EdBookFest 2011 Diary: Day #6 – Of European writers, Swedish criminologists and Jenny Erpenbeck

Note: remember to scroll down to the bottom for picture highlights from the day.

It was a slightly calmer day weather-wise as I headed into Charlotte Square for Day #6 of the Edinburgh Book Festival (you’ll notice I have no Day #5 entry because I had a day off from the festival yesterday (Wednesday)). It was also unusually quiet when I arrived, or at least it was until later in the day, when a line snaked around almost the entire circumference of the outer walkway, with people waiting in line, to see Scottish artist, John Byrne.

I had myself down for three events today, but I also added in a trip to the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series, a free event which runs every day at the Edinburgh Book Festival (tickets are available from the Box Office on the same day of each event. Please go to one if you can).

A celebration of European fiction
The events kicked off for me today with a visit to the Peppers Theatre, and an audience with Irish writer Kevin Barry, Romanian novelist and screenwriter Lucian Dan Teodorovici, and Dutch novelist and short story writer Manon Uphoff. Of course followers of RobAroundBooks will know that I have a bit of a thing for Kevin Barry (you can read my review of his There Are Little Kingdoms story collection, HERE), and so if I was excited enough to be attending an event on European fiction based around Dalkey Archive Press’s excellent Best of European Fiction series, then I was bordering on the ecstatic knowing that Barry was going to be a part of it.

The event went well. Really well! All three authors read from their own contribution to the Best of European Fiction 2011 anthology (Teodorovici read his through the services of his interpreter), and you got a good sense of the cosmopolitan, and from a European perspective (perfect, given that this event is part of the Europe in the New Era series).

Fans of Kevin Barry will not need me to tell them how theatrical he was during his reading. Always animated and tireless in his efforts to put his words across exactly as he wants people to hear them, he was, as always, a joy to listen to. But let’s not take anything away from Teodorovici and Uphoff though, because the quality of their contributions is easily on a par with that of Barry’s (it’s just Barry’s delivery, it’s just so wow).

I have a full report on this event upcoming (just like most of them eh? I will get to them, I promise), so the only thing I’ll say for now is how much the event made you feel warm inside, not only because of the supreme effort that Dalkey Archive Press puts in to bringing European fiction to a wider audience, but also because the event gave a strong indication that European fiction in translation is well and truly alive and kicking. Wohoo! 🙂

Meeting Mr. Barry, and his wife
With the European fiction event coming to a close, it was off to the bookshop for an opportunity to meet Mr. Barry again (I met him last year you may remember) and to get the signatures of the other two writers. While I was in the queue waiting to buy a copy of the Best of European Fiction 2011 anthology to get signed, a funny thing happened. A woman come up to me and asked if I was Rob from RobAroundBooks. “Yes I am,” I said. “Please to meet you,” she said. “I’m Kevin Barry’s wife.” Was I silenced? You bet I was. I was in presence of the great man’s wife, and that’s not the kind of thing that happens every day.

Of course I stuttered and stumbled through my brief conversation with Mrs. Barry (who by the way is REALLY nice), and I didn’t know what to say (dumbstruck as usual :)). But I did manage to gush over Kevin and tell his wife how much I loved his stories. She responded by rolling her eyes in a ‘I don’t see what all the fuss is about kind of way’ :), before blowing me away and telling me that the Barry’s visit RobAroundBooks regularly, to catch up on my reviews of Kevin’s stories, which was amazing to hear, but scary at the same time.

With my enthusiasm boosted (as if it needed to be any more), it was off to meet Barry himself (again) and have a bit of a chat. He pretty much confirmed what his wife had already said, and thanked me for my support (as if that were really necessary :)). When he found out that Tobias Wolff had been a big hit of festival for me so far (and for anyone else who seen him, I’d imagine), he showed a bit of envy for the fitness of the man. Finally, hearing that I was going to his other event, and knowing that I love his style of delivery, he promised me an overly theatrical reading from City of Bohane. That’s tomorrow, I can hardly wait.

Back down to earth with a bump
If I was pumped up and floating around after meeting Kevin Barry and his wife, then I was soon brought back down to earth with a bump at an Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series event in the early evening. This is a series that focuses on writers who have been imprisoned and persecuted for their words, and some of those words are read out at these events by guest authors. Today the event focussed on the 1990s, and the works of Ken Sar-Wiwa (read by Linda Strachan), Yehude Simon (read by Daniel Gray), Ma Thida (read by Michael Longley) and Death Row inmate, Glenn Cornwell (read by Neal Gaiman).

As you can imagine this was rather a sobering event, but I’m so glad I went to it. It really brought home the fact that although we are able to all enjoy and revel in the writing of our favourite authors here at the Edinburgh Book Festival, there are those around the world who continue to get persecuted for simply picking up a pen. We must never forget that. So if you’re at Edinburgh Book Festival this week, then I implore you to take some time to visit at least one of these FREE events, or at the very least, pop along to the Amnesty International website.

The amazing Leif
If I had gone into my next event not knowing anything about the two authors who were being featured, then I certainly came out it with a complete knowledge of both them, and a certainty that the Swedish half of this event partnership, is going to be next big thing in translated crime fiction in the UK. MARK MY WORDS!

Gavin Knight is the debut author of Hood Rat (Picador), a book which, according to the Guardian, takes ‘an unflinching account of life and death in the sink estates of Britain’. Leif Persson is author of a crime novel called Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (Doubleday), and although he has published nine novels to date in his native Sweden, this is his first novel to be published into English. Two writers with both focused on crime, but two very different writers.

Knight came across in the event as calm, collected, methodological. Not surprising. He’s an acclaimed journalist and has written, amongst other publications, for the Times, Prospect, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and Newsweek. He has also appeared on all of the major news channels. He read from his book, he told us how he had embedded himself with frontline police units in order to research for his book. He also told us about his network of gang member contacts. Then, my ears were pricked up. He told us that Hood Rat is a work of New Journalism (also known (kind of), as literary nonfiction). In other words this is a work of non fiction, but it reads something like a novel, using all of the devices that novelists use, bar the fiction. The book sounds utterly captivating.

With Persson we got more of the sense of his character, rather than of his book (“I can’t even read in Swedish, so I’m not reading from my book”, was his excuse :)) but boy what an amazing, amazing character he is. In Sweden Leif Persson is huge. Not only, as I mentioned before, has he published nine novels to date, but he regularly appears on Swedish television as an expert commentator on notable crime cases. A former professor on criminology at the Swedish National Police Board, Persson has a ton of stories to tell, and he shared some of those stories with us.

Undoubtedly it takes a special kind of character to do the kind of job that Persson did, and undoubtedly he showed us that special character in this event. If he only injects a fraction of that character into his novels, then I’m telling you people, this man is going to be huge in the UK. He certainly won a lot of hearts on this night.

The alluring Erpenbeck
One of the things that I was most disappointed about when I went to the Independent Foreign Fiction Awards back in May, was that Jenny Erpenbeck didn’t make an appearance. She was due to fly to London for the event (she’s a German author, born in East Berlin), but it was around the time of the volcanic ash crackdown, and she couldn’t make it over. Her latest novel, Visitation (Portobello Books) had a profound affect on me (especially the chapter about a Jewish girl hiding out in a ghetto), and at the time of the IFFP Awards, I was convinced she was going to win it. She didn’t win it as some of you will now (Santiago Roncagliolo triumphed with his novel, Red April (Atlantic Books)), but ever since reading this book, I’ve wanted to see her. Tonight I got the chance.

In conversation with host, Michel Faber and supported by author and translator Donal McLaughlin (she hardly needed him, but when she did, he was excellent), Erpenbeck showed as much charm and allure as I expected her too, and more. What a brilliant, brilliant author and a brilliant, brilliant event (made all the more so with Faber’s first-class hosting skills). The only disappointment is I couldn’t meet her face-to face, but thankfully the wonderful @LizzySiddal offered to get my copy signed for me. I only hope and pray that Lizzy got me a photo of Erpenbeck too, because I really do think I’m in love :). Full report on this event soon (if I can calm my beating heart :)). Meantime, enjoy some pics from the day:

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. I also loved the Jenny Erpenbeck event and it was great to have such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic host in Michel Faber, especially as I share his enthuisiasm. I too had hoped she’d win the Independent Prize, or the American Best Translated Book award. It was one of those rare events when a lot seemed to be packed into one hour.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Absolutely 100% agree with everything you said. Faber is probably one of the best hosts I’ve seen at EdBookFest. First time I’ve seen him host too, and as a consequence I may read one of his books 🙂

  2. Another great day by the sounds of it.

    I have the Best European Fiction 2011 on my shelf and once I return from vacation (it won’t fit in my bag, alas) I am going to read Kevin Barry’s contribution.


  1. […] Chris Scott‘s Flickr pageLizzy Siddal on Sebastian BarryAnna Burkey‘s daily diaryRobAroundBooks‘ daily diaryTickets still available:12 – Julie Myerson 12.30pm – Robert Levine […]

  2. […] of related links. You may also like to check in on my EdBookFest diary entries from last year (HERE and HERE) where I talk manically about meeting the man (and his wife, as it happens ). More […]