EIBF 2015 Preview: this is hwæt we want

Welcome to the latest slab of Edinburgh International Book Festival recommendations. The Babble On programme really hits its stride and there’s one guest in particular on Saturday night whose presence absolutely took me by surprise. So, let’s crack on with another two days of EIBF 2105 highlights.

Friday 21st

This year’s illustrator in residence is the prolific Debi Gliori and today she brings together another two illustrators, Domenica More Gordon and Brenton McKenna, to discuss what drives them to create. Gliori is probably best known for her sweet story of parental love, No Matter What; indigenous Australian Brenton Mckenna creates a series called Ubby’s Underdogs inspired by his family; and Domenica More Gordon seems to be obsessed with dogs of all shapes and sizes. This year there has been a push by illustrators, led by Sarah McIntyre to get more recognition as co-authors of books, so it’s good to see a variety of them get involved in the main programme as well as the children’s one. Both More Gordon and McKenna are in the children’s programme today, too

Investigative journalist Joanna Blythman’s books The Food We Eat and Shopped, and many more, have exposed the quality of our food, its production and distribution (as well as its employment practices) for almost two decades and in she returns to it again here, as her new book Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets explains how even the food being sold as fresh and natural has been subject to much the same level of chemical tweaking and processing as everything else. As people have long been led to falsely believe that ingredients with “E numbers” are automatically bad things, manufacturers have come up with complex ways of avoiding their presence on labels, possibly even ending up with something that’s worse for us. Remember how hydrogenated fats and high-fructose corn syrup were originally sold as healthier alternatives to butter and sugar, and how badly wrong that was? Should be an eye-opener.

Gill Arbuthnott, who we mentioned yesterday showing off her own book, is also a guest selector this year and she’s chosen the always-great-value Val McDermid and Niamh Nic Daéid to come and talk forensics in C S Aye Dundee. Those who caught the Blackwell’s launch of Val’s book Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime last year will know what a fascinating subject it is and how funny she can make it all. Though she’s more used to sharing a stage with her mate Sue Black, I seem to recall Niamh Nic Daéid making some great contributions to the event last year, so of you want to laugh while also being horrified, outraged and inspired, this is one for you.

The writer of one of the best Doctor Who stories of the 1980s, Ben Aaronovitch, as well as one of its most controversial novels, Transit, is here to discuss the art of serials. Since his success with Rivers of London in 2011, he’s recently published the fifth book in the sequence, Foxglove Summer and has the next, The Hanging Tree, ready for release this year. Has his background in TV, also writing for Casualty, shaped his ability to pump them out with such a fast turnaround?

As well as the two illustrators mentioned above, there’s a return for martial arts fanatic Chris Bradford who, having covered karate and samurai in recent years, in Ninja: a’ Chiad Dùbhlan will be talking on ninjas. In Gaelic. That has to be a first.

Saturday 22nd

Wow, Saturday. Where to begin? Stick the programme on a wall and throw a dart and you’ll probably hit something excellent. I’m going to go with Bus Stops, Cul-de-sacs and Rutted Tracks, the day’s first Babble On event. First, it’s an exploration of the sense of place and landscape in poetry and spoken word performance. Second, it’s got Luke Wright in it. Yes, there’s also Deanna Rodger, Mike Garry and Will Burns — whose names don’t ring a bell, though I’m sure they’ll be just as good as last year’s line-up — but Wright is a star worth catching whenever you can. It’s early, but bound to be worth it.

Lost Gods should draw a huge crowd, mainly because Mark Rylance — the Ted to Damien Lewis’ Ralph in the BBC version of Wolf Hall — will be here to talk to Paul Kingsnorth about his book The Wake, passages of which will be read by them both, accompanied by Martin Shaw (not that one, this one). The Wake was longlisted for the Booker last year, having been funded on Unbound, and now it’s also got Rylance behind it is one of the most interesting success stories of recent years.

Then, continuing the Old English theme, in the evening is a full-length reading of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf as a tribute to the poet, a regular guest, who died in 2013. I studied and was baffled and bored by Beowulf in the original OE many years ago, but Heaney’s version in readable, vivid modern language, was a huge bestseller and won the Whitbread in 1999, and the Tron Theatre Company should bring it to life.

However, this event overlaps with a big event we’ve already noted, A Formidable Activist, the visit of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. I don’t really need to say more than say: “Bloody hell, look, it’s Jesse Jackson.” Do I?

And to the big surprise of the evening. It’s Limmy! The last time I heard of Brian Limond doing anything live (on stage, at least) was many years ago at the Fringe, and I seem to recall from reviews it didn’t go too well. Since then, though he’s churned out hundred of podcasts, written and starred in two series of his own superb comedy show for the BBC, done countless regular live webcasts that go from baffling to genius and back again and has now written a book, Daft Wee Stories. A strong presence and following on Twitter has helped cement him as something of a modern Scottish institution. But then again, so is Barlinnie, so it’s not for everyone. It’s definitely for me. As long as he doesn’t turn the weans against us. Here’s a taste of what he can do at his best.

And the kids’ programme is equally epic today, too. Debi Gliori and Chris Bradford are back again, but the two highlights of the day should be the irrepressible Etherington Brothers, who I talked to a couple of years ago, and the mistress of magical millinery, Sarah McIntyre, accompanied by co-author Philip Reeve bringing you their new adventure, Pugs of the Frozen North in Chilly Up North.

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