EIBF 2014: Preview time! Part 1 of many

Last week I was overwhelmed by the  Edinburgh International Book Festival programme, and there’s way too much to fit into one post, so I’m going to snip it up into digestible two-day chunks, hopefully finishing on the 24th June, when tickets go on sale.

First up: Moomins! Debi Gliori on the World of Tove Jansson marks the 100th anniversary of the great Finnish writer and illustrator. It’s one of the reading workshops – which are more intimate (and also more pricey) than the big events — but if you love the bittersweet Moomin stories (and if you don’t, you are dead inside) — this could be a great opportunity to share the love. The BBC did a superb documentary last year about Jansson, which isn’t currently on iPlayer, but some cheeky person has upped it to YouTube. We normally frown on copyright infringement so won’t link it but, well, it is very good, and as it’s BBC we have paid for it.

When was the last time you wrote a letter? Not an email, a real one, on paper, sent through the post. Quite a while ago, I’ll bet. That’s why Simon Garfield is presenting A Love Letter to Letters. The epistolary novel has a long history, and the use of letters is a device that has enhanced many works for centuries, but how do you write contemporary books with letters in them when no-one writes them any more? These and other questions will be addressed by Garfield and the event’s host, friend of the blog Lee Randall.

The Empire Café thread of the festival, exploring the history and legacy of British colonialism, promises some great international events. Sweet Potato and Callaloo, Voices from the Caribbean Diaspora “introduces a vibrant generation of writers and poets whose work has roots in the region”. One of the strengths of the EIBF is pairing well-known writers like Jackie Kay with less well-known names. Here’s she’s joined by Saserine Persaud, Dorothea Smartt, Malika Booker and Millicent AA Graham for reading, performances and poetry.

There’s the usual big names, like Carol Ann Duffy and Tony Parsons, of course, but The Skinny have pulled a bigger coup by getting hold of Shaun Usher, the creator of Letters of Note for Letters Live. Again focusing on the dying art — with examples from the great, good and infamous — he’s accompanied by authors and actors who’ll read and discuss their faves. Could well be the big event of the opening weekend.

For those of a more musical bent, though, Zoë Howe will be discussing her book on The Jesus & Mary Chain with Vic Galloway. I hope they’ll make sure the mics are all turned way up and there will be so much feedback we get earplugs at the door. Now that would be memorable.

On the kids front, the big star name is Mackenzie “Gareth from The Office” Crook talking about his books The Windvale Sprites and The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth which he’s illustrated himself.  here’s a video of him doing a bit of reading. It sounds quite good.

Joan Lingard is a legend of children’s writing, having written scores of books, but is probably best known, by my generation at least, for her 1972 book about Northern Ireland, Across The Barricades. Her new book Trouble on Cable Street goes further back, to explore the rise of fascism in the 1930s, a story that has particular resonance today.

For younger children, a guaranteed good time will be had at Vivian French’s Stargirl Academy event. The eternally twinkly Vivian will train the audience in how to be fairy godmothers.

On Sunday there is the usual appearance by Jacqueline Wilson but the thing that really caught my eye is the quite mind-bending idea that arch-miserabilist Aidan Moffatt has written The Lavender Blue Dress, a “heartwarming tale of family, friendship and the really important things in life”. Let’s hope no parent has to explain to their child what an Arab Strap is; they really should have left that out of the programme.

Sunday in the adult programme is a little more of a lucky dip. Jung Chang will be a big pull, as will Alain de Botton, but the only event that really jumps out as a must-see for me is Judith Kerr and Matthew Kneale Mother and Son on Creative Inheritance.  Judith Kerr, the author and illustrator of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Mog books and much more (including How Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit). Until just now, I had not known that she was married to one of the greatest TV writers of the last century, Nigel Kneale. Their son, Matthew Kneale, wrote the Whitbread-winning English Passengers about the British genocide of the Tasmanian native population. They’ll be together on stage to discuss Nigel and creative heritage and inheritance. Sounds like an ideal Sunday afternoon to me. I’ll definitely be there.

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