The blog series that you’ll most likely be reading next year (if last year’s post statistics are anything to go by) charges on into the second week of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, and after all the excitement of Saturday’s big hitters, there’s a more low-key, eclectic feel as we head back to the schoolnights. So, whether you want them or not, here’s another lump of EIBF 2015 recommendations.
At the time of writing, Victoria Hislop’s fourth novel, The Sunrise, is topping the bestsellers, having sold in the region of 55,000 copies since its release two weeks ago. It’s set in Cyprus in 1972 in the lead-up to the Greek coup and the retaliatory Turkish invasion, following the lives of two families. It’s a bit of modern history few people know about, let alone really understand, and her fascination with such neglected Mediterranean history will be explored by chair Jackie McGlone in Sun, Sand and Soldiers. I’m waiting for the Private Eye review, though, as they seem not to have done one yet for some reason.
Later in the day is a tribute to the much-missed Iain Banks, focusing on the poetry he wrote in his youth. The snippets of song lyrics in Espedair Street suggest he might have made a good go of it had he stuck with it, but I’m glad he instead devoted his efforts to writing some of the best science fiction around. His friend Ken MacLeod has compiled and edited the best, and added some of his own, recently published with the simple title Poems. Expect the typically witty and generous humanist spirit of Iain to shine through, and I’ll bet there will be a few emotional glasses of Jura to be raised in his memory in the Spiegeltent afterwards.
Formal experiments can be fun but it must have been an almost superhuman effort of discipline that got James Robertson through writing a 365-word story each day in 2013. They were published online throughout 2014 and were collected into a book, 365: Stories at the end of the year. It would seem inevitable that there might be a few duds, but it’s an impressive undertaking, and it should be interesting to hear just how he did it.
In the children’s programme, Sarah McIntyre is back again, this time to talk about her latest picture book, Dinosaur Police, and teach kids how to draw its characters including Inspector Sarah Tops and Trevor the T-Rex, who has a thing for pizza.
For teenagers, there’s a look at worlds of fantasy, in Out of this World with Melinda Salisbury and Moira Young. Salisbury is up for the First Book Award, as her debut The Sin-Eater’s Daughter was published in February. It’s a fantasy romance about a girl cursed with a touch that kills, which is used by the court for executions. Sounds suitably grisly and gripping. Young won the Costa Children’s Book Award 2011 for Blood Red Road, the first in the post-apocalyptic Dustlands trilogy.
The Changing Britain strand has James Naughtie and Roy Hattersley pontificating on the state of the nation. The former will focus on the turmoil of the Scottish referendum campaign and its impact upon the general election. Most journalists working in London simply don’t or won’t understand the nuances of Scottish politics, but Naughtie lives in Edinburgh and could provide some interesting insights on how things are seen from both sides of the border in A New Era for British Democracy?
Hattersley, a fairly centrist former deputy leader of Labour, would probably be so far to the left of the candidates for the current leadership contest that he wouldn’t stand a chance, so he should have a perspective on inequality and social justice in In Praise of Equality that we’ve heard little of from Westminster in recent years.
The event Understanding László Krasznahorkai is a welcome one, as apparently his work is notoriously hard to get along with, largely eschewing punctuation with sentences running into paragraphs. He won the Man Booker International last month and his latest book Seiobo There Below is set to be published in English in hardback on 20th August, so there will be a few days to get up to speed. However, it seems there is an ebook already available. It’s not clear from the listing whether he’ll actually be at the festival, but this event features two of his translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet, alongside two of the Booker judges Marina Warner and Wen-chin Ouyang, who will hopefully be able to explain why they think his work is so important.
And Marina Warner is back in the evening as one of guest selector Charlotte Higgins’ choices, sharing the stage with Kirsty Logan and Higgins herself, to talk about Gods and Monsters: What are the Modern Myths. The power of symbols and metaphor imbue fairly tales, myths and religions with a power that resonates through centuries. Logan discusses her new book, A Portable Shelter, released on the day, in relation to modern myths. I wonder if Winterval will get a mention? Warner is also on tomorrow, on a similar theme.
Ian Rankin, who seems to be here every day so far, gets a chance to talk about his own work in Rebus is Back, discussing the collection of short stories The Beat Goes On, about the detective’s early life.
The shortest kids’ programme yet this year also reaches into the realm of fairytales, with Kate Saunders discussing her sequel to E Nesbit’s classic Five Children and It, Five Children on the Western Front. Set just before the First World War, with Cyril about to head to the front when the Psammead reappears, it sounds like a pretty grim prospect, but it won last year’s Costa Children’s Book Award, so Saunders must have written a sensitive take on the subject.
There’s a rare appearance by Edwyn Collins in the afternoon with his wife, Grace Maxwell, as Ian Rankin’s guest; and former spook Stella Rimington should be quite a draw, too, but the evening is dominated by a pair of actors, Helen Lederer and Celia Imrie, who seem to have collaborated on their respective event titles, Funny Novel from a Funny Woman and Debut Novel by a Beloved Actress.
Lederer is probably still best known for her Naked Video wine bar monologues, and has been a regular collaborator with French and Saunders. Her debut novel, Losing It, is the comic story of a middle-aged woman who hopes a new wonder diet pill might solve all her woes. The event is chaired by Lee Randall.
Imrie is kind of the female Jim Broadbent in that it seems no British film can be made without her being cast somewhere. She’s been a regular collaborator with Wood and Walters, her recent hits include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and she even had a memorable role in Still Game. Not Quite Nice is her debut novel about a woman who escapes her old life by moving to the French Riviera then realising it might not be the paradise she was expecting.
Finally, in another fairly small children’s list, Allan Burnett discusses how he took as inspiration the Tapestry of Scotland to create his book The Story of Scotland. It’s a hands-on affair with costumes and audience participation.