Monday, 27 August 2012

Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square

11th August

Charlotte Square is the large square in the West End of the New Town of Edinburgh.  The square is transformed for the Book Festival and there are a lot of events in the main tents and studio areas. 

I visited the square on the first day, a Saturday.  We had been walking along Heriot Row and paid our respects to Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) before dropping into the square for a coffee, enjoying the sunshine and hearing book fans queuing up (standing in line) to hear their favourite authors.  Alexander McCall Smith was the attraction and I almost bumped into actor Simon Callow who was apparently taking a photograph. 

Entrance to the festival is free and the programme is very interesting as it is not just about book plugging, although there are a lot of book signing opportunities too.  Some of the talks are quite serious, philosophical and there are even some science sections.

I can’t resist doing a repeat of my “lucky bag” scene from last year. In the Saturday evening only the Scotsman were offering a goody bag” for £1.30. The contents were as follows: Scotsman Paper, a limited choice of books, a Robert Burns CD and coffee and sweets.  A great tradition. 

According to the Book Festival Green “policy” a green friendly canvas bag is being given for book customers. Hmm.

August 24th 2012

I went to Charlotte Square and the Scotsman seller outside was filling a plastic goody bag for the Friday issue.  This was £1 with Robert Louis Stevenson Kidnapped in graphic comic format, another Burns CD, coffee and sweets. I noted a few Guardian canvas shoulder bags being carried around.  

On entering the Book Festival site I made some enquiries of that evening’s events.  A very helpful staff member ran through the schedule.  From the Daisy CD which the festival had sent me by post, I could navigate to what was on on a daily basis.  Some of the events had been sold out but I was advised that returns were usually available in an hour before the event. 

I had been interested in a Simon Armitage and an Alastair Darling talk.  I was recommended to try out the Amnesty Scotland talk about Imprisoned Writers and was ticketed (this is a free event) and guided by Alva to the tent (Peppers Theatre) where the talk was about to start.  Alva checked that I was aware of the decking and facilities and at the theatre Sophia guided me to my seat. 

Speakers included Ron Butlin, Emylia Hall and Jane Rogers and an interesting selection of readings were made with extracts from Zimbabwe, Iran and Colombia.  In the case of Colombia I was unaware of the everyday life of a primary schoolteacher who has to carry a loaded gun to school.  The school is in a rundown area of an energy rich province and little money trickles down from the sale of hydrocarbons.  I expected drugs instability from news reports but our coverage of Colombia Is usually limited to the cocaine cartels. 

This was a very thought provoking meeting and though we take for granted some element of free speech and ability to write, it is worth listening to those people from countries with no freedom, whether from state sponsored terrorism or from effective “wilful blindness”.  I had been to Bogota in the 1980s and had hoped things had improved. 

At the end, Sophia came to my seat and as I wanted to hang around for a returned ticket, I asked to be taken to a coffee outlet (There is a choice of bar or signing area.) I picked the signing area and enjoyed eavesdropping on comments as I was drinking my coffee. 

I checked the box office for returns and estimated the length of the queue. I was going to have to choose between Simon Armitage and Mr Darling, so took a break and joined the returns line.  Having got a ticket I was able to register with the RBS Tent and my name was taken.  By this time I had made friends with others in the waiting area and we talked about tactile crossings, books and screen readers.  A small world I one in this group was a former mobility officer with a later academic record. 

The talk itself was the Conversation style with Jim Naughtie and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Mr Darling has a good radio presence so it was no surprise to listen to him.  He throws in “Across the piece” in almost every interview I have heard him do since Northern Rock and he did it again. Many anecdotes about Gordon Brown, Frau Dr Merkel and the financial crash in the Eurozone.  James Naughtie appeared to be more coherent in this format.  He did not ramble and with an hour in fairly relaxed surroundings (there were hecklers outside) we were treated to an interesting discussion.  The event was well stewarded and I really enjoyed my evening in Charlotte Square. 


Take care crossing over to Charlotte Square as there are steps which appear suddenly.  Use the tactile directional and controlled crossings.  Once inside the area check out the orientation.  For next year, get the event listing and though events may change there is bound to be something of interest.  Some of the Edinburgh visually impaired community were going on the Wednesday evening but had not known about the Daisy CD availability.

Many thanks to the organisers especially Nicola Robson who answered my comments by email and sent me the Audio CD in Daisy format.

I had mentioned that visually impaired people are large consumers of books in alternative formats and that we often buy a hard copy and get it signed.  On the last day of the festival Deborah Levy was speaking in Charlotte Square.  I had met her a couple of times in Camden Arts Centre in London and she not only signed a book for me but also wrote the name and dedication for a gift to a friend as I can no longer write.  So, our book purchases are not just limited to audio books or e-books.  We do spend money on hard copy too!

Related links:

My post from last year’s visit:

Edinburgh International Book Festival website: