Girls

Robin Wasserman’s Lithub article on the girling of contemporary culture gets to the heart of those niggling questions behind the term ‘girl’ and why, as women, the term raises hackles. How can it be offensive when girl-titled books — Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, The Girl in the Red Coat — resonate with women readers?

I chafe at girl as much as the next woman when I can sense the judgment in it, the implication that I don’t measure up. And the idealist in me resents my own theory about the semantics of girlhood—believes that if the evolution from girl to woman insinuates an erasure of self, then it’s our expectations of female adulthood that should change, not our terminology. That we should reclaim woman, acknowledge with language what we argue with manifestos: that womanhood can be its own liberated, self-interested state of mind. But the pragmatist in me is glad that, in the meantime, we have the word girl to remind us. Glad that these characters exist, girl in name and spirit, that we’re living through a cultural moment dominated by women of all ages, still and always busy, trying to become who they are.

One Sleep Till @Edbookfest

SUMMER READING

Before I head off to Edinburgh for the next three weeks, here’s a round-up of summer reading. Not beach reads; who can read in the sunshine?, but some of the new books that kept me entertained while you were all out playing football and running around Glasgow.

mrs.hemingwayBhallaStrandCallOfTheUndertowFalling_SkyHead for the edgeholdstillNina-Findlaygiven the choiceA-Girl-is-a-Half-Formed-ThingA god in every stonewe-are-called-to-riseUnder-the-wide-and-starry-sky

 

You’ll notice it’s books by women writers, but that’s a quirk of what came to hand or was sent to me, not a meaningful decision on my part to seek them out. The list is random:

  • **Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape): the hype around this book made me cynical, but it’s true; she really has taken on the male bastion of nature writing, and moulded it into the female psyche. A goshawk called Mabel; superior descriptive writing, highly imaginative, compelling, raw emotion, thought-provoking, sad, funny: BRILLIANT!
  • Laura McBride’s We are Called to Rise (Simon & Schuster), stirring debut based on a real incident due to the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder, but fictionalised into an angry, uplifting look at American values, and how they relate to people who don’t quite fit in. Technically brilliant in handling the to-and fro between past and present and showing the impact of childhood on adulthood. I think it’s fair to say, this is the complete opposite of most American novels, and one I’d recommend if you’re into meaty, thought-provoking stories and strong female protagonists.
  • **Linda Cracknell’s Call of the Undertow (Freight): atmospheric story about a cartographer’s move to the north of Scotland; the challenges she faces in a new environment is twisted in with the emotional baggage she packs with her, and the map work she’s undertaking as the story unfolds. The opening, with a mysterious snowman appearing in the garden, reminds of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child – and it is and isn’t about motherhood and childlessness – but it’s a different book and sensibility. The title gives away the story, a bit, and a map or two would lift it for me, but I read the Kindle version so maybe the paperback has insets I didn’t see. Anyway, a good, satisfying, two-hour read.
  • Sarah Maine’s debut, Bhalla Strand (Freight): another woman with emotional baggage moving north – this time it’s to take up her inheritance; a derelict house on an island, with secrets. I expected this book, from the woman with her back to us on the cover and the swirly title, to be a predictable romantic froth. It’s not! It’s technically assured, well written (apart from a couple of over-descriptive passages, which you forgive as it sweeps you along with the strong characterisation). The story moves smoothly between different time periods and different historical relationships, which kept it all moving forward, even when it was looking back. A really enjoyable story for a rainy afternoon.
  • **Kamila Shamsie’s, A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury): merges a story about colonial engagement in the First World War with a story about a female amateur archaeologist; the kind of book normally described as ‘ambitious’; ‘sweeping’. Let down by a fatal flaw at two-thirds in, which made me throw it on the floor. Before then, it’s a good, strong story about an aspect of war that is rarely covered by Western historians, twisted in with a story about early feminism and colonialism. I’m still not over it – but might be worth a re-read in a year or so.
  • **Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press): fierce writing that haunts you when you’re reading it, and even now, thinking about it, I can see the young girl whose sad life we follow. Hard to get into its stuttering rhythm and narrative flow, but form and story combine to make a powerful story, and it’s well worth sticking to it until you’re hooked.
  • Nancy Horan’s, Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Two Roads): I so wanted this book about Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osborne to be good: who doesn’t want to know the real reason he tracked a divorcee and her children to San Francisco? Sadly, it hit the floor three times, and I had to give it away as I couldn’t bear it to be in the house. Good fictional biographies bring the real people alive, lets you see into the rationale for their actions, makes you want to re-read their books. Horan is so keen to build up Fanny Osborne that I wanted to call her up and ask why she’d portrayed Stevenson as a soppy wimp; apparently, according to this reading, it was Fanny who came up with the psychological underpinning of Jekyll and Hyde?!
  • Andrea Gillies’s, The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay (Short Books)woman with emotional baggage has an accident on holiday; bedridden, she recounts her past life and relationships to her doctor. Any other writer would make this into a beach read – after all it’s set in a holiday resort in Greece – but Gillies has a sharp ear for dialogue and an empathy for women and the decisions they have to make. Intelligent and astute writing.
  • **Kate Tough’s, Head for the Edge, Keep Walking (Cargo): about real women with real problems and emotional issues that could be worthy and sentimental, but isn’t. It’s gutsy and laugh-out-loud funny in places, although, there’s a wee tip to sweetness in the middle: a Tunnock’s Tea Cake of a novel. Warm and angry at the same time; a strong debut novel.
  • Cherry Smyth’s Hold Still (Holland Park Press): fascinating biographical fiction. Set in London and Paris in the 1860s, it’s about Joanna Hifferman, amateur artist and muse/model to both Whistler and Courbier. What lifts the book from other fictional biographies is in the unusual decision to construct a thesis around Courbier’s painting: L’Origine du monde – depicting female genitalia – yes, weird, I know, how to sell this to your friends? Strong female protagonist and fine historical detailing; sometimes it seems too modern in its sensibility. Dreadful cover image, especially, as it’s a book about the world of painting.
  • Pippa Goldschmidt’s The Falling Sky (Freight): coming of age debut; female protagonist with friendship, life, work issues; good at depicting the infighting and back-biting in academia, and how women need to conform to society’s image. Cleverly threads astronomy and time into the storyline. Maybe I learned something about space, but perhaps that was another me, another time.
  • Susan Sellers’ Given the Choice (Cillian Press): intelligent, thoughtful look at an unlikable character – an ambitious agent; a woman who doesn’t want children – and the consequences to her relationships and herself. Set in the self-deceptive world of London arts, the protagonist is the arch deceiver: she deceives herself and those she comes into contact with, while her husband, a gentle soul, deals with it in his own way. Highly post-modern in the multiple endings that leave it up to the reader to decide which ending she should have; throwing the creative construction of the self into the imagination.
  • **Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway (Picador) is astonishing; excellent – the very best kind of fictional biography. I reviewed it for Fiction Uncovered

** indicates writer is at EIBF this yearEIBF

Book Week Scotland – launch day

Book Week Scotland 26 November – 2 December 2012

At the National Library of Scotland this morning, the first week-long project to promote reading in Scotland was launched. Government-led via Creative Scotland, it is being managed by Scottish Book Trust.

Over 400 book-related events are planned in libraries, councils, and schools taking part, including at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, ‘The Reading Hour’ call to action on St Andrews’ Day, Book Bug sessions, and many more- like this one on Sacred Texts with James Robertson and Richard Holloway at the Scottish Poetry Library .

I’ll be posting a Scottish book-related post each day during the programme. Join in and spread the book love!

Follow @BookWeekScot for details -BWS website will be up later today/tomorrow

The Art of Fiction – Iris Murdoch

For Iris Murdoch Day – an interview from The Paris Review on how she writes, why she writes, the process of thinking it up and what she thinks is the purpose of literature – fascinating to learn how she carefully plans the outline of the whole book before the actual writing begins. Pity her poor publisher’s nerves! She wrote long hand and only ever had one copy of her manuscript.

Here’s where IM talks about beginning to write a novel:

INTERVIEWER [Jeffrey Meyers]

Could you tell me a little bit about your own method of composition and how you go about writing a novel?

MURDOCH

Well, I think it is important to make a detailed plan before you write the first sentence. Some people think one should write, George woke up and knew that something terrible had happened yesterday, and then see what happens. I plan the whole thing in detail before I begin. I have a general scheme and lots of notes. Every chapter is planned. Every conversation is planned. This is, of course, a primary stage, and very frightening because you’ve committed yourself at this point. I mean, a novel is a long job, and if you get it wrong at the start you’re going to be very unhappy later on. The second stage is that one should sit quietly and let the thing invent itself. One piece of imagination leads to another. You think about a certain situation and then some quite extraordinary aspect of it suddenly appears. The deep things that the work is about declare themselves and connect. Somehow things fly together and generate other things, and characters invent other characters, as if they were all doing it themselves. One should be patient and extend this period as far as possible. Of course, actually writing it involves a different kind of imagination and work.

Asked about her ‘ideal reader’, Murdoch say

MURDOCH

Those who like a jolly good yarn are welcome and worthy readers. I suppose the idealreader is someone who likes a jolly good yarn and enjoys thinking about the book as well, thinking about the moral issues.

See – Iris Murdoch: The Art of Fiction, no. 117 in The Paris Review, Summer 1990, Issue 115

*See also the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies at Kingston University, London

* BBC Interview – Murdoch discussing character and form, with superb close reading of An Unofficial Rose (1962)

Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

Suzanne Joinson spoke at the W&A conference last week – spoke so engagingly and movingly about the writing process and the process of getting a manuscript into her agent’s hands and then into print, that I needed to read it. Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending on a review copy so promptly. 

It answers the question so often asked about why we go to book events – it’s because writers are thinkers. We engage with their thoughts and then want to read and digest how these are manifest on the page.

In this case, the book lives up to expectations and judging by the reviews and ratings on Good Reads it causes readers to think and reflect.

I reviewed it for We Love this Book (below) but the word count limit meant I had to leave out a lot I wanted to say about it – it’s about mothers and daughters, about being lost and finding yourself, about how we make up our lives and ourselves from those around us and from our family. But it also makes political points about cultural tourism and cultural engagements that are little more than surface dressings. Joinson is particularly good at giving her characters strong voices through their language choice, especially Eva, the protagonist, who has a very vivid imagination.  Read it, think about it. Even if you hate fractured narratives you can take it apart to see how Joinson cleverly puts it all together.

A flavour of the wonderful imagery:

The girl’s hair was damp and her eyes were panic-filled, like a horse in a thunderstorm. Millicent tipped her own head back so that her eye-glasses retreated along her nose. Then, with quick movement, as if pulling up an anchor, a blue-red creature came slithering out along with a great swill of watery substance and was caught, like a fish, in Millicent’s hands. [p. 5]

As you can tell – it’s highly recommended!

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, by Suzanne Joinson (Bloomsbury)

ISBN 9781408825143, Hardback, £12.99

Straddling present-day England and Victorian China, Suzanne Joinson’s glorious debut switches easily between lives and times, between the immediacy of unbelieving missionary Evangeline [Eva] English’s first person journal disguised as ‘Notes’ towards her guidebook for lady travellers, and a third person narrator who charts the journey of another lost soul, Frieda Blakeman, who travels both to uncover the truth of Irene Guy, her mysterious benefactor, and, like Eva, to find herself.

Blind to cultural ‘difference’, zealous Millicent has a method of Christian conversion she calls ‘gossiping the gospel’ which leads Eva and her too-trusting sister Lizzie, who records everything on her Leica camera, into a danger from which neither passages from Bunyan and the Bible, nor unhelpful traveller guides, such as Burton and Shaw, can save them.

Frieda is unhappy with her job of making cultural connections across the globe and of her affair with married bicycle-shop owner Nathaniel. She finds Tayeb, a homeless, jobless, illegal immigrant fromYemen, asleep outside her front door and together they piece together her fragmented life. In their pairing, Joinson adds a further layer of complication to the tale.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar is compelling and vividly realised through unforgettable characterisation and skilful plotting. Leitmotifs, such as birds, bones, and milk weave through strong imagery to create an original story about ‘the layering of different selves that create a life.’

*Cross-posted from We Love this Book

Writers’ & Artists’: How to Get Published Conference 2012 – [pt. 1]

A summary of the 2012 Writers’ & Artists’  ‘How to Get Published’ conference, 7th July 2012. A full day is hard to summarise – there were talks, graphs, powerpoint presentations, panels, book signings, coffee and walnut cake… 

Setting a serious, workmanlike tone, was Richard Charkin, Exec. Director of Bloomsbury Publishing, who gave a frighteningly realistic insight into the current state of publishing. So you want to be published? Well, here’s the facts, was how he kicked off the conference. Using statistics and graph charts, Richard showed how the market in adult fiction had declined -11% in the last year, how independent bookshops sold just 5% of books [UK], supermarkets 10%, and book chains and online combined sold over 60%; how FSG was good for trade, selling 95000 copies in Asda on one Thursday alone compared to 7000 copies of the ‘100th’ best seller; how sales of digital books are up and good for author back lists; and how children’s books is ‘the best performing category’.

Although the news on sales and bookshops was gloomy there was also a positive side to all the facts and figures. For example, there are over 10000 publishers in the UK – more choice = more opportunities for writers to find the right publisher for their book. Good publishers look after their writers and help them to develop their career. And digital books and self-publishing have opened up new avenues for writers who can’t wait or don’t want to go through the lengthy process of bringing their book to market.

Taking a traditional route to publication means traversing the land of gatekeepers (agents/publishers/editors). Cressida Downing regaled us with funny examples of some very bad submission letters and synopses she’d received over the years from writers seeking publication. Apparently, between 70% and 80% of all submissions were wrong, badly written and didn’t follow the correct guidelines. Why are writers so bad at selling their writing or book idea or even themselves? Why do they rush at the end after spending such care and attention on their manuscripts?

Getting the covering letter right, according to CD, was the single most important thing for a writer to pay attention to when they were seeking an agent. Get it right and the chances of attracting an agent’s attention were raised. Get it wrong and it headed into the bin – even if the book and synopsis were wonderful – a bad covering letter would probably turn an agent off reading the rest of the submission. CD’s main advice was:

  • don’t rush to submit
  • use an editor to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be
  • take time to research agents to find the right ‘fit’
  • follow submission guidelines precisely
  • spend a long time on your covering letter and make sure it’s perfect before sending it off

Suzanne Joinson’s début novel, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar caused a stir when her agent, Rachel Calder of Sayle Literary Agency, took it to the publishing marketplace and it was really interesting to learn from both the journey of getting it there.

In a wide-ranging and informative discussion, Suzy talked about how she was approached by agents after winning a short story competition while she was reading for a creative writing MA. They approached her – which seems like a very good place to be in. She then worked to bring the partially completed book to submission standard, working with a mentor and with her agent. Over the process from signing with RC and RC selling the book to a publisher, the manuscript went through around 15 FULL DRAFTS and took around seven years to ‘get it right’.

Suzy Joinson and Rachel Calder [with Eela Devani]
Even with a publishing contract, the manuscript was further refined to get the pacing and narrative tension just right before it was ready for publication.

Rachel told us she’d approached Suzy because of her writing voice and style and admitted she was happy to work with writers to develop their writing.
Suzy’s advice to writers was – ‘keep writing’, write, even when you don’t feel like writing, write something. Add to the word count and then refine and self-edit and it will eventually take shape. And enter writing competitions as a way of stretching yourself and working towards a deadline and of fine-tuning your writing.

Writers who don’t or can’t wait for an agent or publisher to decide when the manuscript is ready for publication can choose to self-publish.

Kerry Wilkinson and Phillip Jones of the Bookseller and FutureBook, discussed the digital revolution in bookselling, and Kerry talked about his publication journey from self-published writer to signing a publishing contract with a traditional publisher.

Phillip talked about how traditional gatekeepers, such as agents and publishers, were now taking on the role of curators and of the long trajectory of publishing innovation that led from Dickens’ weekly numbers to ebooks.

While we think about a split between traditional and digital publishing – publishing is publishing. Publishers are risk takers, he said, and he didn’t diminish their important and continuing role in the crucial areas of exploiting, promoting and distributing books.

The publishing landscape has changed dramatically and quickly, though, and writers don’t need publishers – or do they?

In part two, I’ll report on Kerry Wilkinson’s talk on how he self-published and sold over 300,000 copies of his books via Amazon, with 98% of sales on Kindle and give a summary of the final agent panel discussion on the ‘perfect submission’ and more [ depressing/realistic] statistics on how many new authors they sign from their stack of unsolicited manuscripts.

to be continued…. 

Why It’s a Great Time to Be a Reader – The Atlantic

books

Peter Osnos’s recent article in The Atlantic (link below) on books and bookselling flags up the positive results of digital and looks at the publishing world from a reader’s perspective – which makes a refreshing change from all the messages of doom and gloom and ‘death of the book’ that circulate on a daily basis.

Why It’s a Great Time to Be a Reader – The Atlantic.

**********************************************************************

How bookshops can save the world

I was waiting in teen-taxi last night and it was too dark to read so I flicked through the radio stations looking for a distraction, and stumbled across James Daunt spouting forth about bookshops and the physical book. I found myself agreeing with most of what he said.  I started scribbling down words and phrases and getting goosebumps when I realised the truth of what he had to say and how this might connect with my own thoughts about bookshops, libraries, book festivals and reading.

Daunt talked about how chain bookselling had lost its way, been driven by the cheque book and had crushed individuality for the sake of profit. In the long run, he said, this is what had actually driven their customers away. He thought it was time to  restore individuality and engage with local communities. While I didn’t agree with his thoughts on children’s reading, I found points of commonality in what he said: about how some niche bookshops can be intimidating and how supermarkets as bookshops provided a good introduction to books for those people who might never otherwise enter a bookshop.

There’s no denying the appeal of digital, but there’s no human connection involved in one-click book-buying. Because there’s also no denying that people like talking about books, sharing books and meeting authors. Book Festivals and author events are hugely popular for more than just literary bookish folk. So I wondered, what if there was a way to combine selling and reading? What if you could open a space within supermarkets and bookshops and libraries (which are now so much more than simply a place for books) as reading rooms? A space that was open to all to enjoy a book and pass on good reads, somewhere to share the pleasure of reading? And by all I mean EVERYONE, even those who enjoy celebrity hardbacks and trashy novels and for whom kindle means literally to start a fire.

Combine Daunt’s talk with the appalling unemployment statistics and it’s worth exploring how bookshops, libraries and supermarkets can combine somehow to restore a sense of community. Perhaps they could provide commercially-sponsored places where people can test and try books, buy books, read and share stories and even, perhaps, create their own stories.

By this I don’t mean a return to eighteenth-century subscription libraries or circulating libraries where access to books was according to class, wealth and gender, but something more accessible, which will benefit booksellers and readers and also their communities.

I haven’t worked out how this can be done or who might do it or fund it and I know I’m just thinking aloud and probably annoying half the really good, community-based independent bookshops who do cater to all their readers. But I’m sure even they would admit they’d enjoy a return to a time when bookshops were busier and trade was stronger.

Anyway, enough ‘thinking’ – have a listen to JD.

I’ve put  link to the podcast below and in case this doesn’t work I’ve added a link to the BBC4 Four Thought website where you can scroll down and find the James Daunt Podcast.

Intro – “Recorded in front of an audience at the RSA in London, speakers take to the stage to air their latest thinking on the trends, ideas, interests and passions that affect our culture and society.”

James Daunt issues a ringing defence of printed books, and argues that libraries and local bookshops – the ‘purveyors of the written word’ – are vital social and cultural spaces. Brought in to turn around the Waterstone’s chain of bookshops, he argues that book chains should continue to play a vital role in introducing readers to books, but will only succeed if they re-connect with their communities.

James Daunt Podcast on Bookshops

BBC Radio 4 – Four Thought Website – scroll down to ‘James Daunt’ and play.

 

*********************************************************************

PS – I’m sorry about these unruly ads – they’re random and from wordpress not from me

The Literary Tourist

I tripped over  Literary Tourist , Nigel Beale’s website at the weekend – do take a look. Full of interesting bookish links to talks, bookshops and events, fairs and writers’ workshops, with a flickr photo-stream of bookish pics, it opens up the literary landscape.

It’s not afraid to put it out there that books are worth talking about, reading and preserving, not just conserving or selling, though that’s there too.

I love the unstuffy but knowing tone; the sheer pleasure of bookishness oozing out is intoxicating. I want to hop on a plane this morning and go to Boston to browse the bookshelves and wallow in the atmosphere of Brattle Books.

The listing of UK [English] bookshops is pretty sparse just now as the focus is on US and Canada, but it’s exciting to imagine a global literary tourist and the possibilities open to small presses and virtual presses to make fruitful connections with bookshops and readers …

Final Festival Jottings

Final Festival Jottings – Sunday 28 August 2011

I realised today that I hadn’t posted my last report – so here it is. As usual, you’ll find more pics in the bookrambler flickr photostream:

Sunday Morning

In the Bonham’s [free] ‘Ten at Ten’ tent, Tracey S. Rosenberg set the strident tone for the day with a reading from her debut novel, The Girl in the Bunker (Cargo Publishing). Introducing Tracey as a ‘product of the book festival’, Festival Director Nick Barley suggested that she exemplified something we all secretly desire— once upon a time Tracy worked FOR the book festival, now she’s reading from her first novel AT the book festival.

The imaginative thread of “mothers and mothering” didn’t quite come off in the second session—both books have mothers at their centre but that’s about all that connects Helen Walsh and her novel, Go To Sleep (Canongate) about the “dark heart” of mothering and Urs Widmer’s sensitive fictionalisation of a mother’s affair through the eyes of her son in My Mother’s Lover (Seagull Books) — despite that, the Spiegeltent session was an engaging introduction to both books. As it turns out, there is a connection between them but it’s not the one stated in the programme: both writers claimed they relied on life experience for the seeds of creation which sparked their respective books.

For some reason I thought that Go to Sleep was a memoir about Walsh’s own experiences as a new mother [even although the programme subtitle is ‘Fictional Accounts of Mothers Alive with Feeling’]. It’s not. It’s a novel. Walsh explained that, while she couldn’t have written the book before she had her own child, it isn’t about her: it’s a novel – complete fiction. She made “the relationship with mother and baby as intense as possible to plunge her into the heart of darkness,” to write “a real dark story of motherhood.’ Walsh said that she set out to deliberately polarise her readers by taking away their moral compass. Readers would easily sympathise with a single mother and this is why, she explained, she created Rachel as a white, middle class, financially sound character and youth worker. She expects motherhood to be a breeze, to be able to deal with it and is shocked when she can’t cope and is further frustrated by the knowledge that her “teenage truants” can handle motherhood better. When research revealed that mothers of mixed race babies had difficulty bonding, Walsh added another thread into the story. The father of Rachel’s baby and the baby are black which provokes complex self-questioning, compromise and exposes hypocrisy.

Urs Widmer said he always knew he’d write a book about his mother’s love affair but that he hadn’t felt able to do so creatively until after her death. “Life gave me a fiction. A real story you have to tell,” he said. “I knew that one day I’d write this book.” The action takes place in a century of European conflict which sweeps around the protagonists. Writing it, Widmer said, he realised he’d written it “out of view of his mother”. Chair, Diana Hope, described the tone of the book as “like a fairytale […] with vivid scenes of beauty and cruelty.” The mother seems to suffer from petit mal and suffers “treatments” which may go some way to explain her behaviour. But Widmer refuted this idea. Clara has been conditioned to accept very little, he explained. She’s not a medical case, she’s an innocent swept up in the events of Germany in 1937.

The discussion turned, briefly, to translation. While Helen Walsh’s books have been widely translated, My Mother’s Lover is the first of Urs Widmer’s books to be translated into English. Born in Basel but writing in German, Widmer is a prize-winning author. He holds the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize and [in 2002] was awarded with the Grand Literature Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, for a lifetime’s work. Donal McLaughlin provided the English language translation of Der Geliebte meiner Mutter and he joined in this part of the debate. Walsh said she’d never taken anything to do with translated versions of her books and Widmer said it would be impossible to translate his own book. Asked how he’d managed to replicate the tone and texture of Widmer’s bitter-sweet story, McLaughlin said it helped that he was also a writer, familiar with sentence construction. For him, the music of the sentence set the rhythm of the story and that then fed into the tone.

The problem and delight of the entire EIBF is best represented by these two books. Published just prior to the festival it’s unlikely that anyone in the audience, except perhaps a family member or reviewer or two, could have read either of them and this meant the conversation was limited. For all that, it was a wonderful introduction to both writers, a taster, a teasing glimpse of the creativity behind the writing.

Sunday afternoon

A. S. Byatt was erudite, intelligent and completely unstuffy as she pencilled in the background to her latest retelling of the Ragnarok myth [for the updated Canongate series]. What did I learn that I didn’t know before? Three things stood out:

  • Byatt loves reading Terry Pratchett.
  • Byatt thinks the Kindle will make reading more enjoyable and more attractive to teenagers and boys.
  • Byatt likes using her Kindle – it’s really useful when travelling.

Of course, she covered a lot more than these three topics – see Charlotte Higgins’s Guardian report <<

Sunday evening

I really wish I hadn’t gone to the New Scottish Writing, Open University Debate – a disappointing demonstration of the “kent yer faither” attitude to the Scottish literary scene. Except for Louise Welsh – who was really good: well-prepared and well-read on the contemporary literary scene. She tried to move the discussion beyond the parochial but fought a losing battle with both the floor and the chair.

The podcast below provides a more stimulating discussion – featuring the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins talking to writers Andrew O’Hagan, and John Niven, and Stuart Kelly, Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday.

>> PODCAST <<

So that was the 2011 EIBF festival – 17 days of stimulating conversation and more bookishness than you can shake a 500 page typescript at. What did I get out of it? I discovered debut authors and met authors I hadn’t heard of before and others I always wanted to meet; bought a pile of  new books to read and notes and back-lists to track down; been exposed to new ways of thinking about writing and the creative process; been inspired to plan new projects and, above all, re- invigorated in my own writing.

Bookrambler was at the EIBF on Sunday 28 August. She spotted, Robaroundbooks, Colin Galbraith, Helen Walsh, Urs Widmer, Donal McLaughlin, Diana Hope, Louise Welsh, Zoe Strachan, Will Self,  Rodge Glass, Pat Mills, A. S. Byatt, Alan Taylor, Sophie Cooke, and Colin Fraser [Anon Poetry].