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Wisdom from the 2015 Edinburgh Book Festival

Now that it all seems like a dim and distant memory, here are a few of my highlights from this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival

Janice Galloway was on great form as ever.  I loved her comment on short stories compared to novels:

“Writing short stories is like baking a selection of fancy biscuits for visitors instead of one cake.  Why would you risk your baking reputation on one cake?”

Why indeed? And she got quite heated on the difficulty of getting published, especially as a new author and especially as a writer of short stories:

“It’s hard to fault the profit logic – but what about the moral logic?  The aesthetic logic?”

I was thrilled to see Translation Duels back on the programme this year – these are where two literary translators are given the same passage to translate, the translations are put side by side and the translators and the chair discuss the differences.  The translators only get to see the other translation just before they come on stage.  Although it’s billed as some kind of linguistic death match, actually the translators are incredibly humble and generous and are more than willing to admire the other’s turn of phrase, to admit their own word choice is lacking or to acknowledge there is another equally valid (or indeed better) way of expressing something.  I went to the French language event this year and it was an hour of pure pleasure for anyone interested in language as we teased out the exact meanings of words and phrases and explored the nuances of different expressions.  I’m getting a shiver of delight even just remembering it.

Listening to Kirsty Logan read from her novel The Gracekeepers was a definite highlight.  Kirsty is such a talented performer of her work and I could have listened to her all day.  I’ve since read the book and enjoyed it hugely.  I had to force myself to read it slowly so that I could really savour the richness and beauty of the language.  I liked what she said about her writing:

“I know I’m onto something when I don’t want someone else to read it, when it’s revealing parts of myself that I’m not comfortable with.”

Patrick Ness is always a joy to listen to, funny, humane and profound.  He had lots of wise words to share.  My favourites included:

“Everything has to be earned by the story – then you can do what you like.”

“The good thing about having anxiety is that it’s future-focused – so I don’t have any regrets.”

“(On Ali Smith) I wish I could be as good as that.”

“I need to know how I’m going to lead the reader out of the book” (Generally he has the last line of a book before he starts.) “I need a few scenes that I’m excited to write” to get going – and he doesn’t write those scenes until he gets to them.  That sounds to me like a good way of motivating yourself when writing a book.

When I went to see Paul Magrs, I’d already bought his book, Lost on Mars, but he made me want to read it even more by describing it as – “Lost on Mars is basically a mash-up of The Little House on the Prairie and a Ray Bradbury soap opera.”  And his reading clinched it.  Who could resist a book containing the line:  “The two old women were giving the sun-bed ideas.”

So just a few memorable moments from my Edinburgh Book Festival visits this year.  I’m still feeling quite sad that it’s all over – but I can always look forward to next year.

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  1. September 7, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I loved going to LitCologne when I lived there. There were always events in English too. The translation duels sound fascinating. I once co-interpreted an event and it was interesting to see how the other interpreter (a professional) worked.

    • September 7, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Interpreting is a whole different ball game! I don’t know how people manage to listen, translate and speak, while still listening to the next bit. Even thinking about it makes my head hurt!

      • September 7, 2015 at 11:21 pm

        Practice! But helped immensely if you know a lot about what will be said beforehand.

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