Archive for the ‘Edinburgh International Book Festival’ Category

This event was with Naomi Alderman and Valerie Martin.
Chaired by Margaret Atwood.

Welcome to Edinburgh Book Festival, Margaret said to the audience and told us she was told to say that. She then said it again and instructed the audience to cheer at the end. This is truly the form of Margaret Atwood.

“Zombies can’t skate on ice”, Margaret told the audience. Naomi told the audience that we may laugh but this could be helpful survival information when the zombie apocalypse comes.

Valerie grew up in New Orleans and explained it is a very spooky place to grow up. She mainly spent her time reading fairy tales and they can be very dark stories, everything frightened her as a child. This was not helped by the fact she was introduce to Edgar Allan Poe at a very young age. As a young child you realise that adults can be more scarier than monsters.

Naomi’s father read Edgar Allan Poe to her as bedtime stories, this was soon stopped when her mum found out about it, she was 8 or 9 at the time.

Margaret pointed out that this was a very curious parents and mine was always telling me to stop reading as much.

Children love monster stories because they are vulnerable and are subject to their own parents weirdness in reality. Naomi admitted that she was not a zombie fan before she started working on the zombie run app. Zombies are a very modern monster, at this point Margaret asked Naomi to do a zombie impression, which she did. Afterwards she stated that if Margaret Atwood asks you to do a zombie impression, you just do it. There was tales of zombies present in the 1960s but these were voodoo zombies and were very different to the zombie that we know in this age. Zombies apocalypses tend to be more popular when there is an economic downturn. Some of us feel there’s too many people, especially those of us who live in cities. Zombies help us to confront our desire to get rid of them. Plus you get to shoot people in the zombie apocalypse.

In the modern age there has been a twist on how we see monsters, Margaret stated to the audience. Vampires used to be evil, smelly and unattractive. However there is now a sub-genre of paranormal romance and vampires have became desirable, this genre has changed the rules without asking. Vampires used to burn in direct sunlight now they just sparkle. There is now a possibility for monsters to be good. Why do we make friends with monsters? Valerie answered this by stating that humans are the real monsters, in which Naomi agreed.

You can do things with prose fiction that you can’t do with any other form. Valerie agreed with this point and added that the real virtual experience is the novel as it allows access to the author’s brain. The novel is the only thing that can take you completely out of your life and you willingly give your time up to experience it.

Margaret then moved the talk onto that fact that we are all writing under the influence when we live, you can not write a sci-fi or historical novel that isn’t actually about the time you live in. Valerie argued this point that by stating that anyone that writes something from before they were born is taking liberties and has to use their imagination in parts. You have to take fiction to be a mixture of both fact and fiction. History is always written with an agenda and then rewritten 50 years later.

Naomi told the audience that zombies are the only monsters that can be both a victim and an aggressor at the same time. They are walking corpses, imagine what it must feel like to have your loved one, how is dead, trying to kill you. Zombies are a poor representation of innocence and are the only victim that you should be afraid of. The true monsters we should be afraid of are the corporation that created the monsters and banks. We are putting the darkness back where it belongs in humans.

The 5 o’clock witching hour was then upon us and Margaret stated that it was time for them to go back to being writers.


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In conversation with Vicky Featherstone

The place was packed with people eagerly awaiting the appearance of Neil Gaiman. It was great to see a wide age range of people at this event. This event was to promote Neil’s children book Fortunately the Milk… which is illustrated by Chris Riddell.

The first book Neil ever wrote was a children’s book but it was never published, according to Neil this was a good thing. It initially took a lot to convince people that Coraline was a book for adults and children. According to Neil, Coraline is the strangest book he has ever written. When writing a book you have to write with an audience in mind and the majority of the time the audience Neil has in mind is himself but smaller. It was easier to convince people that The Graveyard book was a book for children as it featured a kid.

Neil used to think there was two kinds of novelists, foxes who know lots of little things and a hedgehog which knows just one big thing. He used to think of himself as a fox but as he has gotten older he has realised he is more of an hedgehog. Stories are important, stories help us to make sense of our lives. Behind every pair of eyes there is just another version of yourself. When we are reading book, we are ultimately spending time in another person’s mind. Books offer a genuine real way out of a bad place and allows us to experience things in a safe environment. Fairy tales teach kids that bad things can be defeated but this is not always the case. Stories should tell children real things but supply them with the armour to deal with these things.

Talked turned to which book he had written was his favourite. He is extremely proud of The Graveyard Book as it took 20 years to come together. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is also one of his favourite books because it surprised him and it was not the story that he originally set out to write. In a way this was the world giving me a bonus book. Ultimately my favourite book is always the one that I have not written.

With that final thought an interesting hour was brought to an end. Vicky did an excellent job chairing this event and I really liked how she asked all the adults to put there hand down as she only wanted the questions from children. After all this was a children’s event.

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Chaired by Peter Guttridge

The event was kicked off by both authors giving a reading from their novels. Mikhail read the first paragraph of his novel in Russian to show the audience the beauty of the Russian language.

Mikhail explained that the concept of his novel is very simple. It is a novel of love correspondents and switches between he and she. They write letters to each other because they are separated from one another. There are two sorts of time, there is reality which is the time for journalists, it is a fake time in which the newspapers believe what they have written is true. The paper of yesterday will be dead tomorrow. The other kind is real time. A writer has to pick the important bits of reality time and wind them into real time. When you read immortal literature like War and Peace then you become immortal yourself. All words are dead and language is dead, a writer has to start with the understanding that you can’t say anything with words. Mikhail’s mother tongue is Russian and it can be a difficult language to express yourself in, as the language is always changing, as language is the key to reality. The changing Russian language is like a train and the writer must be on the train. If the writer falls off the train they have two choices run after the train or create their own language. What is fresh today will be rotten tomorrow.

Lauren was interested on how we are haunted by our own history. The same problems seem to come up repeatedly in history. It is all about how we understand time and time is all about language. People have an idea that you must choose between plot or character this is not true you can have both. A story should be a house that you can inhabit and language is our way of understanding the world.

Mikhail believes that the writer must write about things that journalists can’t. Everything that is important in life has no words and it is up to the writer to translate this into language. A good book should not humiliate the reader but give the reader some dignity back. There are two types of novelists the master of the novel, he is always drinking coffee, rings a bell and the novel comes to him. The second type is the servant of the novel, he is always waiting around for the master to ring the bell.

Lauren compared writing to taking a road trip at night, you know all the important landmarks but you can not see the road in front of you. There is a drunken master at the wheels that is swerving in all directions. Time travel is done badly so often and for time travel to work it has to make sense. Lauren tracked all the events that happened in her novel to make sure they were all connected and flowed. Lauren had to do a lot of research for her novel, in order for time travel to be executed correctly everything else has to be real. The richest details within the novel are actually historically accurate and are taken from real events.

As a novelists there are two important prizes you can win, Mikhail explained first prize is that the novel comes to you before you start writing. The second prize is that it is possible to write the novel all the way to the end. They are the two prizes that Mikhail wants to win over and over ageing.

With that final thought the event was brought to a close.

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Neil Gaiman was appearing in conversation with Charles Fernyhough.

On one level, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story about childhood memories. Memory is like seeing things in the mist, the further into your memories you go the more you detail you get. Originally was not planning on writing a novel, this was meant to be a short story for Neil’s wife. It was going to be a dialled down fantasy with the protagonist being a 7 year old Neil. In some ways the story went fractal on me. The story kept walking through the mist. At times memory can be very specific and as you get older you realise that people have died and you are the only person left with a specific memory.
The process of writing a novel is a lot like a game of what if? As you get older you realise that you are never quite sure what memories are the important ones. Any mistakes that you do make are important as long as you learn from them. Neil would hate to lose any of his memories as the define who he is as a person.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane has been reviewed in a variety of ways. It has been described as magical realism, horror, fantasy and a novel about memories that cover other memories.

Children can be extremely powerless in situations but something’s are built into the human condition. Everyday children are born into the world without an instruction manual. They have to face a world with an already occupied force and are forced to learn our language.

This most recent novel has been described as a fairy tale and Neil feels that as humans we have not forgotten the need for fairy tales. Good fairy tales just feel right. The best thing people can tell you when you are a writer is that they didn’t like reading, then they picked up your book, finished it and know they read all the time. The second best thing people can tell you is that is feel like your book will always be a part of me, even long after I am finished it.

Normally when writing a book, Neil has a specific target audience in mind. However at the start of the process it wasn’t clear if it was going to be a children’s book or an adult book. It is primarily an adult book, with adult books you can leave the boring bits in. It is a book that says sometimes the dragons are huge and they win the battle or there is always a price for winning.

With that final thought a very interesting hour was brought to a close.

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Chaired by Allan Little

ian 1

Jackie’s Leven song, Standing in another man’s rain, was playing as we awaited Ian Rankin coming onto stage. This is the sing that inspired the title of Ian’s novel Standing in another man’s grave as when listening to the song he misheard rain as grave and thought it would make a good title for a book. In Ian’s mind at the end of Exist Music, Rebus was gone so in a way he is returning from the grave. He thought that Rebus would be working in the cold case unit, as they employ retired cops. When they changed the retirement age, he knew that Rebus would apply to be back on active duty and have one last chance at being a cop.

Those of you who have read any of Ian’s novels know that music features in all of them. Ian’s reason for this is that most crime writers are just frustrated writers

Did you have doubts about bring Rebus back?
Of course, replied Ian. He hadn’t written about Rebus in 5 years and was wondering if Rebus’s voice would still be there but when he started writing he realised that Rebus had been sitting in a little compartment in his brain this whole time.

In a way Rebus is a dinosaur, he is the kind of cop that doesn’t exist any more. He always is doing things for the correct reasons but he is willing to break the rules to get the correct result. In a way Cafferty is a dinosaur as well, he is a gangster who has a moral code and they rarely exist in this day and age. Due to this Rebus and Cafferty have a lot of empathy towards each other.

In the new book, Saints of the Shadow Bible, Malcolm is no longer working in the complaints department and he is back in CID with Rebus. The two of them are forced to work together. Ian hopes that Malcolm will be more likeable in this book. The title of the new book is also inspired by a Jackie Leven lyric. The lyrics will be in the first page of the book. The title came to Ian first and then had to think what does this title mean?

Ian then read a short extract out of Chapter 5 of the Saints of the Shadow Bible.

When writing you have to find a writer’s style that you admire and try to steal it and make it work for you. You have to trust that the reader will get what you are trying to do. Ian thinks that “Dan Brown doesn’t trust his readers as he lays the plot out for the readers”.

Time for some audience questions.

Who Inspired Rebus? Is he your darker side?
He is becoming my dark side, replied Ian. In the first few novels, Ian couldn’t see the similarities between himself and rebus but gradually over time they have become apparent. In a way authors are all their characters. After all Cafferty lives in Ian’s house in the books.

Edinburgh has everything that a big city has but doesn’t feel like it is a big city. There is plenty of green space and you can always find somewhere to be alone. There is always a new angle of Edinburgh to discover.

Your name appears a lot in Scotland Street series, is there a reason for this?
Alexander McCall Smith lives down the street from Ian. He knocks the door once a year, to tell Ian that he is going to appear in his latest novel. Ian told the audience that revenge is a dish best served cold and Alexander McCall Smith will appear in one of his books in the future. However Ian does put people in his book, that have paid money in a charity auction to be in his book.

We spotted you in Oxford Bar last night, what is it about that place that makes you go back?
In the older books, everywhere Rebus went was a fictitious place. After the first few novels, Ian moved Rebus to a real police station, he lives in a real street and drinks in a real bar. The Oxford Bar was where Ian started drinking as a student. It is a hidden side of Edinburgh and you have to know it is there otherwise you will not be able to find it. There is no music, it is a place to have a conversation and a drink. People leave notes for Ian at the Oxford Bar all the time.

What do you think about Scandinavian crime?
As a UK crime writer you regularly have to walk past table after table of Scandinavian fiction. Some of it is fine however there is a lot of good Scottish crime fiction that is not getting enough attention.

Do you feel there is a certain level of snobbery when it comes to the Man Booker prize and crime fiction?
If crime fiction gets longlisted it does not tend to get shortlisted. If it does it become literary fiction not crime fiction. However crime fiction is not dealt as bad a hand as Si-Fi or fantasy. There is less of a stigma attached to crime fiction and there are creative writing courses that focus solely on crime fiction. Why do we continue to do bad things to each other? Is the central question that crime fiction is trying to answer. Crime fiction can give you a sense of what the social and political problems are at a given time.

You have developed Siobhan as a character, did you consider giving her a book where she was the main character?
It was one of the options, after Rebus retired. However Ian got interested in the Complaints department and Siobhan would not fit into that storyline. Maybe in the future, Ian stated that he has a lot of time for Siobhan.

How would Rebus vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum?
Rebus would vote no, Siobhan would vote yes and Ian is somewhere in the middle. There is some stuff about the YES/NO campaign in the new book.

Will there be a new book next year?
No, Ian is planning on taking a year off and going traveling. He paid tribute to Gavin Wallace and Ian Banks, both who died this year.

With that final thought a very entertaining hour was brought to a close.

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Featuring James Kakalios
Chaired by Helen Sedgwick

Above is the audience, just before the event started. Little did we know, we were all going to be getting a physics lecture with a superhero twist.

The title of the presentation given was The uncanny Physics of Super-hero comic books. He started off by thanking everyone for coming to the event….Nerds. In 2001, James created a seminar class at the University of Minnesota called ‘Everything I know about science I learned from reading comic books.’ In spring 2002, with the release of Spiderman film, James thought it was an ideal opportunity to get science into the newspaper. He wrote one article about Spiderman and it went all round the world. He then started showing up in places where physics professors don’t usually appear. Like Trivial Pursuit!

Superheroes in comics get their science right more than you think. You just need to suspend your disbelief. The physics of being super strong or super fast is correct if you suspend your disbelief. ‘Just the other day I picked up an object that was going at 600 miles an hour, it was a ginger bear I poured on my plane. But so was I moving at the same speed.

Talk then moved to newton’s third law of motion. For every action there is an opposite but equal reaction or forces come in pairs. There was sighs in the audience at this remark and it led James to say ‘ I am a teacher, your hatred only makes me stronger.’

As a child I really wanted to be hit by lighting or roll around in nuclear waste, as this seemed to be the way to gain superpowers.

In June 1938, superman made his first appearance. The very first superman villain was a crooked politician, that’s who he used to fight. He fought crooked politicians, landlords and owners of coal mines. However as soon as Superman became top comic of a multi-million empire, the villain switched to people like Brianiac. They still wanted to take over the world but left the USA economic structure alone.

Comics have always envisioned what our future world will be like. For example we do have jet packs, why do we not take them to work? Well you could if you lived next door to where you work on average a jet pack will only last 7 minutes. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to use a jet pack.

In spring 1926, pulp magazine Amazing Stories was the first magazine to focus soley on sci-fi. Also published in the same year was Schrodinger. One led to lasers, the other led to death rays.

Quantum Mechanics in three easy steps:
1) Light is both a wave and a particle.
2) Matter has wave and particle properties.
3) Everything has intrinsic spin
The above properties of matter form the base of the physics behind the MRI machine. We used to think that helium only existed in the stars, which is why it was named after Helios, the sun god. It wasn’t until years later that helium particles were discovered naturally on Earth.

Before Spiderman, every month the world would be attacked by giant space invaders in Tales to Astonish. The world was doomed if it wasn’t for scientists! Some of giant space invaders were, Lo-Kar. Moomba, Groog and Fin Tang Foom. James’s favourite space invader was the tax collector from outer space.

When the laser was first developed, journalists reported that it was an invention of a death ray. It took four years from the invention of the laser until it was used to try to cut 007 in half in Goldfinger.

The final slide of James’s presentation stated that ‘with physics comes both great power and great responsibility.’

With that final thought the event was drawn to a close. This event was extremely entertaining and incorporated quantum physics and superheroes. The nerd inside me wishes that the event was longer.
I highly recommend that everyone should read ‘The physics of Superheroes’ and see for yourself how often the physics behind the comics is actually correct.

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Chaired by Peggy Hughes

richardRichard’s novel The Kills was a digital first and with the digital downloads you can restructure how the novel is presented to you. You can read it character by character or day by day. The Kills is 4 books, one a crime novel and the other 3 are more political thrillers but all the novels are interlinked. With the digital edition you can also choose what order you want to read the novels in. After this brief introduction we were treated to a reading from The Kills.

Sergio’s novel A Naked Singularity was originally self-publishedsergio and just won the PEN/Robert W Bingham prize. It is set within the Manhattan criminal justice system but it is not a liner or traditional criminal justice system novel. Sergio then read from his novel, he reads with such passion that you can not help but hang onto every word that he is saying.

Peggy then started the discussion by asking both authors to explain the publishing journey that they have went through with their novel.
Sergio had to pay to make his writing into a book, after it was self published he was done with it. However his wife was not, through her hard work she created a buzz about the novel through various literature lovers. It was then picked up by University of Chicago press and has just been picked up MacLehose Press and is being published internationally. It will be available in the UK from the 29th of August. It is a book that would literally not have existed if it was not for the internet. Richard had a different journey, his novel was first published digitally, one novel being released a month. With the digital copy of the book you get extra videos and audio press which stretches the book. However all the digital pieces are designed to stand alone.

Where did the idea for your novel come from anh how long did it take to write?
Sergio is a public defender in New York and he was always interested in the notion of a public defender breaching the line and becoming a criminal themselves. The novel was the perfect platform to explore that idea, the novel took about five to six years to write. He added that this is painful and embarrassing to say aloud. Richard started out with two images, what is it like to be socialised with an event and what if what someone says ultimately is not what happened. The three main volumes of the novel took three to four years to write.

What are you literature influences as a writer?
When reading The Kills you can sense that there has been a Roberto Bolaño influence on the novel. This is very true, Richard states that 2666 opened up many possibilities and showed that there is a way to play with form when you go beyond the traditional 70,000 word novel. Sergio’s response could not be more different, he states that as a reader he is more likely to pick up a book from 100 years a go. It is really a question of it you are truly aware of these books being influences when you are writing. The 19th century Russian classic are a huge influence, as well as Moby Dick. Literature to me is a form of religion, one of the ways I choose to worship it is through writing.

Was there a certain aspect of freedom attached to writing A Naked Singularity? As when writing it you did not have a publisher.
Sergio responded with I hope not, cause if the freedom was the only way I could write then I have lost that freedom. You ultimately have to resist the temptation to think like that. Sergio plan to continue to operate like the only person who is going to read his work is himself and maybe his wife if she got curious. He believes it should be mandatory by law that everyone has to write everyday, doesn’t matter if you are no good at it. Art forms are a siren song for a reason.

Talk then moved onto the art of writing a bigger book. Richard described the long novel as a canvas and it is ultimately a suspension of ideas. Sergio added that the long novel is its own thing and is separate from the short novel. It has a certain demand to it and you rarely hear people complain that a novel is too long. When they do complain it is because the novel does not work. A novel should transport you to another world and make your own life seem very boring. The long novel requires a higher attention span than the short novel and he added that he gets a pay off much quicker through reading Dubliners than reading a 19th century Russian Classic. (Personally I love the fact that he considers Dubliners light reading, as people who know me will know I am a great fan of Joyce’s work)

Time for some audience questions

Would you recommend self publishing?
Yes but you need to be careful not to be taken advantage of. Get other people to read your work before you go down that route as it is very expensive to self publish. If you find that you are the only one that likes it, you have already found your perfect reader. Richard added that he shot most of the material that is available digitally. All this was done on an extremely low budget.

Do you understand the power of the reader?
The best thing you can hope for when writing, is that your book will linger with the reader long after they are finished it, like a good scent. He likes books that treat you like you are intelligent and treat the reader with a bit of dignity.

A Naked Singularity is a very unique title, how did you think of it?
The title is explained in the book near the end and when it is explained you will realise that it has in a way formed nearly every sentence within the book. It was a cool phrase and he ultimately just wanted to use it. A naked singularity is a gravitational singularity without an event horizon. In a black hole, the singularity is completely enclosed by a boundary known as the event horizon, inside which the gravitational force of the singularity is strong enough so that light cannot escape. Hence, objects inside the event horizon—including the singularity itself—cannot be directly observed. A naked singularity, by contrast, is observable from the outside.

Do you think that non-mainstream ways of publishing will become common?
Sergio started his answer by saying that as a writer you need to feel like an outsider. The novel has to be something new, it has to emerge from the margins and then that idea becomes mainstream. The writer that are madder are normally better. He added that he read the description of Richard’s novel and got thrilled, as it hadn’t been done before. The novel will never die, if writers refuse to accept the status quo.

With that final thought an hours discussion was brought to an end. I have to add that this event will probably be one of my highlights of this year festival. There are certain events that you know are going to be good and this one did not disappoint me. It was lovely to hear the amount of passion that each man have for the written word. It was also lovely to see that Sergio got his copy of The Kills signed by Richard at the singing after the event, this just goes to show how much this man does love literature and I look forward to see what each of these writers does next.

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