A very late update

August has been such a bizarre, wonderful month. The Edinburgh International Book Festival was such a great experience last year, and this year I got to be part of it! I was part of Story Shop 2017, which involved reading my work in the Speigeltent one afternoon. I met the nicest people while doing this – the lovely staff at the City of Literature, my fellow Storyshoppers (all 17 of us!), and previous participants who came to support us. It was even live streamed on Periscope so my parents could watch it from Melbourne. I even met one of the judges of The Emerging Writer Award – the award I was lucky enough to win second place in earlier this year. She was watching my reading totally by chance!

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I also was lucky enough to chair an event. The brilliant poets J.L. Williams and Rachael Boast were appearing together and I was privileged to introduce them and ask them a few questions after their reading. We had a small, appreciative audience, and the poets signed some books afterwards.

I went to so many events! It was wonderful to see such a wide variety of writers, and I can’t possibly list them all here, but a selection of the people I got to watch/meet/chat to includes: Geraldine McCaughrean, Katherine Rundell, Amy Liptrot, Donald Smith, Beth Underdown, Kirsty Logan, the contributors to the Nasty Women anthology, Jo Baker and the nominees and winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Polly Clark, Annalena McAfee, Meg Rosoff, Zadie Smith, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Brian Bilston, Daniel Piper, Hera Lindsay Bird, Vanessa Kisuule, Ali Smith, Sarah Dunant, Jenny Lindsay, Rachael McCrum, Sara Hirsch, Jo Whitby, A New International, Chris McQueer, Claire Askew, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Russell Jones, Harry Giles, Jane Yolen, and Finola Scott.

Other festival-type fringey bits:

Edinburgh International Film Festival – we went to a screening of Final Portrait, Stanley Tucci’s directorial debut starring Geoffrey Rush, Clemence Poesy, and Armie Hammer. Stanley Tucci himself was there to introduce it! We also went to a screening of Born in Flames, the 1983 dystopian film written and directed by Lizzie Borden, who was also there to answer questions afterwards!

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I saw Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, a one-woman show that resets the poem in the American South. I wasn’t sure how well it would work, but I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer Jewell is a wonderful performer. We also went to Lilith: The Jungle Girl at the Traverse, and it was like watching a socially-conscious episode of The Mighty Boosh onstage. Loved every weird minute of it!

Golden Hare bookshop – I went to the Hear Hare Hear event with Christine De Luca, Katie Ailes, and Iain Morrison reading. These three poets are always interesting, and it was a pleasure to chat to them afterwards (and win a prize in the raffle!). I was also a guest on Bibliophile, the podcast produced by Golden Hare, where we discussed the modernization of classic texts. It was great fun to be involved!

Travel wise, we’ve had a wee day trip to St Andrews…

…and a few days in London. It was a pleasure to go with Sean’s sister, it being her first trip there, and I spent most of it wandering around the Brick Lane market or in the National Portrait Gallery, getting acquainted with history and saying hi to the Bronte’s.

We stayed in a hostel in Swiss Cottage for a couple of nights and saw Tim Burton buying breakfast in a delicatessen, then I stayed in Soho with a lovely couple I met at the Bronte conference last year. I saw Eddie Izzard walking down Carnaby St. I finished my trip with a visit to the delightful Persephone Books.

Brace yourself for a level of nerdiness that surpasses even my own past efforts: I’ve managed to join two book clubs, three societies (Jane Austen, Bronte, and Richard III), and am looking forward to the festival finishing so I can get back into the walking group as well. The 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death was marked with a church service and another meeting involved Dr Cheryl Kinney from the USA lecturing on Persuasion and Austen’s use of illness and injury in her novels.

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I have also been hard at work editing Pride & Possibilities and have been loving the contributions I get to work with! I’ve done two online courses – one that tied into the book festival and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize called How to read a novel and one on the life and times of Richard III – and have been working on my professional development for the scheme I am enrolled in, including attending a seminar at the National Library of Scotland on the RDA update and a workshop at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow on libraries, social inequality, and activism. I’m also about to embark on another online course focused on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, and this can be claimed for my professional development as well, thank goodness!

And amongst all this, I have been attempting to take care of the everyday business of life, and prepare for a longer stay in Edinburgh. I had a haircut – bless the lovely hairdresser and her poker face when I told her it hadn’t been cut in almost two years.

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I’m going to run out of time to get my wisdom teeth out this year, but next year it will happen, mark my words! We are moving to a larger, more comfortable flat and we have booked flights back to Aus to take care of our visa requirements. I have been treasuring the Skypes and the correspondence from Australia, as well as the groups of friends I have made here – dinners, afternoon teas, and drinks have been some of the most enjoyable times in the last couple of months! We have had numerous visitors from Australia and from other parts of the UK and Europe and it’s been brilliant to revisit those friendships. Also, I am now a cat-sitter – spent a weekend last month with the handsome fellow below, and looking forward to next month when I get to sit for two kitties at once.

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Well, if you’ve got to the bottom of this blog post, congratulations. You must be my parents – hi, Mum and Dad! I’m off to rest my sore typing fingers in ice and to prepare for a hopefully quiet few months before we skip back to Melbourne for a visit.

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MWF 2013: History’s Script and This Is Scotland

It’s that time of year again – Melbourne Writers Festival! I really regret not buying my tickets earlier this year – three of the events I wanted to attend were booked out when I got my act together (Tavi’s World, Book Club and Lucrezia Borgia). I have booked tickets for four events now – not nearly as many as I would like to attend, but money and time are two issues that I can’t really compromise on at this stage of my life, so it is what is is. Today, however, was my first of three festival days!

I took the tram in to ACMI at Fed Square and fronted up for History’s Script at 11.30. Michael Cathcart from Books and Arts Daily on Radio National was interviewing Sarah Dunant and Jane Sullivan, and recording the whole session to broadcast on Tuesday. Before I even talk about the session, I just have to say that it made me even more ticked off that I’d missed the Lucrezia Borgia session. Like, ragey. It would have been so good (especially as Sarah Dunant was involved, and has just written a novel on the Borgias called ‘Blood and Beauty’).

Sarah Dunant is a well-known historical fiction and thriller author who studied history at Cambridge, but her interest was really piqued from reading historical fiction. She feels that gender affects people’s approach to history and her obsession and specialisation in the Italian Renaissance was influenced by Florence, where she now spends a lot of her time.

Jane Sullivan is a journalist who has written two novels, the most recent of which is called ‘Little People’ and set in Melbourne in 1870. She came to Australia in the late 1970’s and found out that Melbourne used to be known as ‘the Chicago of the South’. She has not studied history beyond high school (she studied literature at university) but came to history through her love of stories.

Both of these women were excellent speakers, and their passion and enthusiasm was evident. Sarah Dunant likes to put the ‘soil’ in place in her manuscript first – the politics, culture etc – then create a character from that, and stick to the character the stuff that she knows. There was much discussion of the ‘licence to invent’ when writing historical fiction and where the lines are drawn, and the existence of different truths – after all, ‘the victors write the history’ that is most commonly known/accepted. Sarah Dunant in particular talked about her disagreement with the Showtime series of ‘The Borgias’ – why add sex and violence and nudity and sensationalism, when the real truth of the history is just as crazy and exciting? Jane Sullivan pointed out the importance of afterwords – how they can acknowledge what’s true, what’s untrue and what the author/historians are still not sure about.

Michael Cathcart spoke about ‘pluralising’ history – how history is inclusive of lots of different versions of truth and we know have British histories instead of British history and Australian histories instead of Australian history. Sarah Dunant also expanded on her theory of gender and historical fiction – men are now coming to read historical fiction more and more, so have the men changed, or has the historical fiction changed? It’s also important for women, particularly young women, to read about times (often quite recent) where women didn’t enjoy the same rights we do. It shows us how carefully we need to protect what we do have.

Having thoroughly enjoyed myself, I inhaled some caffeine and went to the Deakin Edge simply stunning Atrium for the This is (Sparta) Scotland panel. Liam McIlvanney was chairing, and the Scottish writers taking part were John Burnside, Kirsty Gunn and Doug Johnstone, which pretty much meant it was an hour of auditory bliss with that many accents floating about. They read pieces of their work to us, and then discussed what it meant to be a Scottish writer, and the literary backdrop of the country. There was particularly interesting mention of different brands of nationalism and the discomfort of being appropriated into it, being known as the ‘voice of a nation’. Coming from a nation famous for their crime writers, Doug Johnstone deliberately includes family life and mundane domesticity in his high-octane crime dramas in order to explore those contrasts. John ‘bleak is my middle name’ Burnside expressed delight that here at the Melbourne Writers Festival ‘you can walk from one cultural experience to another without getting drunk along the way’, and they all mentioned other writers who had influenced them in various ways – Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh (Doug Johnstone), Neil Gunn (Kirsty Gunn – no relation!) and Hugh MacDiarmid and John Muir (John Burnside).

I came home to blog about these sessions in preparation for tomorrow, when I’m going to No Safe Place, and also a Women of Letters salon. Expect another blog in the next 48 hours! Meanwhile, I have some reading to catch up on.