Yes, we know, it’s only June, and Edinburgh International Book Festival is ages away, isn’t it? A whole seven weeks away! Who needs previews? Well sod it, I’ve started so I’ll finish. You’ll be glad of it later!
The festival really gathers pace in the middle of the first week, with the first must-see on Wednesday being Jack Monroe and Mike Small on Good Low-Cost Food. Monroe made her name by blogging recipes that were really cheap on A Girl Called Jack. Not Jamie Oliver “cheap” (where you cater for 30, using a store cupboard already groaning with balsamic, spices and capers, and average the price out) but properly “don’t starve when you’re on social security” cheap; a budget of £10 a week cheap. Her campaigns have made her a bit of a folk hero, even holding her own on Question Time, and here she teams up with Mike Small who campaigns for sustainable, healthy eating.
Many people cite Lanark as the definitive Scottish novel, and its author (and artist and poet and, well… you name it) Alasdair Gray makes an appearance in the main theatre talking about Of Me and Others, his sort-of-autobiography. You can bet there will be a wee bit of chat about independence, too.
And let’s hope that security aren’t checking bags for smuggled honey, as Richard Dawkins is here in the afternoon to plug his memoir An Appetite for Wonder. We wouldn’t want you to go hungry, Richard.
A few years ago Mark Watson moved on from straight stand-up to a more experimental style, doing 24-hour shows at the Fringe and even turning a whole building on Queen Street into a piece of performance art called Hotel. His work is always ambitious and good-natured, and although it doesn’t always quite hit the spot, he’s always good value. His new novel Hotel Alpha is an experiment in expanding the written word off the page and on to the internet.
“By offering a vast range of extra material which the reader can either take or leave (and, because of the electronic format, consume in any order, dip in and out of, etc), I’m hoping HOTEL ALPHA will be a new spin on the ‘encyclopaedic’ idea: a novel that can be as big or as small as you want it to be.
…since the book itself is about the re-shaping of our universe by the coming of computers, it made sense to write it (and let people read it) in a way which mimicked that process”
Then there’s the entertainingly titled Breathing Life into Zombies with Mike Carey and Ken MacLeod. Dystopias are at the heart of both their latest books, The Girl With all the Gifts and Descent respectively. MacLeod, a good friend of Iain M Banks, has been overshadowed by him a little but he is now Scotland’s greatest living SF writer, taking a rather less optimistic view of the future than Banks did. His Intrusion was a superb near-future examination of the ethics of technology crossed with Highland folklore. The new one sounds like a kind of SF Foucault’s Pendulum, with a conspiracy that may or may not be real.
One event I definitely won’t be attending on Thursday is Roger Scruton’s Rediscovering the World’s Soul. I could give you a long list of reasons but let’s just say he stands for an awful lot of things that we do not and leave it at that.
One man who embodies an awful lot of things we’d like to be, though, is the ever-popular and charming Alexander McCall Smith. With some authors it’s easy to lose count of the titles they’ve written. With Sandy it’s hard to keep track of how many are being published in any given month. I think this event, A Haven for the Traditionally Built, will cover at least four new works: the Forever Girl, Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, a new No 1 Ladies… book and an Austen adaptation. It’s also on on the 18th and 20th.
Thursday also has this year’s Bailey’s Prize winner Eimear McBride who, with Dilys Rose and chair Stuart Kelly, will discuss formal experimentation in novels. McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed thing was criticised by some for its stream-of-consciousness narrative by for others it offered a welcome direct access into the mind of the central character. Rose’s new novel Pelmanism (named after that card-matching game better known as “concentration”) is also experimental, using fragments of memory.
We still don’t have any pics of Eimear, but we do have a lovely one from the archive of Dilys, which is at the very top of the post .
And there’s even more (I did say it was getting busy, didn’t I?). James Naughtie is plugging The Madness of July, which we covered a couple of months ago, at You Couldn’t Make it Up, an uncomfortably Littlejohn-ish title, and later Richard Bacon tells his story on the other side of the media.
Falling from grace as a Blue Peter presenter after an incident involving the News of The World, he’s gone on to be one of the best radio presenters around, and should be very entertaining discussing his autobiography Series of Unrelated Events.
Right, that’s enough for today, as our own Sheila Masson has an exhibition on tonight, Milk and Honey, Beyond the American Utopia, and then it’s time to join former Scotsman colleagues as they bid farewell to their offices in the centre of Edinburgh.