The Edinburgh Book Festival

The Edinburgh Book Festival is one of the best public celebrations of books in the world. Beginning in 1983, it now goes on every August featuring an enormous range of writers and events for all sorts of readers. After years of hearing about it I finally got a firsthand taste of it last week and it was as fabulous as reported.

Arriving at Charlotte Square, a beautiful space in Edinburgh’s New Town, I found a small village of white tents (and a Spiegeltent) connected by a boardwalk, surrounding a lovely green space with plenty of places to sit and read, chat over an ice cream or glass of wine, or — if you were one of the younger attendees — to play.

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At the various times of day I was there it never seemed overwhelmingly crowded, even when there were long lines waiting to get into a program or to get a book signed. In most cases, those in line had all gotten their tickets ahead of time (some for a nominal sum and some for free) and were relaxed as they waited for, what was certain to be an interesting experience. The festival programming is very thoughtfully done. For adults there were performances, readings, debates, and more from familiar and less familiar writers. The commitment to new writers as well as the famous, local as well as international was very impressive.

And their commitment to children was impressive too. The Baillie Gifford Children’s Programme had a huge range of offerings for children of all ages and they are very welcoming to families. (Here’s what was on for one of the days I was there.) They have an outreach program for those who can’t make it to the festival itself. Every morning they have a free program called “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” offering readings, singing, and other such activities in their dedicated Baillie Gifford Story Box tent and children can also go at any time to the separate Baillie Gifford Imagination Lab. And, oh my, the children’s bookstore was fabulous!

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Then there are the author events. They have a stunning array! Since I also wanted to see other bits of Edinburgh I limited myself to two events, the first with Frank Cottrell Boyce. My admiration for this author started way back with his first book Millions and really took off with Cosmic, still my absolute favorite of all his works. A couple of years ago thanks to one of his US publishers, Walden Pond Press, my class and I had a Skype visit with Frank. (It was his first and he had to go to his neighbor to do it.) And then this spring we were in contact as he was our Big Kahuna for this year’s 2013 SLJ’s Battle of the Kids Books. So it was very exciting for me to finally see him in the flesh and, it turned out, for Frank to meet me too, in the flesh.

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Here are some of my tweets (last ones first) from his talk. (More at my feed here and at the festival’s storify for the day.)

Asked if he was Liam as a child, says he wasn’t at all (as I know because he wrote that for his #sljbob bio). #edbookfest

Likes to write funny, having someone caught out in a line. #edbookfest

Asked if he wanted to write for adults, answers about why he likes writing for children. #edbookfest

New book he is working on involves a boy waking up and finding out he has turned bright green. #edbookfest

Villain taking Big Ben to moon [in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sequel]. “About time we had a gothic rocket.” #edbookfest

Frank does not like having to make US changes for his books. Ha! #edbookfest

“When you put words in the right order you can make people laugh even when you are not there.” #edbookfest

Said he really loved writing Cosmic because always thought he’d have been to the moon by now. #edbookfest

Asked who favorite author is, answered E. Nesbit. Urges kids to have it read to them. #edbookfest

Frank speaking of his early memory of seeing the original film [Chitty Chitty Bang Bang]. #edbookfest

FYI Frank was one of the writers for that wild Olympic opening ceremony (remember the Queen’s bit) last summer. #edbookfest

Real Chitty Bang Bang was incredibly loud due to its zeppelin engine. #edbookfest

So great to see Frank Cottrell Boyce for real talking about a dynamite party ( not to be done at home:). #edbookfest

The following day I had a lovely lunch with Elizabeth Wein. We’d met years ago at CLNE and, more recently, I’d been one of her many fans for Code Name Verity. (FYI: Her latest, Rose Under Fire, is smashing too.) It was fabulous and not long enough — such meetings never are, I’m afraid. (Thank you so much, Elizabeth!) This was followed by the panel, “What Makes a Truly Great Book?” Here’s the festival’s description of this event;

The CILIP Carnegie Medal is the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book award, often described by authors as the one they ‘want to win’. It is awarded by children’s librarians but also involves a shadowing scheme, engaging thousands of young people in reading the books on the shortlist every year. Join three of this year’s shortlisted writers, Sally Gardner for Maggot Moon, R J Palacio for Wonder and Elizabeth Wein for Code Name Verity, for a discussion about books, reading and engaging young readers.

It was absolutely splendid — so smart and interesting. Kudos especially to the moderator, Joy Court, for her superb questions. Here are some of my tweets from this (last ones first and, again, some were also on the festival’s storify feed here.)

Films are just marketing for the original books. #edbookfest

@TheSallyGardner points out a film is not a book. #edbookfest

Interesting comments from @RJPalacio about how she would like to see Auggie presented in a movie. #edbookfest

@EWein2412 hopes that in 100 years people know her book for more than such catch phrases as “Kiss me, Hardy.” #edbookfest

@EWein2412 Speaks of need to abandon borders between children and adult literature. #edbookfest

August Pullman is named after Philip Pullman says @RJPalacio #edbookfest

As a young reader @RJPalacio wanted be moved by books. #edbookfest

@EWein2412 spoke of her characters bartering poetry in concentration camp. #edbookfest

@TheSallyGardner spoke of not reading until she was a teen. She was a great teller of tales. #edbookfest

Talked about tear soaked manuscripts. #edbookfest

Joy points out that originality was a hallmark of each of the authors’ books. #edbookfest

@RJPalacio ‘s kids ask her what year is it? If she answers correctly they know she is in the world. #edbookfest

@TheSallyGardner brings up geography and the weather (in the character). #edbookfest

@EWein2412 Found it worked with Maddie to use flying metaphors. #edbookfest

@EWein2412 Was easier to write Verity’s narrative than Maddie’s as the former was more literary. #edbookfest

@EWein2412 watched lots of 1930/40s movies to help picking up details, research. #edbookfest

@TheSallyGardner goes from shoes on up in creating her characters. World building. #edbookfest

@TheSallyGardner speaks of being an actress as she explores her characters’ voices. #edbookfest

@RJPalacio talks about the limitations she gave to herself for Wonder when working with multiple voices. #edbookfest

@EWein2412 begins by talking about the significance of voice and how she is surprised it isn’t part of Carnegie criteria. #edbookfest

Panel is chaired by Joy Court who begins with a lovely quote from Philip Pullman. #edbookfest

And that was it for me at the festival this time (as I sure hope to get back to it one day). My great thanks to the festival’s press office, especially Charlotte Gosling, for making this all possible.

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Filed under Other, Summer UK 2013

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