Friday, 4 September 2015

Edinburgh Book Festival - Author Event - Sara Baume and Ian Stephen

I've been a little random about the writing-up of our visit to Edbookfest so this last piece is actually about the first event we went to!
It brought together two of the First Book Award nominees - Sara Baume and Ian Stephen. I've heard a  lot about Sara Baume's debut novel Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither through Irish bookbloggers such as Bleach House Library and had it on my 'want to read' list for a while but Ian Stephen's A Book Of Death and Fish was completely unknown.
It turned that they had quite a few things in common. Both books were published by small independent publishers - Tramp and Saraband - and share a theme, with a man looking back over his life, reminiscing about this and that, following his memories as they, seemingly randomly, pop into his mind. Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither takes it's starting point as a man talking to a newly-adopted dog, sharing his secrets and confidences with it; A Book of Death and Fish starts with a man making a will - obviously a good point from which to reflect back on his life. The voices of the two main characters were very different though, with a more poetic feel to Baume's writing. I also had the impression that Sara Baume's story has a rural setting, while Ian Stephen's although set on the Hebridean island of Lewis is a more urban novel, set as it is in the fishing port of Stornoway.
Both authors' readings certainly had me wanting to know more about both books, and I'm hoping to read them soon.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Literary Death Match

First things first - What, you might ask, is a Literary Death Match?  well, it's a book event created by Adrain Todd Zuniga in which authors are pitted against each other in a sort of speed dating way. Each author reads a five minute snippet from their work, they're marked by content, delivery and 'intangibles' by three celebrity judges, and the winners of the two heats go forward into a vaguely-literary games show knock-out final round.
Now I'd heard of this through Twitter but had written it off as an 'only ever in London' event, so was delighted to see that as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Literary Death Match had moved north, putting on eight shows in eight days, and even more delighted when I won tickets to an event.

For this day the judging panel was made up of Tom Salinsky (author), Declan Michael Baird (actor) and Mark Billingham (crime author, actor, musician, stand up comedian etc etc), and the four authors to be put under the spotlight were Julie Mayhew (a teen/YA author, her latest novel The Big Lie is set in an alternate Nazi-ruled Britain), Alvy Carragher (poet, story-teller, You-Tuber, wannabe novelist), Dan Tyte (former journalist, short story writer, and now with his debut novel Half Plus Seven published) and a double act, Alecos Papadatos and Abraham Kawa (artist/illustrator and writer, respectively, of graphic novel democracy)

First to take the stage were Julie Mayhew and Alvy Carragher; Julie read an excerpt from The Big Lie, and Alvy performed Numb, a poem about consent and 'No', which you can find here. In my opinion, Alvy's was the more powerful, thought-provoking piece of the two, but the judges decided to disallow it on the grounds that the rules stated a piece should be read rather than performed.
On to the men.... while Abraham read from their novel, with different accents and gestures for each character, Alecos drew the scene, then Dan read not from his novel, which he didn't think 5 minutes would do justice to, but a short story about a night-out in Cardiff. This time I agreed with the judges in awarding Dan that round.
The finale!! A literary spelling bee - Julie and Dan tried their best to spell some of the trickier names among the ranks of novelists; Toibin, Solzhenitsyn, Ngosi Adichie - we've all heard of them, but can we spell them? I'm rather glad no one asked me to try! Julie Mayhew proved to be the better of the two and was crowned winner.

If you feel that book events have to be serious, even potentially dull, events with learned types sitting around discussing the finer points of prose style, then you need to think again! Actually I've never been to a book event of any sort that was that dull but Literary Death Match certainly packs more fun and laughs into the presentation than your average book event. It's a great way to get to sample a range of writing - I originally hoped to go to the last LDM in Edinburgh with Chris Brookmyre and Doug Johnstone appearing (two Scottish crime writers whose work I love) but time didn't permit that and so I saw four writers of whom I knew virtually nothing but whose work I'll now be tracking down.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Edinburgh Book Festival - Author Event - Lucy Wood and Sarah Hall

As our Edinburgh holiday dates are generally driven by other factors rather than around the Book Festival itself, it's always a bit hit and miss which authors will be appearing while I'm actually there, so I was delighted to realise that Lucy Wood, author of Diving Belles and Weathering, would be there during the few days I was. Weathering was her debut novel - a story of home, belonging, the not-always-easy relationships between mothers and daughters, and the thin divide between life and death, which I absolutely loved!  For her event she was paired with Sarah Hall, whose latest novel The Wolf Border also deals with a young woman, Rachel Caine, returning home - and introducing wolves back into the Lake District. The title comes from a Finnish expression describing the 'border' between urbanised, human habitation and the wilderness that surrounds it.

After a short chat introducing their novels, the authors read a short section from their work; Lucy Wood's an almost poetic piece as the ashes of grandmother Pearl are sprinkled on the river and she finds herself mixing with the water and mud - still partly herself, and partly a ghost - while Sarah Hall's was a more prosaic description of the transportation of the wolves to their new Cumbrian home - a journey you could follow on a map if (like me) you wanted to, but filled with tension as Rachel worries about all the things that could go wrong along the way, and what she'll find returning home after so many years away. Although the themes are similar in many ways, the treatment of them and the writing style seemed very different. Weathering is set in an anonymous place, possibly the moors of South-West England (though for me there was a northern "Yorkshire" feel to it), whereas Wolf Border is set more firmly in the real world, both geographically and politically - though the Annerdale estate doesn't actually exist, and the Scottish referendum swung the other way.

One of the aspects of Weathering that I adored was the poetic style, a little Virginia Woolf stream of consciousness in many ways, and the fluid ambiguous qualities of the storyline. It's impossible to pin down exactly what Pearl is - a ghost, a figment of her grand-daughter's imagination, or an accumulation of her daughter's memories - but who really needs to?  I was pleased to discover that something which struck me when reading it, the play on "weathering'  - either worn away by or proudly withstanding the elements - was intended by the author, not just something I made up!

Just a quick word for once about the venue - not the standard plain white marquee style of most the Edinburgh Book Festival's 'rooms' but the multicoloured Spiegeltent more reminiscent of a circus big-top. I've been in here before, for coffee during the day and the Jura Unbound events in the evening but not to a 'book' event. The seating was grouped informally round tables which as I'd gone along alone, I found more conducive to chatting with my neighbour while waiting for the event to start.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Edinburgh Book Festival - Author Event - Gordon Corera

By The Mole

Having worked in IT for over 30 years I have seen a huge transition from operating a room full of computer that had less power than the average modern day phone to a room full of servers supporting a diverse business of over 500 PCs. Security has been an issue for many days and we all curse when we have to create yet another password to enter a competition. But whereas we have these issues and frustrations what is the wider "cyber threat" that we hear so much about? When will it hit us and how bad could it possibly be?

Gordon Corera is a security correspondent for the BBC and has contacts who are hackers, security consultants, spies, ministers and many other things. Over the years he has witnessed trends and events that will either worry you and keep you awake at night, or reassure you and help you sleep soundly. These events, anecdotes and projections for the future he has compiled into a single volume called 'Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies' and at this event he set about giving the tightly packed audience a flavour of the book as well as recounting some rather humorous anecdotes. Gordon is not a technician and this book is not aimed at technicians - it is aimed at the average member of the public and as such it talks in broad terms rather than specific methods.

Well practised at speaking to the camera he held the audience's attention throughout and gave a very entertaining event. I admit to not having read this book yet but much of the history which he recounts is new to me and I am looking forward to finding the opportunity to read this book to fill in so many of the things that have happened that I have missed over the years.

Another extremely good event from Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

review by Maryom

Madeline Whittier is allergic to everything, so much so that she's lived all of her seventeen years in virtual isolation seeing only her mother, her nurse and a few carefully screened and decontaminated tutors. Not having known any other sort of life, she doesn't really feel cut off - but that's about to change when a new family moves in next door. Maddie finds her eye caught by the teenage son Olly, and he is insistent about wanting to get to know her. At first they chat through internet messages but soon this isn't enough, and Maddie realises she's ready to risk everything for just a few days freedom.
Everything, Everything is a convincing and compelling story about a teenage girl, locked up like some fairy-tale princess, not by a wicked witch but by her over-protective mother. To grow up never leaving the house, never having the chance to make friends, to go to school, the movies, the beach - all the things we take for granted - may seem weird to us, but not to Maddie; it's just how her life is. She's never really queried it till now when Olly's arrival next door makes her realise how much she is missing out on.
The tale is told in a variety of ways - mainly first person narrative from Maddie's point of view, but also 'transcripts' of conversations held through messenger, med charts and pictures - that help the story move along quickly, and let the reader in on how Maddie feels,sharing her hopes, dreams and frustrations.
It's a story about love; about how it can give us the ability to take on the impossible, but also how it can cripple and stifle everything.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Corgi/Transworld
Genre - teen

Friday, 28 August 2015

A Brush with Danger (Fox Investigates) by Adam Frost

Illustrated by Emily Fox

Review by The Mole

Suzie La Pooch engages Wily Fox (private investigator) to find out why the people she bought a painting from are so desperate to buy it back again. Before Wily can start the investigation it is stolen and Wily knows who by.

With the aid of some rather clever gadgets Wily chases across Europe pursuing clues.

A glance at the cover leads you to expect a degree of silliness, a degree of impossibility, and a very large measure of fun and that is very much what you get with Wily Fox. Wily has help and support from Albert (a mole) who provides the inventions and Sybil Squirrel, who works for Julius Hound, a member of PSSST (a police force of sorts). With black and white illustrations on most every page the humour of the book is added to making this an excellent early reader for any child who loves mysteries or enjoys a laugh. And that surely encompasses most children.

Publisher - Stripes Publishing
Genre - Children's early reader, adventure, humour.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall

review by Maryom

 When her parents decide to move and live by the sea in Cornwall, Robyn Swinton doesn't expect to settle and make her home there - after all she's already finished her first year at university and is looking forward to striking out on her own in some more glamorous, bustling, generally exciting place like London. Then she discovers her own private cove almost at the end of the garden and the beginnings of a love affair, or two; one with surfing, the other with Jago, the boy-next-door. For when a boy rescues a girl from the sea, they have to fall in love, don't they? If only life were that simple!

This, Emylia Hall's third novel, is the nearest yet to a straight forward love story. The relationship between Robyn and Jago grows and changes over a seven year span, as instant attraction turns to something deeper, but fate seems determined to push them apart. Theirs is a story of missed chances, of so often being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of letters and messages going astray, of other relationships getting in the way - a little bit like Friends' Ross and Rachel, a little like Emma and Dexter from David Nicholls' One Day - but while it's a love story, there's so much more to it than that.
What I've loved about Emylia Hall's previous books, and has made them stand out for me above so many others, has been the capturing of place and atmosphere; in The Book of Summers it's the hot, lazy days of Hungarian summers; in A Heart Bent Out of Shape it's the snow-filled streets of Lausanne in winter. This time, she's chosen a setting closer to home - the far west of Cornwall - and almost every page is filled with yearning for the sea and surf, from the shock of the first cold wave to the elation of a few seconds upright catching a wave, she captures that tug that the sea exerts on many of us, a longing to throw oneself in and become part of it. From her first surfing attempt with a huge board and her wetsuit on back to front, comical but charming in the way of a toddler's first steps, Robyn is hooked on it!
I also loved the artistic passion that permeates the story - from Robyn's attempts to capture the pull and sweep of the waves or the play of light on the ocean through painting, to Jago's instinctive understanding of wood or the 'high' that Eliot gets playing music on stage in front of a live crowd. It's very much a book fizzing with the joy of life, and the delight in finding the thing that one 'must' do.

With it's sea-swept atmosphere, it's a great book for summer, but it's one that will linger with you far longer than a lot of other holiday reads.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Headline
Genre - Adult fiction