EIBF 2015 Preview: tearing through the week

There are plenty of strands in this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival programme — Staying Well, Changing Britain, The Changing Middle East and many more — but I’m beginning to notice one that’s unofficial yet definitely there at EIBF 2015: ‘Stealth Who Fans’. You’ll see what I mean.

Tuesday 18th

I’ll start with a first-thing celebration of photography from AD Morrison-Low and Sara Stevenson, Every Picture Tells a Story. We tend to think of the explosion in amateur photography as a recent thing, but they reveal how the invention of photography created something of a craze among Victorians. Together they have recently written Scottish Photography: The First Thirty Years, to accompany a National Museum of Scotland exhibition Photography: A Victorian Sensation that opens this weekend, 19th June.

At the same time, over in the Spiegeltent is Kirsty Logan, who has made a big impact on the Scottish literary scene in recent months with her debut The Gracekeepers. She’s joined by Icelandic author Jón Kalman Steffánson, author of The Heart of Man and the two will compare their tales of the far north, chaired by Viv Groksop.

Then to somewhere a touch warmer, Mexico, with one of guest selector Gabriel Orozco’s series, Mexican Writing, An Insider’s View: Essays. One of the EIBF’s strengths is giving authors famous elsewhere yet little known in the UK a profile boost and this time it’s the turn of Sergio González Rodríguez and Juan Villoro (that’s him at the top of the post). They’re both essayists — a career that has rather withered in the UK as the market for journalism contracts — who explore crime, culture, sport and literature. Sounds like an interesting mix, well worth a punt.

Yesterday we had Frank Cottrell Boyce, today we have AL Kennedy as our Stealth Who Fan (though she’s out of the closet here) with her event From Paradise to Doctor Who. Kennedy is one of those people everyone loves for her clear writing, down-to-earth manner, humour and a touch of self-deprecation. She’s written a Who Short Trip before, but next month she’s got a full-on hardback out, The Drosten’s Curse, set in Arbroath. Chaired by fellow nerd Stuart Kelly.

Of course, while we don’t need to plug him at all, ever, owing to his huge popularity, it would be remiss to forget to mention that Alexander McCall Smith’s first event, A Love Affair with Edinburgh, is today, all about his book A Work of Beauty.

In the children’s programme, who do we have but yet another Stealth Who Fan, this time the lovely Jenny Colgan, who is taking about her “first children’s book” Polly and the Puffin (illustrated by Thomas Docherty). That’s assuming you don’t count Dark Horizons and Into the Nowhere as kids’ books, of course. And how can you not love the shirt she wore a few years ago (right)?

For older children, Gill Arbuthnott’s Brilliant Bodies  promises to be an interesting hands-on sciencey event, based on her book What Makes Your Body Work, it promises plenty of experiments to keep the young audience occupied.

Wednesday 19th

Another early start for photography, this time Emmy-award-winning cameraman and photographer Keith Partridge who also climbs a bit. Photography as Extreme Sport focuses on his life going to places few others would and enjoying it, up mountain, down holes and everywhere between. His book, The Adventure Game: A Cameraman’s Tales From Films At The Edge should be out this week.

There’s been a lot of nonsense talked this week about Magna Carta and its 800th anniversary, and I wish the excellent Radio 4 show by Paul Sinha was still available to debunk it, but hopefully medieval historian David Carpenter will help explain what it really means in his event Digging up the Long-lost Past, with reference to the lives of people the celebrated document pretty much ignores: commoners.

And for us jaded hacks, today’s must-see event is Nick Davies’ Investigating Reporting at its Most Potent. Having accurately and devastatingly explained how the media is committing a long and very public suicide in Flat Earth News by doing it all wrong, he now turns to how it can be done right. Hack Attack is the story of how the Murdoch press got caught with their noses in the voicemail inbox, and perhaps the investigation that exposed them will provide an exemplar for future journalism. I wouldn’t hold your breath, mind.

For me, one of the best bits of last year’s festival was the Babble On thread of spoken word and poetry, and tonight it kicks off again with Kate Tempest performing work from her book Hold Your Own. I know nothing of Kate Tempest, I’m afraid, apparently she’s famous but I am old. This video gives me hope, though. Is that Adeel Akhtar? Nice. (I’ve also just noticed that she’s in conversation with Don Paterson on Tuesday.)

It’s quite a short children’s programme today, but one event that should be good is Catherine Wilkins’ My Success and Other Failures. Wilkins, a stand-up, knows how to put on a show, so this exploration of her fourth book in her series about cartoonist Jess should be pretty fun. Just don’t ask her about her husband’s self-playing snooker tournaments.

Thursday 20th

As the children’s programme shrinks, the adult one seems to have exploded today with the listings not even having enough room for a single author portrait. Blimey. An event that is bound to have finance and other business folk from the nearby West End flocking along is Predicting the Future of Working, with Charles Handy. His books, particularly Understanding Organizations, have been some of the biggest-selling books on management in the world and his most recent book, The Second Curve, examines the questions critics of capitalism have been asking for decades — whether growth is essential; if a society can be based on credit alone — so this should be an interesting take on where we are headed.

One event which is likely to create headlines is the appearance of Nick Robinson. I’m not going into the whole story or take sides, but let’s just say that during his coverage of the independence referendum last year a lot of people in Scotland, some quite vocal, took against him and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them turned up to make themselves heard during the day. Though he’s taken a back seat from reporting recently while undergoing surgery, he wrote a diary of the recent general election campaign, and this is what he’ll be focusing on.

Tonight also has Ian Rankin’s first in his guest selection series of talks with people about music. Uncompromising Expression is a huge tome by Richard Havers marking the 75th anniversary of Blue Note records, which will be the focus of the talk, but given that Havers has been involved with industry names such as Bill Wyman and Rankin’s fondness for the Rolling Stones, expect more than a few digressions, bits of gossip and anecdotes.

Finally the big attraction in the eight-event kids’ programme today will probably be Jennifer T Doherty’s Scottish Unicorns. Because unicorns. They’re our national animal, you know. Beat that.

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