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12 Books in 12 Months

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Edinburgh Book Festival 2011

Getting to Grips With Graphic Novels

This is my last post about the book festival, which finished yesterday with what I can only assume was a life-changing production of Alasdair Gray’s Fleck (I don’t know for sure as I didn’t manage to get a ticket.  Instead I went to see The Guard, a black comedy with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle which was very funny – highly recommended).

Said post contains my thoughts on a session I went to last week about graphic novels, run by Dr Mel (“don’t google Mel Gibson, google Dr Mel Comics!”) Gibson and self styled ‘comicker’ Emma Vieceli.

“I had a crush on Asterix,” offers Emma early on in the discussion.

“Fair enough,” Dr Mel lies effortlessly (or maybe she really does think it’s fair enough.  Who am I to judge.)  “We had Asterix in the school library in every single European language other than English.  English was cheating.”

Continue reading “Getting to Grips With Graphic Novels”

James Yorkston at Edinburgh Book Festival

There is a copy of singer James Yorkston’s book, It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent, in our house.  I know because I bought it as a birthday present for my flat mate, who says it’s very good. Unfortunately I haven’t borrowed it yet, mainly because my mighty pyramid of to-read books is so enormous it hurts my brain.  Still, that didn’t stop me going to see Mr Yorkston talking about it with Ian Rankin at the book festival over the weekend.

It was a great event, the atmosphere was very friendly and there was cheery banter aplenty.  After a brief overview of his new guitar (made from Tazmanian blackwood, spruce and Brazilian Rosewood), Rankin began by asking about Yorkston’s background.

He grew up in Fife and attended Madras college in St Andrews, a few years below Kenny (King Creosote) Anderson and amongst such luminaries as KT Tunstall and Steve Mason from The Beta Band.  Listening to him describe his early years “dancing with my across the road neighbour, Vic Galloway (a BBC Scotland presenter and DJ) like dafties on the lawn,” it strikes me the East Neuk is overdue an Almost Famous style look at the music scene – there are so many artists compressed into that area it’s a bit ridiculous.

Apparently Yorkston wrote his first song at the age of 8, him on electric guitar and Galloway on banjo. “It went, baa baa goes the cow, moo moo goes the sheep, woof woof goes the hippopotamus and they all went to sleep.”

I felt exactly like Cameron Crowe as I typed that up, seriously.  This could work.

Continue reading “James Yorkston at Edinburgh Book Festival”

Smoke Heads and Pack Men

left: Alan Bissett, right: Doug Johnstone

I first came across Doug Johnstone and Alan Bissett when I worked in the library service.  I happened to start by reading second novels by both of them (The Ossians by Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Bissett), although this wasn’t deliberate and technically The Ossians was Johnstone’s first novel, it just came out second.

At the time I thought maybe I liked these books because I could relate to them; they were about things I recognized.  Johnstone’s book is about a band touring the edges of Scotland, which starts off in Edinburgh – I live in Edinburgh and all my flatmates are in bands.  Meanwhile Bissett’s is about a lad with learning difficulties living in small town Scotland – I grew up in small town Scotland worked for a while with kids who had learning difficulties.  Having read more of their stuff, though, I know I’d have enjoyed them even if they hadn’t happened to appeal so specifically to my experience.  This is because the quality of the writing is high, and because they are both doing something a bit different.

Rather than giving them an event each, the book festival decided to put the two men together last night to chat about their newest books, Smoke Heads (Johnstone) and Pack Men (Bissett).

Continue reading “Smoke Heads and Pack Men”

All Made Up – Janice Galloway

This morning I trumped along to Charlotte Square once more to see Janice Galloway talk about her new book.  Following on from her anti-memoir about her childhood, This Is Not About Me, volume 2 is about her teenage years in Ayrshire and is called All Made Up.  I sense a theme.

The event was held in the RBS Main Theatre, and it was rammed.  The girl sitting next to me, who was writing about it for Three Weeks, had seen Galloway before and didn’t find this remotely surprising.  I sense I have been missing out – I came because the programme blurb looked interesting.

As the lights go down and everyone settles in, event chair Ruth Wishart introduces All Made Up as a book “where sex and music jostle for priority status.”

“And Latin,” Galloway chimes in.

This sets the tone, and leads the author into an explanation as to why she doesn’t see the book as a straight memoir.

Continue reading “All Made Up – Janice Galloway”

Andy Stanton Interview

Andy Stanton is probably best known as the author of the Mr Gum series of books (technically aimed at 7-10 year olds, but I started reading them at 24), and the mastermind behind hit TV show Bag of Sticks.  If you haven’t read anything by him and you’re not sure whether you’d like to, my rule of thumb is to suggest you head to your nearest book shop or library, pick up a copy of You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!, and turn to chapter 4.  If it doesn’t make you laugh, there’s probably something wrong with you. 

I interviewed the man himself on Monday afternoon after a hectic weekend at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Here’s what he had to say.

Andy Stanton Masters Kung Fu © abraham_love (www.abrahamlove.com)
 
 

Still Writing…

Today I thought I’d revert to type a little bit and talk about how the 12 books in 12 months project is going.  For those of you who haven’t visited before and have been directed here by the Guardian Books page, the title of the blog means exactly what it says – this site is about my endeavour to write a book every month in 2011. If you read back through old entries you’ll find all manner of witty banter about word counts and synonyms and procrastination.  And some pictures of chickens.

However, because it’s August and I’m based in Edinburgh, I’ve been trying to give readers a bit of respite from constant posts saying things like “I haven’t written enough” or “I have written a whole load, read it immediately and give me validation,” by posting about the assorted festivals that are going on this month.  Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had several guest posts about shows with literary themes, and I’ve written about assorted events at the Book Festival too.

There is more of that to come, including an interview with children’s author Andy Stanton tomorrow, but in amongst it all I’m still trying to write a whole bunch of fiction with which to entertain the masses.  Sometimes it’s good to remind myself.

Continue reading “Still Writing…”

A.L.Kennedy at Edinburgh Book Festival

If you don’t know of A.L.Kennedy, you should rectify that state of affairs immediately.  I first came across her through her column in the Guardian, which is very funny, but she does all sorts of other stuff too – book writing and stand up being the main activities where it’s socially acceptable to follow her movements (although not in a stalker-y way).  Yesterday she was at the Edinburgh book festival talking about her new novel, The Blue Book, so I went along to listen.

Kennedy began with a reading from near the start of the book – “it’s page 31. Not much has happened, not much will,” – a passage including the character description, “red shoes and amateur clown hair,” which I loved, although naturally she says it better than I do.

She was then interrupted by an enigmatic lady leaving the auditorium with the chilling words, “I know you from a long time ago.”  Not the most traditional of heckles in my experience, so top marks for mystique there, especially as she proceeded to stand in front of the stage repeating the phrase over and over again…

Continue reading “A.L.Kennedy at Edinburgh Book Festival”

The End of Books?

I’ve spent a lot of the time over the past week taking notes in my own special brand of shorthand (it misses out vowels at random) on the grounds I don’t really trust the recording app on my phone, and I do not possess a Dictaphone.  Because my hands aren’t really used to that kind of constant speed-writing pressure anymore, I am pretty sure I can now feel the onset of early arthritis in the thumb and index finger of my right hand.

This being the case, last night I decided to risk it and set my phone with its lupo mini microphone to record ‘The End of Books?’ debate so I could transcribe the highlights this morning.

Continue reading “The End of Books?”

No Coherence Without Chronology?

Last night I went to a couple more things at the Book Festival – not necessarily the sorts of things everyone was tweeting about (on my feed the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction was the highlight) but things that were of particular interest to me as a sometime journo and history student.

The first was a reading in the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers series, focusing on the work of journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Hollman Morris, Marielos Monzon and Mohamed El Dahshan who variously reported conflict in Chechnya, Columbia, Guatemala and Egypt and have all been threatened (and much worse) by their governments for trying to tell the story of what has gone on in these countries.

As the first reader, journalist Catherine Mayer pointed out, these people do the kind of work that makes idealistic young folk want to get into journalism – there’s a level of integrity and courage involved in some areas of the profession that people forget about in the face of events like the phone hacking scandal.  There were some scary statistics read out – 2000 journalists have been killed in the line of duty over the past 20 years, 94 in 2010 – and last year 89 countries put restrictions on freedom of expression.  Sort of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it.

The second event was a debate on The Wonderfulness of Us – where three historians pondered Michael Gove’s desire to make schools teach ‘our island history’ in order to present Britain as “a beacon of liberty for others to emulate.”

He is glossing over a few things there, I fear.  Were we not involved in the slave trade after all, then?  But then this is a man who was overcome with worry that his six-year-old daughter wasn’t taught Greeks and Vikings in chronological order, and claimed Isaac Newton came up with the laws of thermodynamics.  (He didn’t.)

Continue reading “No Coherence Without Chronology?”

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