Every August, I de-camp to Charlotte Square in Edinburgh. It’s not intentional, it just always seems to happen. I step over the threshold and breath in the grassy air of the West End. I’m here, I’m home.
During the festival I am known in my house as ‘there you are, Mum’ by my kids and my husband stops asking where I’m going after the first couple of events as ‘you just never know who you might meet there – so there’s no need to hurry back, have fun. Read. Have a glass of wine. Meet up with friends’. So, that’s what I do.
I went along to quite a few events this year, I wanted to do get out of my comfort zone and attend events about writing and authors that I hadn’t seen before. I bravely selected some I had never heard of but their credentials spoke for them. What’s the worst that could happen? After receiving my programme and marking my MUST SEE and ONLY IF I CAN’T GO TO X,Y or Z, I fabulously abandoned all financial worries for a nano-second and I procured my tickets!
So, without further ado, I give you MY Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014.
The opening day, a feeling very much like Santa has just been, I stepped onto the wooden walkway at the gates and made my way into the white sparkly entrance tent. The sun was shining and the welcoming samba band played – what a colourful and energetic way to start the festival off!
First up was the wonderful Barry Hutchison aka Odin Redbeard and his vulgar vikings. A fantastic event filled with farts, bogies and everything smelly and wonderful to kids you could possibly imagine all wrapped up in a Barry-shaped bundle of fun.
As the boys went to see Liz Pichon and drew some fantastic art work based on her hit series about a boy called Tom Gates, I went to another event ‘ The Voices in Our Head’. A journey into the world of mental health from the viewpoint of three amazing authors: Nathan Filer (The Shock of the Fall), Edward Carey and Matthew Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook). Three amazing authors in the one room! I was particularly taken with Matthew Quick’s reading from his new novel ‘The Good Luck of Right Now’ and my copy is now sitting at the top of my to-read list which is slowly climbing my bedroom wall, threatening to topple over at any moment.
Monday 11th August and our house was filled with much excitement as we were off to see George R R Martin. I didn’t mind that he would rather we didn’t ask him questions about the TV series, it was just amazing to be in the same room as him and hear him speak. The king of The Game of Thrones. I especially liked the fact he was so unaware of his brilliance and that everyone in the room was hanging off every word he said. Here’s the link (you can see our grins around 10-11 minutes in!) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0249fwp/edinburgh-festivals-2014-george-rr-martin
I was very excited to see that the programme had much more for procrastinating authors this year, so how could I resist the world of EB White and the spider and pig I grew up with. I danced my way to Charlotte Square, eager to discuss and learn more about one of my favourite childhood books – Charlotte’s Web. In the company of Lindsey Fraser, literary agent and one half of power house Fraser Ross, we dissected the book and soaked up information about E.B. White and the world he lived in. It’s amazing what you notice in a book when you leave it alone for 25 years!
And now came the turn of my wonderful colleagues at The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, British Isles (SCBWI- BI). We were very fortunate to have access to the Party Pavilion within the grounds of the EIBF at Charlotte Square and we calmly set up our small, yet brilliant illustrators gallery as the attendees floated in.
Agents, librarians, authors and illustrators of all genres and walks of life filled the small room and gathered together as one literary unit when the Q&A got under way. A wonderfully inspirational way to spend an evening and confirm that writing is actually what I want to do. Sometimes I just need a little nod in the right direction.
I have a confession to make, my next event was an author I didn’t know very much about and I don’t have any of her books but I was convinced she was the right choice for me. And oh how she stepped up to the mark! I was enthralled from the word go. A L (Alison Louise) Kennedy – a force to be reckoned with, strode onto the stage and had us all instantly smiling and laughing as she entertained her eager audience. She read a short story from her new collection ‘All The Rage’ which just blew me away – the monotonous charm of a 37 year married couple, habit and frustration ruined their lives but it was funny and sad when she sang it out to us. Her soft but meaningful voice filled the silent auditorium and we all held our breath as we waited for her to complete the tale. Bursts of laughter echoed out as tears of joy ran down my cheeks – what a very fantastic storyteller she is.
Onto PB’s now and I decided to see what three masters in picture books had to say for themselves. Queue funny stories of Mull and its infamous cat, inquisitive villagers and basic hotel rooms from Debi Gliori along with Penny Dale‘s 25th anniversary celebration of’10 in the bed’ with a fascinating look at her sketches and the thoughts behind her illustrations and story. I was mesmerised with Kylie Dunstan and bought her book ‘Same, but little bit diff’rent’ on the back of her appearance. A lovely, warm story of two friends who come from different parts of the world but really they are very similar after all.
Kathryn Ross, partner with Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross, then pulled out all the stops to enthrall me with The Owl Service by Alan Garner, a fantastic look into life with a slightly dysfunctional family that are bewildered with a crockery set with magical powers, are the flowers on the plates owls, or are they just flowers? A creepy tale of an exasperated yet magical childhood. If you fold the paper a certain way, the owls become more apparent and creepy if you ask me!
The Folio Society gave everyone a free notebook too – it’s so sparkly and has that lovely new smell I just can’t write in it yet!
A more sober affair and I was transfixed by the story of Patrick Ness‘s life and his involvement with the Siobhan Dowd Trust. If you do anything from the post then please read this. I have yet to hear a more heartfelt speech – have tissues at the ready and finish with a smile. http://patricknessbooks.tumblr.com/
The trust was set up as a legacy by Siobhan just before she died from cancer 7 years ago. Siobhan took books into deprived areas, provided books to counselling charities, families of prisoners to name but a few. Before she passed away, she wrote the outline for a story that Patrick Ness completed for her. ‘A Monster Calls’ is now available to buy and is being made into a film due to be released in October 2016 with Liam Neeson as the monster, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and many more. I even asked a question and he answered “If I could tell my younger self one thing, I would tell myself that it will be OK, everything will work out fine”. A very humbling event that just made me hug my kids that little bit harder when I got home.
Time for something different and I took along Neil to join me at John Gordon Sinclair, the main actor from Gregory’s Girl which he referred to as ‘That Film’ who has shunned the acting stage for a new life writing crime! A brilliant event, very funny and great to hear some honest and frank discussion about his life since That Film. I asked him about his part in ‘Local Hero’ – my favourite film and he rose from his seat to say that he wore the coat first – Peter Capaldi stole his idea. I kind of stole the mic for a bit so I apologise to the rest of the audience but it was great fun!
My friend Emily Dodd, the brains behind Nina & The Neurons, has stepped into the world of Picture Books and had us all dancing along with ‘Cant Dance Cameron‘ the capercaillie, by the end of her show. Fantastic fun and what a great way to encourage young readers to join in the fun! Connor spotted her when we where there one day. I think Jacqueline Wilson, next to her, was secretly jealous of her football!
Breaking Down The Barriers – a fantastic event hosted by author, Viv French together with Lucy Juckes (co-founder of Barrington Stoke) and Mairi Kidd (MD of Barrington Stoke). It was a fascinating evening discussing and sharing information on dyslexia and what we as adults, authors, readers and parents can do to help smooth the path for our kids. It deserved a post all of its own here.
I zoomed to space and back with the funny Philip Reeve and Sarah MacIntyre. I was the only adult in the room that didn’t have a classroom of children to deal with so I felt slightly smug sitting drawing my version of Sarah’s fantastic alien in relative peace – although the kids must have thought I looked a bit odd putting my hand up every time I had completed an instruction – it was very infectious. Cakes in Space, the book created by the fabulous pair, sounded even better when the ukulele was brought onto the stage and we were treated with a little song! I was slightly taken aback by the costumes – they reminded me of the end scene from The Rocky Horror Picture Show..but more child friendly. I’ll move on…
Nearing the end of my event extravaganza, this one was where I finally got to meet a friend in the flesh and I was intrigued as to where his hat had gone! I have been following Dave Cousins on Twitter and Facebook (wears hat in picture) for a while now as he is a member of the SCBWI, the children’s society I mentioned earlier. It also turns out he is a massive Birmingham City Fan. So, it was good to talk to someone whose team isn’t doing so well this season too! My youngest and I were put through the proverbial tumble drier of nonsense that comes with football, school, friends and girls – yuck! What a fantastic show and we also got to hear about his team’s 13-0 demolition of the giants (aka Dads) and his superb own goal. Fantastic interactive website too – how to draw a footballer etc.
Lastly but by no means least, I was in the company of the lovely Stephanie McGregor (Twitter: @stephmcgregor) as she made her debut reading at the EIBF Story Shop – a brilliant event set up to enable selected authors to read out their work in progress to the public. She even had a fan come up to her and ask if it was available to buy! Watch this space! We behaved and we are allowed back. I have to admit I had a little tear in my eye as she is a good friend of mine and I was very proud of her. Her story ‘Abandoned’ was fantastic and no-one is allowed to speak to her until she has finished it and I can read the rest!
I hope you all get the chance to come next year. There are some fantastic free events and you can even sit in one of the amazing deck chairs, read, snooze and watch the world go by in a tranquil part of Edinburgh.
Become a patron – put your well-earned pennies where your favourite deck chair is and support a great cause! I’m looking forward to next year already…