Authors, comedians, intellectuals and writers from all over the world poured into Scotland’s magnificent capital city, frankly, to promote their latest books at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF). MediaTainment Finance (and its publisher JayKay Media Inc) attended the event to see if the print medium and the creativity that drives it are really dying in the digital age. With titles available in both print and e-books, and authors with social-media accounts, the packed festival proved the art of writing books is far from torn to pieces. The (mostly celebrity) authors regaled audiences as they recounted the inspiration behind their books published just before the festival or the latter part of this year. Below, catch up with the authors we saw, including eminent journalists (Lynn Barber; Bonnie Greer; Ian Bell); popular comedians (Omid Djalili; Dave Gorman); Scotland’s finest (Alexander McCall Smith; Irvine Welsh); plus gothic, grime and gritty-crime specialists (Kate Mosse; Cilla and Rolf Borjlind; Gordon Ferris).
Lynn Barber: Infamously known as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (formerly the address of Britain’s national newspapers), her celebrity profiles in respectable heavyweight papers will go down in history for skewering the personalities of the rich and famous in a way that made sensationalist tabloids blush. Yet, here she was at the festival looking as genteel as a lovable grandmother promoting her memoir A Curious Career (Bloomsbury). Barber admitted she had an auspicious career start as her first profile interviews (for soft-porn magazine Penthouse) included two of the 20th century’s iconic public figures: the eccentric surreal-art pioneer Salvador Dali, and Gore Vidal, one of America’s literary giants. She said the most awkward interviews were with Marianne Faithfull, the singer-songwriter and 1960s “It” girl; UK actor Martin Clunes; and Spanish tennis champion Rafael Nadal. As she explained: “I don’t like actors and I don’t like sportsmen because there is already too much newspaper space given to them. And I don’t like doing those married to famous people, or those related to victims.”
Ian Bell: theScottish award-winning journalist ripped apart the career of Bob Dylan… music legend, singer, songwriter, poet, artist, actor, film director, a difficult man. The paperback edition of Time Out of Mind (Mainstream Publishing/Random House), the second part of his acclaimed two-volume biography of Dylan, is named after the singer’s 30th studio album. At the festival, the book became the centrepiece of his discussion with the Dylan aficionados at the sold-out venue. They listened to, agreed with and challenged what he had to say about the man known as (“the spokesman of a generation”). Bell, who agreed Dylan would have disputed that description, was obviously enthralled with the genius while baffled by his numerous faults. Most of those shortcomings, he argued, were totally needless. For a report on Bell’s musings at the festival, read online music magazine Rockol.com.
(l-r) Rolf Borjlind, Cilla Borjlind, moderator, and Gordon Ferris
Cilla and Rolf Borjlind; and Gordon Ferris: During a panel session called Pulse-Quickening Suspense, about the nature of crime fiction, the Swedish couple Cilla and RolfBorjlind (“the king and queen of Scandinavian crime”) read extracts from the translation of their new opus Spring Tide (Hesperus Press). They left the audience in suspense about the fate of the pregnant woman who is buried alive up to her neck on a beach as the tide slowly rises…when her water breaks. The former TV scriptwriters admitted they loved the God-like power novel writing gave them over the books’ characters. “The reasons for writing novels: we wanted to be God; we wanted total control of the characters, their environment, what they say, what they do. No one can say we can’t do this or that (as they do with TV productions) because they don’t have the budget.” Ferris, famous for his Glasgow Quartet, said: “I write the crime genre for exploring human beings on an intense landscape. You get that sense of the pressure cooker.” His new book is Money Tree (Merula Books).
Omid Djalili: The English stand-up comic and acclaimed character actor (he plays a slave trader in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic Gladiator) has written a hilarious memoir about his childhood between “posh” Kensington in London and Iran, where his parents originate from. The excerpt he recited from the autobiography, Hopeful (Headline Publishing), was probably the most scatological piece of literature read out during the festival. But, given the context, it was very funny and the audience loved it.
Dave Gorman: The English comedian/raconteur read from the first chapter of Too Much Information: Or: Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think (Ebury Press). The book is his take on life in the digital Age, an era of data overload. To give a chronological context to his views, he recalled seeing the first colour television, then reading his first email, followed by watching the UK’s first five TV channels, making his first mobile phone call, receiving his first text. As a music fan, he reminisced about the days when buying a physical album involved a real commitment. “You forced yourself to like every track because of the huge financial commitment” made in buying it. But, referring to the iTunes and Spotify cultures, he added: “When it comes to music, I am jealous of the kids of today. Today, more music is consumed than ever before and they listen to a wider range of genres.” He was also astonished to learn that his 18-month-old niece has already had more photos taken of her for social media compared to pictures taken of his 75-year-old dad during his lifetime.
Bonnie Greer: It was rather disappointing that part of the festival moderator’s description of the American intellectual included news that she was a topless dancer at one point in her rather rich and eventful life. Today, she is an in-demand commentator on UK flagship current-affairs TV shows Newsnight Review and Question Time. But she was at Edinburgh to unveil her memoir A Parallel Life (Arcadia Books), share the lessons she learned from a harsh but loving upbringing, and relate the hardship she endured over the years in her “rags to cultural riches” story. In the book, she analysed Freddie’s Dead, a song from the soundtrack to the 1972 Blaxploitation movie Super Fly. For Greer, the lyrics also turned out to be an appropriate metaphor for the police’s unlawful killing of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year and the long-running riots that followed. She recalled similar insurrections after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King and that of Robert Kennedy the same year. She remembered her young life surrounded by police officers with guns and later learning about the FBI’s official list of “agitators”, included the Black Panther who challenged police brutality in the 1960s. But, she said, her generation refused to be intimidated because “we didn’t want to end up like our parents and grandparents, cowering with fear”. However, like then, what the Ferguson tragedy showed was the ongoing power of the US’ pro-gun lobby. Greer said the US constitution’s Second Amendment about the right to bear arms has been adopted as a God-given right. And despite its abuse by racists and criminals to attack the innocent, she pointed out the pro-arms lobbyists had a frighteningly powerful political argument. “Since it was God who gave the right to bear arms, to take that away was to take on the Almighty.”
Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith: The queue snaked around the block of the festival’s site and the venue was packed for the very popular Zimbabwe-born McCall Smith, already famous for introducing the world to the endearing No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Described as “prolific, funny, humane”, McCall Smith had the audience in fits of laughter, especially as he gave more background information on Bertie, the precocious Italian-speaking six-year-old from the series of novels that started with 44 Scotland Street. “Bertie is one of my favourite characters,” McCall Smith told his thoroughly charmed fans. “Bertie’s problem is his mother. Edinburgh has a problem with pushy mothers. It is a geographic issue. And the government is aware of the problem.” The author has brought out romance novel The Forever Girl (Random House). This followslast year’s commission to rewrite Jane Austen’s Emma as a contemporary tale for the Austen Project. He is also writing the libretto for Blunt, an opera based on the infamous Cambridge Four spies. As if not busy enough, he is the trustee of The Great Tapestry of Scotland, the world’s longest, which officially went on display in September 2013.
Kate Mosse: No, not the British supermodel Kate Moss (which has no ‘e’ at the end). This Mosse is a literary sensation famous for her bestselling mystery novel Labyrinth, which has been translated into almost 40 languages since its publication in 2005. She was at Edinburgh to promote The Taxidermist’s Daughter (Orion Books), a mystery thriller set in 1912 England and published in September. After reading an extract, she said it is one of her most gothic books featuring crows, jackdaws, and magpies making eerie appearances in the plot. As part of the pre-publication marketing, a booklet (pictured below) promoting the novel was distributed to the festival’s attendees.
Irvine Welsh: the Scottish author of Trainspotting, a seminal novel of disaffected youth with a movie version that made stars out of Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, was back in his native Edinburgh. Currently, a US resident, he came to show he had lost none of his defiant streak in The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Jonathan Cape/Random House), his latest novel. He told the EIBF audience it was the first time he has written a story from the female characters’ point of view: “I don’t think there is that much of a difference between men and women.” He said the book was influenced by the US’ obsession with food, body image, and success, “the way the British are with the weather”. He also disclosed he “listens to music by making a playlist for each of the characters (he portrays)”.