as Adams knew, which perhaps the novel could have done with.”
The comparisons between both writers are interesting also, in that Lelic and Leith were both journalists now turned fiction writers. “I much prefer creative writing,” said Lelic absolutely, whereas his contemporary admitted that he “really enjoys journalism and wouldn’t want to give it up.”
In the evening Gail and I finally got to celebrate our anniversary from earlier in the week. We went out for a curry in Leith’s Britannia Spice–nice, but not the best Leith has to offer in way of Indian cuisine–but the interesting was that even there, I was unable to escape the clutches of the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Louise Welsh was sitting at the next table!
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
For audio enjoyment, why not subscribe to my Book Festival podcast on iTunes or listen to the stream on SoundCloud.
Ciao for now!
I love the variety of people and events you’re attending. Fascinating!