Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015
Yesterday morning I was at the launch for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival programme, our first proper look at this summer’s huge range of events from the world’s largest literary festival. As I usually do, I’ve sat down and skimmed through the huge programme – over two solid weeks, hundreds of events for all ages – and been busy sifting out some of the more geek-centric comics and SF&F related events, and once more there’s a damned good mix for both adults and young readers.
Actually those younger readers are being especially spoiled this August, with some cracking events and some wonderful writers and artists talking about their work and many also holding workshops to get the kids creating their own stories. The brilliant Chris Riddell, newly appointed as UK Children’s Laureate just this week (what a terrific choice), will be there for multiple events, one of our long-time faves Gary Northfield will be there too, author Vivian French will be challening comics creators to a live event, the wonderful Phoenix Comic folk have comics workshop (including Adam Murphy of Corpse Talk fame, another of our longtime faves, Neill Cameron, and Laura Ellen Anderson), Illuminating the Art of Illustration will bring Chris Riddell, Oliver Jeffers and Chris Haughton together to to discuss how they approach book illustration, Barroux returns to the Festival again (having previously brought his remarkable Line of Fire WWI graphic novel to the Festival), this time with a picture book for children.
The sparkly Sarah McIntyre also returns to the festival with her delightful new Dinosaur Police (it’s always smile-inducing to see Sarah, in one of her costumes, moving through the Book Fest with a train of happy young readers behind her). Like Sarah the Etherington Brothers are now well-established old hands at the book fest and I’m pleased to see they’re back in Charlottle Square once more too, while, not strictly comics but I’d think of interest to many who love good book art (and who have kids!), the brilliant Debi Gliori is illustrator in residence, and the festival celebrates on of the most internationally beloved picture book characters as Miffy turns sixty.
In the adult programme there are some fascinating performances included in this year’s fest, with On Les Aura!, a performance with music and live drawing of Barroux’s remarkable Line of Fire, a WWI graphic novel based on diary entries of an ordinary French soldier that he rescued from a house clearance skip. Also of interest to lovers of SF&F, there’s a performance of Beowulf, one of our great mythic tales, based on the translation by the late Seamus Heaney. I absolutely love Heaney’s take on Beowulf – it is, as you’d expect from one of the greatest bards of our time, a beautifully constructed translation of this ancient tale of heroes, monster, pride, success and failure, and his inclusion of words borrowed from Ulster Scots gives it a vibrancy sometimes lacking in ancient sagas.
Jean-Pierre Filiu (who penned the fascinating Best of Enemies graphic novel) and Martin Rowson (one of our finest cartoon satirists) will be discussing politics in comics (I’ve heard Rowson talk on the history of comics commentary and satire before, he’s not to be missed). Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner will be discussing their new Cape graphic novel Everything is Teeth, detailing a childhood fascination he developed with sharks during stays on the Australian coast. There’s a double-header event with two of our most interesting Brit talents who push the envelope, Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis. I’m chuffed to have been asked once more to chair a couple of the comic events at the festival, so if you’re going to Evie and Joe’s gig or Karrie and Rob’s, you’ll have the (dubious) pleasure of seeing me chatting with them. Pleased also to see that Darryl Cunningham will be there discussing Supercrash, which was a fascinating read and another from my best of the year list.
The mighty Steve Bell returns to the festival – I’ve long admired Steve’s work and caught the strand he hosted a few years back at the festival (where he got to pick his own guests, so we saw Bell in conversation with Gary Trudeau, Martin Rowson and Alan Moore). Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal (who created an amazing adaptation of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde which I much admired) will be discussing their new graphic novel Behind the Curtain, a memoir of live in Poland when it was forced to be a part of the Eastern Bloc (there’s a major theme of worldwide storytelling, of books crossing borders this year, which this fits into rather nicely) and they have another event discussing their adaptation of The Master and Margarita. The always fascinating Marina Warner returns with Once Upon a Time, her book examining what our collective fairy tales say about us a people. Emily St John Mandel, who just won the UK’s highest award for literary science fiction, the Arthur C Clarke Award, last month with the utterly compelling Station Eleven (hugely recommended), will be on stage with another fast-rising new author, Catherine Chanter.
Terrific to see Mike Carey returning to the festival after his first visit last year, especially as his thrilling and thoughtful Girl With All the Gifts is now being made into a film. Ben Aaronovitch has been a screenwriter for Doctor Who, and in recent years he has been building a good following with his Peter Grant novels, starting with Rivers of London (an enormously enjoyable, assured read), which mix the police procedural with fantasy and a fascinating dollop of London’s history and myths. There’s another Doctor Who connection as highly-regarded Scots writer and (and these days also spoken word performer – seriously, if you get to see her doing one of those gigs, they are great), A L Kennedy, who must be one of the few named as a Granta best Young British Novelist (twice!) who has combined critically acclaimed lit-fic novels with also penning Doctor Who novels. Joanne Harris will be discussing her simply brilliant Gospel of Loki, where she took her lifelong love of Norse myth but told it from the perspective of our much-loved trickster god – it’s a pure delight of a read and made my best of the year list, can’t recommend that one highly enough. National treasure, writer, artist and more, Alasdair Gray will be discussing his astonishing Lanark as the Edinburgh International Festival stages a new play version of the book. Lanark is a remarkable work which straddles lit-fic, experimental, science fiction and fantasy and is often held to be one of the more unusual and most important Scots novels of the second half of the 20th century. Gray will also be talking about his new project, which riffs on Dante’s Divine Comedy.
And not comics or SF&F, I know, but it involves two authors from our beloved genre that are huge favourites of mine and, I am quite sure, of many, many of you too, the late Iain Banks and his fellow author and lifelong friend, Ken MacLeod. As many of you probably know Iain was working on a collection of poetry and he involved Ken, insisting not just that he help to compile and curate the collection but that he include some of his own work too. This week marked two years since we lost Iain – I know, hard to believe that is two years already, still feels odd to me that we won’t simply bump into him strolling round the festival grounds with that trademark genial smile – and I am pretty sure a lot of our SF&F community will want to attend that event to show their love and support.
As always I encourage any of you going along to the comics and SF related events to also explore the rest of this enormous and diverse programme – there are authors from all over the world, celebrating the power of books in all cultures and the shared loved of – and need for – storytelling, which seems to be a quality embedded into humans of all ages and lands. I’ve been really happy to hear that the comics audiences who have been attending in recent years have often been enticed into exploring more of what’s on offer at the festival, trying new authors and books (and isn’t that part of what festivals are for? A chance to explore new areas you might not otherwise?) and I’m told by friends at the festival that the opposite has also been true, with readers unfamiliar with comics seeing these events at the festival and deciding to explore them, so we’re getting “muggles” entering our medium and loving it, and our fellow geeks are finding new authors to read, all at the same time. How wonderful is that? The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from the 15th to the 31st of August, and as I always do, I’ll try and report on some of the comics events on here.