Note: remember to scroll down to the bottom for picture highlights from the day.
Before I continue with today’s diary entry, I just wanted to offer a quick explanation about my numbering of entries. If you look back on my past EdBookFest Diary posts then you will notice that I have missing days i.e. yesterday, Day #11 for instance. The explanation for this is simple. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not at EdBookFest every single day, and so I cannot offer a diary entry if I’m not there, obviously. Of course I could have adopted a numbering system solely relating to my own attendance, then it would appear, chronologically, as though there are no apparent gaps. In the end though I opted for numbering my entries according to the EdBookFest calendar itself, so you may contrast and compare with anyone else who has written a diary entry for the same days. Crystal clear? No, my head hurts too from writing that. It reads like insurance policy small print . Anyway, let’s get on with today’s highlights.
I had an interesting couple of events lined up today, with the most exciting for me being The Future of the City debate in the Speigeltent later in the evening, but even before I got to my first event I had the pleasure of meeting another publicist, this time Sandra from Picador. Now, I don’t know about you but I get all nervous when I’m meeting new people. It’s not so much about whether I’m going to make a good impression on them or not, because invariably I don’t , but rather because I worry about whether I’m going to connect with them on any sort of level. Well, there was absolutely nothing to fear with Sandra. She’s another one of these warm, charismatic and passionate publicists (aren’t they all?), who with little effort, could get the most adamant of book haters to show some excitement for reading. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to spend some time with her, and to harness some of her energy for literature.
You see, EdBookFest is not just about events. It’s also about getting an opportunity to meet up with some of the most energised, focused and passionate members of the literati, whether they be authors, translators, publicists, fellow readers or whatever. I’ve had the pleasure and honour of meeting some amazing people over these past few days, and it’s not just the authors who have shined in my eyes. I’ve been inspired and motivated beyond words, and that’s solely down to these two weeks in August, when a nondescript patch of grass in Edinburgh’s city centre gets turned into the one of world’s most incredible platforms for literature. It’s at times like these that I can’t summon up enough gratitude for all of the beautiful minds who are behind the organising of this festival, and I’m indebted to each and every one of them for what they bring to me and to every other lover of books, at this time of year.
One thing you’ll never see me doing much around here on RobAroundBooks, is banging a drum for all of the usual popular novelists, you know, like Allan Hollinghurst, Val McDirmid, Ian Rankin, Sebastian Barry etc. It’s not that they’re bad writers because they’re most definitely not. It’s just that I find it dull and boring to see the same old authors getting fawned over, all the time. No, I prefer the unsung author who has the ability to touch my heart and soul a lot deeper than most, bringing to me something different, something unique, and indeed something all together more cultural. Take the two novelists who came together at my first event of the day, Rahul Bhattacharya and Mirza Waheed. It pretty much blew me away being in their presence today. Both their literary prowess and their intelligence moved me greatly, reaffirming to me that the most intense and memorable reading experiences comes not from the big names who are always in the spotlight, but rather from those who have to unfairly crouch in the shadows.
Born and raised in the Kashmir city of Srinagar, Mirza Waheed, author of The Collaborator (Viking) grew up during a dark period in the history of Kashmir, when militancy against India was at its highest. Obsessed by the disappearance of many young men who crossed the border into Pakistan to receive training to oppose the Indian Army, Waheed decided to write a novel account, not only to capture a memory of the conflict, but to research what exactly went on during this period. Chillingly, Waheed also reveals that wrote the novel because he wanted to examine what it is to kill, ‘when eliminating people becomes a job; an everyday task.’
By contrast, New Delhi-based Rahul Bhattacharya’s novel, The Sly Company of People Who Care (Picador) is about a cricket commentator who decides to give up India to go and live in the colonial state of Guyana, South America, where the ethnic mix is as diverse and unique as the country itself. It may come as no surprise to hear that Rahul Bhattacharya is a cricket commentator, and that he has spent time living in Guyana, so potentially this novel should read more as a colorful travelogue than anything else.
Waheed begins his reading and immediately brings a great sobriety to the RBS Corner Theatre. He reads from the start of the book, and describes a scene where the chief protagonist of the novel begins his first job for the Indian Army, retrieving id cards from corpses, scattered and piled in the plush valley where he used to spend most of his time as a child, swimming in the river that runs through. It was real punch in the guts stuff from Waheed, as I’m sure you can imagine.
After his reading, chair Namita Gokhale asked Waheed how he managed to contain his pain and anger with an almost lyrical detachment, when political writing from others can’t manage to do so. He responds saying that the key lies in having a principle character who is young, gentle and innocent, and writing from this boy’s point of view helped in controlling his own emotions.
After a quick reading from Waheed from the end of his novel (quite a rather bizarre choice really, but thankfully no spoilers), Bhattacharya read from his book. And if Waheed’s reading was marked with pain and anger, then Bhattacharya’s was a wholly humorous and vibrant affair. He choose to focus on a passage which describes the blossoming friendship between the narrator of the book and a much older man known as Uncle Lance.
What a fantastic reading from Bhattacharya, full of life, wit and colour. We got a real taste of the vibrancy of Bhattacharya’s characters, and of completely different culture, where cooking, eating and drinking feature greatly. It certainly brought a complete polar opposite to Waheed’s reading, and the light relief was very much welcomed for bringing the event back to some kind of balance.
I could go on and tell you everything else that was said during this fantastic event, but if I did then I would be extending this diary entry would reach gargantuan proportions (I’ll be surprised if anyone has manged to read this far), so I’ll leave it at that for now, and invite you to come back in the not-too-distant future (probably next week when EdBookFest has passed and I have more time to write), to read my full report.
After the Bhattacharya and Waheed event it was off to the signing tent to snap a couple of pics of these two fantastic authors. As I was heading that way though, who should I bump into but none other than Penguin publicist Joe Pickering. I’ve known Joe for a while now, mainly through Twitter, and this was my first chance to meet him. What a highlight. Joe’s everything I expected and more. Great guy, Great personality. What more can I say?
And so, with a couple of hours or so to spare it was back to the Speigeltent (my favourite chill out/workplace at this year’s EdBookFest) to do a bit of writing. As good as the Speigeltent is, it brings a sense of detachment from the rest of EdBookFest, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the plus side it helps one to concentrate, but on the negative it keeps one from bringing a fuller flavour of a particular day at EdBookFest. To compensate, at various points in my writing, I go off on a wander to see in anything good is happening, and to take a few snaps if the opportunity arises.
It was during one such scouting trip that such an opportunity did arise. I’m currently dipping into Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts’ Edgelands (Jonathan Cape), and finding it immensely entertaining. They had an event today which I sadly couldn’t get to, because it clashed with Rahul Bhattacharya and Mirza Waheed. How chuffed I was then to see them both in the bookshop signing copies of their book. I knew that Symmons Roberts was going to be in the Future of the City event later that evening, but here were both authors together and so I took the opportunity to have a quick chat, and get my copy of Edgelands signed, by both writers.
What can I say? What a pair of thoroughly warm and engaging chaps, Farley and Symmons Roberts are. So nice to spend even the couple of minutes I did with these too. I can see why their book is so engrossing, it shows in their character.
Getting towards late afternoon a huge buzz went up around Charlotte Square. If you follow the news in Edinburgh then you will know that a mysterious person has, over the past few months, left mysterious book sculptures at key locations round the city, i.e. the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and The Filmhouse. Today it was the turn of the Edinburgh Book Festival. Two beautiful book sculptures were left today, one for EdBookFest, found on one of the signing tables in the EdBookFest bookshop, the other left at a front desk, for Edinburgh’s UNESCO City of Literature. Luckily I was around to see the one gifted to EdBookFest, and you can catch a few of my random amateur shots, on Flickr (there’s also one in my highlight photos, at the foot of this post). For better photos of both of these gifts, plus ones of the other book sculptures to be found around Edinburgh, please visit this most excellent page from Chris Scott, official EdBookFest photographer. For even more information, check out this Guardian article.
Future of the City
Make no mistake about it folks, ever since I first spotted The Future of the City event in EdBookFest’s programme, I was excited about it. Chaired by the legendary Joan Bakewell, and featuring urbanist Edward L Glaeser, architectural historian Miles Glendinning, and of Edgelands, Michael Symmons Roberts, this looked like being one of THE events of EdBookFest 2011 for me. Tonight was the night of that event and I’m sure you can imagine just how pumped I was to be going along to it.
Unfortunately Edward L Glaeser, the man who really knows about cities, couldn’t make the event, and so it was down to the other two to go it alone. It was a valiant attempt, and both men held their corners well, but for me, well it was all a bit dull and lifeless. It’s true that not everyone is going to like every event they go to at EdBookFest, and I guess that this was the one event that didn’t really work for me. Absolutely nothing against either of the debaters – or indeed the wonderful Joan Bakewell – but the discussion didn’t have any of the vibrancy and passion that I was expecting (Glaeser’s absence certainly didn’t help), and the whole thing, aside from the odd spark of delight, ended up feeling more like a mix between a really dull lecture, and a city council meeting. The less said the better, I suppose.
Anyway, that’s my day #12, I’m not back at EdBookFest until day #15 (Saturday 27th) with Philip Hensher & Belinda Mckeon, and Steve Sem-Sandberg, until then please enjoy some of my picture highlights (click to expand):