Welcome to the penultimate post in our series of recommendations for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. We’ll stop bothering you soon. With the concerning news that Alasdair Gray has been badly injured in a fall, we hope he recovers fully and soon. This world needs daft, funny, cantankerous old sods like him, and the EIBF 2015 would be much the poorer for his absence.
There are a couple of notable events in the slightly more exclusive (and slightly more expensive) Reading Workshops today. The first is David Robinson looking at Truman Capote’s classic investigation of the murder in 1959 of a man, a woman and two of their children, In Cold Blood. Capote has long fascinated Robinson, and the first chapter of his own book, In Cold Ink, is ‘Looking for Truman Capote’, in which he travels to Kansas to get a better idea of the scene of the crime.
I’m not an obsessive by nature, but there’s something about the way In Cold Blood is written that takes it deeper into my mind than any other book. I guess most journalists probably read it and think, like me, ‘Yes — that‘s the way we should be writing stories: from the inside.’
-David Robinson, In Cold Ink
That’s Capote at the top, by the way, in Portofino, 1955.
The second is from Paul Magrs, talking about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Probably the most accessible work of the Romantic era, Shelley’s tale of creation gone wrong is one of those books that has become so twisted in the retelling in TV and film that it almost demands revisiting. Magrs has been a lecturer on English literature and creative writing, so knows how to dissect a work but has a good understanding of what makes great monsters, having written a whole swathe of Doctor Who books and audio plays. See, I’m not imagining this theme of Stealth Who Fans. They’re everywhere.
Then we have Lucy Ribchester and Care Santos. We caught Lucy at the Summerhall Historical Fiction Festival and she was bright, funny and fiercely interested in gender politics and history. She gets my vote this year for the First Book Award, by the way, for The Hourglass Factory. I’m not familiar with Care Santos, a Catalan writer, but her Desig de xocolata won the 2014 Premi de les Lletres Catalanes Ramon Llull prize, which comes with an impressively huge purse of €60,000. It has recently been translated as Desire for Chocolate, also up for the First Book Award.
It’s an evening dominated by women, with Scotland’s Makar, Liz Lochhead talking to Ruth Wishart about her new play Thon Man Molière and much more.
The headliner tonight, though, especially after her party’s astonishing performance in the general election, has to be First Minister Nicola Sturgeon talking to one of her, and our, favourite authors, Val McDermid in a First Ministerial Appointment with Queen of Crime. Neither needs any introduction from me, but you can bet that the discussion will not stay on crime fiction for long. The First Minister won’t have to travel far either, as Bute House is about 20 metres from the main theatre.
And the grooviest vicar of them all, the Rev Richard Coles, is along later to explain how he reconciles his former hedonistic life in The Communards with his ecclesiastical time as a priest in Northamptonshire. He’s also the Chaplain of the Royal Academy of Music, the inspiration for the sitcom Rev and an all-round good egg, and his memoir Fathomless Riches was published last year.
It’s been 16 years since Meera Syal’s last book, Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee and at last she’s back with another, The House of Hidden Mothers. She’s a well-loved comic actor and writer whose career took off with Goodness Gracious Me, and has a huge list of credits to her name (including a Doctor Who role), and her latest book combines with an examination of the surrogacy industry in India, asking how far infertile Western couples will go to have a child, and the perspective from the other side. Expect humour and politics in abundance.
Åsne Seierstad’s event in the afternoon will be much more sombre, dealing with the terrorist massacre by a white supremacist in which he killed scores of people, many of them teenagers, in 2011. Seierstad is best known for The Bookseller of Kabul, but she is also a journalist, and for her new book, One of Us, she attended the mass-murderer’s trial and talked to survivors to build up a picture of the terrible day.
I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve never read any William McIlvanney, who is here in The Poetry in Everyday Scottish Lives. He’s hailed as the father of Scottish crime fiction, as Laidlaw was published in 1977, setting the mould for Tartan Noir, and has recently been brought back into print by Canongate after an EIBF event a few years ago. There’s a good piece in The Guardian by Doug Johnstone about how it happened and McIlvanney’s life and work. Go read.
Michel Faber’s Under the Skin was a huge surprise hit in 2000 and was last year released as a successful film starring Scarlett Johansson. Likewise the huge The Crimson Petal and the White was a hit TV miniseries. Is there something about his writing that is inherently cinematic? Jackie McGlone talks to him about The Book of Strange New Things.
And the Staying Well thread isn’t just for adults, as Nicola Morgan asks What is the 21st Century Doing to Our Teenagers. Being a teenager in the 1980s was just about bearable, but things have moved on so far that I can’t imagine how I would have coped in a world where every single thing I did was recorded and stored for later embarrassment or abuse. Morgan has written The Teenage Guide To Stress and though I heartily dislike her neologism “readaxation”, hopefully she can offer practical ways of staying sane for teenagers.