With summer having lasted about three hours this year and Edinburgh weather today looking more like December, we can only hope that things will have brightened up by August in time for the Edinburgh International Book Festival which, as you might have noticed, I’m trying to preview in full before tickets go on sale tomorrow morning. So here we go with the last of our EIBF 2015 round-ups. A special four-day bumper edition because I R stupid and forgot Monday was a thing.
I make no apology for yet again plugging the writers and artists who make the Phoenix Comic such a weekly dose of joy. In the Reading Workshop — Neill Cameron, creator of Mega Robo Bros, artist of Pirates of Pangaea and lover of Lorne sausage rolls — is giving lessons on Reading Manga. There is a whole world of conventions used in Japan’s hugely popular comics culture that can be unfamiliar to Western audiences, not least of which is that they are read from the back of the book and right to left. There are ways of portraying emotions and visual shorthand that have no precedent in our own visual culture, and Neill will explain these and some of the weird, syncretic mixes of Western and Eastern philosophy that inform the subjects. He’s also doing a workshop for kids later in the afternoon.
Sometimes the programming of the festival means that two authors who you’d think have nothing much in common end up sharing a stage in what sounds like a brilliant combination. One such is Jacky Colliss Harvey and Frances Larson, guests of Gill Arbuthnott, who will be talking heads. Specifically redheads and severed heads. The science, politics and history of red hair meets the horror of decapitation. Blimey, this should be a strange one.
Having skipped the EIBF for a couple of years, lurking out in the Fringe, Steve Bell is back. A prominent cartoonist of almost 40 years, and a regular in the Guardian, he’s one of the last men standing in what used to be a crowded field of newspaper cartoonists. There’s been grumbling recently, perhaps justified, that his portrayal of the SNP has been pretty poor, but it’s the job of cartoonists to irritate and offend and he’s hardly been the only one to fall back on clichés of kilts and Braveheart. He’s an angry, funny stage presence, and is well worth a watch, whatever your political bent.
Terry Waite has written a comic novel. Well, having spent the last two decades being asked mainly about being kidnapped and held prisoner in Beirut, wouldn’t you want something else to talk about? The Voyage of the Golden Handshake is his first shot at fiction to be published, the story of an admiral in the Royal Navy who retires and sets up his own cruise line. He recently wrote “I have to confess that some of the stuff which passes for humour these days does not make me laugh at all. It seems so cynical and so far away from that which I enjoy. I have attempted to write something funny that would be acceptable to those who were fed up with much of modern comedy.” He’s in conversation with James Runcie, son of Archbishop Robert.
The Stripped thread continues with Rob Davis talking about his most recent book, the surreal and unsettling The Motherless Oven. He’s joined by Karrie Fransman, who I have to admit I’m not familiar with, but if her Ted talk is anything to go by, this should be an inspiring and slightly strange event.
Tracey Thorn’s bestselling memoir Bedsit Disco Queen seems to have been universally loved and her events talking about it have been for many people the highlight of previous festivals. She’s back this year with Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, an examination of the joys (and terrors) of performing, a book that includes appreciations and interviews with artists such as Alison Moyet and Green Gartside. One to book early.
Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise when you see a listing and have absolutely no idea who the authors are. Evie Wyld is apparently an Australian writer, whose All the Birds, Singing won several awards, and has decided to produce a memoir in comic form, Everything is Teeth, illustrated by Joe Sumner. As a bit of a comics nerd (you may have noticed), I’ve a mixture of excitement and trepidation when a major publisher commissions a graphic novel by someone who’s new to the field, as they can often be terrible (Doris Lessing) but sometimes excellent (Denise Mina).
The festival is nothing if not even-handed politically. We’ve had Labour’s Roy Hattersley, Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP and, arguably, Nick Robinson as a proxy for the Conservatives (otherwise conspicuous by their absence), now it’s the turn of Caroline Lucas for The Greens. She’s here to discuss her book Honourable Friends?: Parliament And The Fight For Change, and will presumably address the fact that, under the current system, despite getting 3.8% of the UK vote the Greens have just 0.15% of the seats in the Commons. That is, still just her.
The big event tonight, though, is Ian Rankin’s guest, best known as Bernard from Bernard and the Genie, and one half of Kelvinside’s Victor and Barry, Alan Cumming.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this one sells out tomorrow morning, as Cumming is now one of Broadway’s hot tickets, and he chats here with Rankin about his journey from Aberfeldy to the US and the subject of his book Not My Father’s Son, which details the memories of a tough childhood and unexpected contact from his estranged father.
As it’s the weekend, the kids programme is huge again, and notable inclusions are Adam Murphy doing another workshop based on his splendidly ghoulish and informative Corpse Talk. If you want a reminder of how passionate Adam is about comics and drawing, here’s a chat I had with him and Neill Cameron last year.
Again, the Sunday hangover after the Saturday blowout is a more low-key affair, but the wonderful Michael Rosen is along to brighten up the morning with observations on how children can be learning in everything they do, not just in school.
As part of the Talking Translation thread, Turkish author Elif Shafak and Bosnian-American Aleksandar Hemon discuss writing in more than one language, addressing what the dominance of English in the world means for the creative process. Shafak has a huge following and is a prolific writer on culture and politics and mysticism, and packed out Looking Glass Books last year. Hemon, who was on holiday in the US at the start of the Balkan wars and effectively became an exile, has received multiple awards for his work.
And it’s a welcome return for a frequent subject of this blog, the affable yet vicious cartoonist Martin Rowson who talks about his book on the Coalition, alongside Jean-Pierre Filiu, who wrote Best of Enemies: A History of US and Middle East Relations, illustrated by David B (not well known outside comics circles, but fêted within it).
In the evening Hyeonseo Lee, in the Human Rights Now thread, tells of her life in North Korea and her subsequent escape to China then South Korea, detailed in her book The Girl With Seven Names. As our current government wants to remove our own human rights, it should be a sobering reminder of what happens in a country that has none.
In a time when media awareness is high of how women who stand up for their rights still get hounded and abused online, in the street and even at home, it’s welcome that a collection of writers, male and female, will get five minutes each to explain Why I Call Myself a Feminist. Among the contributors will be Caroline Criado-Perez, Christopher Brookmyre, Nish Kumar and Elif Shafak. It promises to be a passionate, powerful hour.
Over in the kids’ programmethere’s more Phoenix comic-related fun, with Laura Ellen Anderson, creator of Evil Emperor Penguin (and his lovely minion, Eugene) holding a workshop for 8-12-year-olds. And turning his hand to a (mainly) text book is ace illustrator and creator of Gary’s Garden, Gary Northfield with his debut novel Julius Zebra. Julius, kidnapped from the plains of Africa by Romans, ends up in the Colosseum and has to fight to gain freedom for himself and his pals. It’s very, very silly but surprisingly informative.
Stripped 2015 wraps up with a couple of creators who address the world of economics and finance. Darryl Cunningham is a writer and artist who has created comics on psychiatry, Objectivism and many other subjects, and his most recent book, Supercrash, dissects the way in which the world economy was crashed by the finance industry who then went on to profit handsomely from it and misdirect the blame. He’s appearing with another name new to me, Katrine Marçal, a journalist who has written a book taking a feminist perspective on the work of the father of capitalism, starting with the question Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? Should be pair of fun, fact-filled rants.
Expanding on her five minutes the previous night, Caroline Criado-Perez is back for In Praise of Pioneering Women to present her book Do it Like a Woman. Having been at the sharp end of serious abuse when her campaign to get better representation of women on bank notes took off, she’s become well-known as a champion of women’s rights, and her book covers trailblazers and campaigners such as Pussy Riot and the first and only woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone.
And last, but not least, in the adult picks, perennial favourite Christopher Brookmyre is back with a new Jack Parlabane novel, Dead Girl Walking. In The More You Have, the More You Have to Lose, he chats with Brian Taylor about how fame breeds its own brand of paranoia and fear.
The highlight today in the children’s programme is Comic Consequences, featuring three great talents, Laura Ellen Anderson, Adam Murphy and Gary Northfield, scribbling away in a kind of giant improvisation, creating a comic from audience suggestion, hosted by Viv French.
So that’s it, a week and a bit of posts that I hope will be of use to you in making your selections for this August. If you have found them useful, please let us know!