Aug 23, 2012

The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012

Edinburgh Book Festival logo

I’ve just come back from Edinburgh, where for the second time I was lucky enough to go to the International Book Festival and to the Fringe (on which more soon). It was a lovely couple of days: I was really lucky with the weather for the most part, Edinburgh is still my favourite city (over the years many people had told me that seeing Paris would change my mind, but I can now report that no, it has not), and the program was perfectly suited to my interests. Seeing Patrick Ness, Margo Lanagan or China Miéville would have been more than enough on its own to make my entire weekend; seeing all of them the same day was almost too much for my fangirl heart.

In I go.

The first Book Festival event I attended was Garth Nix’s on Saturday. It was a fun and relaxed session with lots of humour, stories and anecdotes, and even audience giveaways of small replicas of the bells used by necromancers in the Old Kingdom series (how cool is that? And no, sadly I didn’t win one). Nix began by reading from his latest science fiction novel, A Confusion of Princes, which was inspired by and dedicated to Heinlein and Andre Norton. After discussing the new book for a bit, he told us a story meant to illustrate how he approaches writing fantasy and science fiction: he tries to ground it in real experiences, some from his own life, and to make the setting as vivid as possible by including lots of sensorial details inspired by places he’s visited.
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He told us that he’s currently working on Clariel, a prequel to the Old Kingdom series that will focus on how the main antagonist from Lirael and Abhorsen became who they were, and that he also has plans for a fifth book set after the end of the original trilogy. This is probably old news to anyone who follows Nix’s career more closely than I do, but it was a surprise to me and it kind of made my day. Towards the end of the session he read us the prologue of Clariel (or what is currently the prologue, because who knows whether it’ll make it to the final draft), and it was great to get a sneak peak of the next book in the series.

Garth Nix

Later that same day I attended a session with Junot Díaz and Nathan Englander, who read from and discussed their latest short story collections, This is How You Lose Her and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank respectively. I have read neither, but I thought it would be interesting to attend something focused on short fiction. I love short stories, but I kind of tend to forget that I do. The session was actually timely for me: on my way to Edinburgh I was reading Kij Johnson’s new collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, which did a splendid job of reminding me of why I love the format.

Englander drew attention to the role negative space plays in the short story (by which he means everything that’s suggested or evoked but not actually included). Not all short stories use it effectively, but yes, my favourites are exactly the ones that managed to suggest a whole world or conjure an infinitively intricate emotional reality with only a few sentences. He also said he’s very interested in rewritings; that he has come to realise that we can tell the same story infinitely and make it unique every time. This was in response to a question about the title of his short story collection (What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank) being a riff on Raymond Carver. As I said, I haven’t read Englander’s work before, but between the things he said and the great title, my interested has definitely been piqued.

Nathan Englander

Junot Díaz believes that a short story can be perfect in a way a novel can’t. He’s also interested in collections of interconnected short stories because they combine the pleasures of a long-term stay in a fictional world with the pleasures of the short story. You get that sense of deeper connection with the characters, but also the sharp jab of succinctly capturing something fundamental about what it means to be human that the best short stories give you.

Díaz also discussed his identity as a Dominican-American writer in a way I found really interesting. He said that his experience is that people will always try to oversimplify him; to reduce his identity to a tick in a single box. But reality is of course much more complex than that, and the fact is that he is, and should be allowed to be, a multiplicity of things. He has noticed that immigration as a category creates many anxieties in people, especially when you try to maintain that simultaneity and assert your right to be many things at once; but he strongly feels that part of his job as a writer is exactly to resist that oversimplification. He also said that it’s funny how no one asks, say, Jonathan Frazen how his whiteness has informed his writing – and yet he feels that Frazen’s whiteness has probably had more of an impact on his writing than Díaz’s Dominican-ness on his own. The categories that remain unmarked (because we think of them as the default) inform people’s worldview too, and it’s therefore only natural that this seeps into their writing. He also briefly discussed how the authenticity of POC writers is often policed; how they’re pressured into being a good enough example of their national or ethnic category. White writers are allowed to be only themselves, but POC writers are not. Of course, you often can’t escape the big national questions in your writing, but you can flip them on their head and approach them in a way that’s uniquely yours.

Junot Díaz, who is clearly not a fan of sitting behind a table.

Finally, he was asked about the alleged new tendency, which his writing is supposed to embody, of having novels marry genre and “high theory”; complex ideas and references to pop culture. His answer (which made me want to shout YES, THANK YOU, can we PLEASE stop pretending any of this is new?) is that it’s important to have a sense of history when it comes to these things – he gave Melville as an example of someone who was doing it (writing a sea adventure that is also a complex novel of ideas, that is) a very long time ago. In regards to genre in particular, he said realism isn’t always suited to dealing with extreme reality. Realist fiction can sometimes evoke all these defences and preconceived ideas people have about historical or social or political events, but non-realist storytelling techniques can bypass them and thus do a better job of suggesting new ways of understanding the world.

On Monday, I saw Margo Lanagan and Melvin Burgess discuss… well, the official topic was supposed to be the controversies surrounding their novels Tender Morsels and Doing It, but both seemed slightly puzzled as to why this should be emphasised, considering that they have more recent works and that there are perhaps more interesting conversations to be had about their writing than the media scandals they caused. Fortunately, they did manage to make room in the session for these other conversations.

Burgess started by remarking that teen literature is not the same as children’s literature, and that it’s disingenuous for anyone to pretend that he’s writing books that expose young children to drugs or explicit sex – that’s not what the label “YA” means. He thinks people are better at acknowledging this difference nowadays, but back when he published Junk in 1996 it was a real problem. Regarding Doing It, he said his goal was to write a book that helped disperse the shame that surrounds young male sexuality; that told kids that sexual experiences are awkward and wonderful and kind of ridiculous and hilarious, and that it’s okay for them to be all of those things. I haven’t read the book, but I really liked the excerpt he read at the session (he had us vote on whether or not we wanted it to be a dirty bit, and of course the “yes” won by a landslide): it was really funny and it had real heart at the same time.

At one point he was asked what his thoughts were on the fact that although it’s important to dispel sexual shame and to acknowledge that human sexuality can be beautiful, there’s an element to young male sexual culture that’s heavily based on coercion – how do you acknowledge that while still being sex-positive? He said that he agreed that this was a problem, but that wasn’t what he had wanted to write about in Doing It. His characters were good kids who completely respected their girlfriends. While choosing to have a different focus is of course fair enough, I felt that this was a bit of a dismissive “not my Nigel” type answer, and I really wish the topic could have been explored in more depth. I certainly don’t have an answer myself – even within feminism there are frequent debates about how to balance sex positivity with the importance of challenging the sexism and homophobia that permeate culturally dominant approaches to sexuality – but I do find the question incredibly pertinent.

The wonderful Margo Lanagan.

Margo Lanagan talked about how one of her concerns when writing Tender Morsels was to make sure the sexual violence was implied rather than graphic. She said people tend to forget that there aren’t any actual descriptions of rape in the book because their minds fill in the blanks, and that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen – if you know what’s going on, you’ll pick up on the cues and imagine the rest; but if, say, a young kid picked up the book, they wouldn’t know what was happening. She also said it was important to her not to rub people’s noses in the sexual violence, but to instead focus on its long-term effects on Liga. Finally, she discussed the prologue of Tender Morsels and what she meant for it to do: the first sentence (“There are plenty who would call her a slut for it”) sets the tone of the novel and should immediately tell anyone who was mislead by what she called the “A.A. Milne cover” (ha!) of the UK adult edition what to expect. The rest of the prologue, which is a warm, light-hearted sex scene very much unlike Liga’s experiences in the first few chapters, reassures readers that the novel will not be relentlessly dark.

She also talked about The Brides of Rollrock Island and explained that what she was the most interested in when expanding the novella Sea Hearts into a full-length novel was Miskaella’s backstory: how did she become the frightening old witch we see later in the novel? What did she go through that caused her to turn into that person? Before reading the section about Miskaella’s encounter with the male selkie, the very first one she calls forth from the see, she said she wanted to give her a treat exactly because she’s a character who endures so much over the course of the novel.

A few words on readings: last year I said that I sometimes resent long readings in one-hour sessions, especially when there are multiple authors. By the time they’re over, over half an hour will have gone by, and this is especially frustrating because not all authors are exactly great public readers. Having said that, a good reading can be a really moving experience, and hearing Margo Lanagan read from Tender Morsels and The Brides of Rollrock Island, two novels that mean so very much to me, definitely falls under this category (I may have teared up once or twice).

Towards the end both authors were asked about their literary influences: Burgess mentioned Mervyn Peake and George Orwell and said he admirers the latter’s ability to write such clear prose; Margo Lanagan mentioned Alan Garner, William Mayne, and Gerald Manly Hopkins. She said she likes writers who push their prose to the very edge of sense, who don’t offer everything on a plate, who challenge readers, and who respect them enough to let them bring something to the reading. This didn’t at all surprise me, considering it’s exactly what she does in her own writing.

Last but not least, there was China Miéville’s session (chaired by Patrick Ness, which equals twice the awesome). They talked about… oh, so many things, and all of it was so interesting (it’s probably no coincidence that there was no reading. Just saying.). They started by talking about Railsea, which Miéville said was based on two jokes: Moby Dick with moles, and an 18th century maritime novel with trains instead of ships. Patrick Ness then asked him why he wrote Railsea as a YA novel (and added that if Miéville suspected the question was full of traps coming from him, he was absolutely right).

Miéville said there was no reason why it couldn’t be done as an adult novel, but when telling the story to himself in his head, he told it to a younger version of himself. He wanted the voice of Railsea to be jokey and playful (but jokey, he later clarified, is not the opposite of serious), and he personally can’t relax into that kind of voice when writing for adults. This is the reason why his YA books tend to be more playful and lighthearted – although it’s important for him to make sure the playfulness doesn’t undermine the story. Personally I think Kraken is the adult novel of his that comes the closest to having that sort of voice (though it’s a much darker kind of playfulness), which might be the reason why I love it so much. Towards the end of the session someone in the audience asked him if he felt any kind of responsibility when writing for young adults, to which he said he only felt the usual human responsibility not to be a dick (good answer).

He also talked about a bit about how uncomfortable he is with privileging authorial intent – if the book isn’t its own explanation, then there isn’t much of a point in it existing in the first place. Furthermore, authors can be and frequently are wrong about their own books. He then discussed the huge premium that is put on characterisation and how that’s not a huge priority for him (“Before anyone tweets ‘China Miéville hates characters’”, he added “let me clarify that I’m pro-characters. Characterisation is a good thing.”): his novels are pegged on images more than anything else. This is something I’ve commented on repeatedly when I read his books – it actually surprises me that I love them as much as I do, because I’m definitely someone who does put that kind of premium on characters. But I actually like that this is the case: reading his work reminds me that there’s more to fiction than what I’m in the habit of valuing. There’s nothing wrong with valuing characters as much as I and many others do, of course, but I appreciate being reminded that fiction can do other things; that it can work in completely different ways and still be so immensely rewarding.

Patrick Ness asked him how useful genre is to him as a writer. Miéville started by saying that genre is not a fixed set of rules to obey, is not the opposite of literature, and doesn’t exist in any sort of hierarchy. He’s not very interested in literary taxonomy, but he does think that aesthetic traditions and the storytelling protocols that go along with them are interesting to play with and useful. They can be played with in different ways – through fidelity, subversion, unexpected combination of different ones, etc. Genres are basically shorthand for all of these things. They’re not straitjackets, though, and their edges are blurry, which is a good thing. He also said he’s interested in genres he doesn’t know much about, in studying them closely and figuring out how they work. Lately he’s doing that with romance and has been reading lots of regency romance in the process. (At this point Patrick Ness had us help him peer pressure Miéville into writing a romance with cheers and a show of hands. THIS IS SO A THING THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN.)

Ness and Miéville also discussed what the former called the tendency for authors to double as oracles these days: everyone expects them to have wise opinions on this and that, which isn’t always very useful. Miéville agreed, and said that the fact that someone is a published author doesn’t mean they should be constantly weighing in on issues of cultural politics – it’s important to have the humility not to talk about things you just don’t know very much about, and to realise that not everything you have to say is necessarily worthy of being publicly said and heard. Finally, he answered an audience question about authors who inspired him and mentioned Helen Oyeyemi (who I so need to read already), Michael Cisco, Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre is his all-time favourite novel), and Jane Gaskell.

Edinburgh World Writers' Conference logo

In addition to these author sessions, I attended the last two days of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference. This was an attempt to replicate the legendary conference that took place in 1962 (you can read more about its history here), and the format was pretty exciting: there was a keynote address by a different speaker every day, followed by an hour and a half of debate between the remainder of the fifty participating writers and members of the public. I liked the fact that the format gave me the opportunity to hear writers whose sessions I had missed (Ben Okri, Theresa Breslin, Nick Laird, Chika Unigwe, Janne Teller, etc), and also how democratic it all is in principle. But to be honest I found the sessions very cacophonous at times: there was no single thread in the conversation; there was only a series of people making points that may or may not have had anything to do with what was said before. I think I might have preferred less breadth and a little more depth. Perhaps a debate between a panel of, say, five writers for the first hour, with only the final half an hour being open to everyone else, would have helped give the debate more direction. Of course, this has the disadvantage of being much less democratic, but it might have allowed everyone to dig deeper.

Queuing up for the Writers' Conference

And as if to illustrate China Miéville point about how being a published writer doesn’t guarantee that someone will have anything of use to say, the quality of the interventions varied wildly: they ranged from the awesome (like Kamila Shamsie’s, who I now desperately want to read because everything she said was so smart and sensible) to the frankly embarrassing. There was a writer who shall remain nameless who made me want to stab myself in the eye every time he opened his mouth. At least I had the comfort of seeing China Miéville curse under his breath after a particularly unfortunate intervention. I swear I wasn’t watching him intently like some sort of stalker, by the way – it’s just that he was sitting just to my right the first day, and it was difficult not to notice. He was literary biting his fist in anger at one point, which was somehow oddly reassuring. Going “Ha! China Miéville thinks you suck!” in my head helped calm me down.

As I said, I attended the last two days of the conference: the topics were “Censorship Today” and “The Future of the Novel”, and the keynote addresses were given by Patrick Ness and China Miéville respectively. It probably goes without saying that everything I’ve written so far is a mere glimpse of everything that was said at the events I attended. When it comes to the Writers’ Conference in particular, this is more the case than ever. Each session was two hours long and covered a lot of ground; I can only give you an abbreviated version, which is furthermore sieved through a very noticeable Ana’s interests-shaped filter. But I don’t feel too bad about it, because you can not only read the full text of the keynote addresses online, but also watch the sessions in their entirety (and even spot my head in the audience once or twice).

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness’ speech on “Censorship Today” focused on how “what we disallow ourselves to discuss – sometimes for good reason, yes, but sometimes for bad – can curtail our voices as effectively as any government or corporation ever could”. I suspect that the online environment that inspired his speech is pretty similar to the one I move in, and I have certainly seen some of what he describes. While I think people should be corrected when they’re wrong and challenged when they say clueless things, I have often been paralysed by the fear that getting it wrong once will permanently exclude me from conversations I’d like to be having (and you might remember that this is something I’ve tried to make my peace with in the past). I found the main points of Ness’ talk relevant to anyone with a public voice, especially this:
The nature of mass debate has become solely binary: you’re on one side or the other. Factor that in with whatever combination of debates you’ve been forced to take sides on, and the number of people willing to listen to you – because they agree with you – shrinks daily. Try stating a strong opinion on gun control, for example, on Twitter and see how many followers you lose.
Yep: about a month ago I lost fifteen followers in a couple of hours for retweeting a piece comparing Norway’s response to the 2011 massacre with reactions in the US to the Aurora shooting. It actually took me a while to understand why the numbers kept going down, because nothing of the sort had ever happened to me before. It all reminded me of what The Influencing Machine says about echo chambers and the dangers they involve. Like Ness I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, but I do think they’re worth considering. I’m not advocating (and neither was he) that we tolerate every intolerant position imaginable for the sake of open-mindness, or that we cease to curate our circles altogether and expose ourselves to psychologically demanding hate speech. But I don’t know – ceasing to engage with someone who may have other valuable things to say because they said something we strongly disagree with is both something I’ve seen and something I’ve taken part in myself, and this worries me sometimes. I suppose context matters here: we don’t have the right to impose our 101 views on every conversational space or to expect never to be challenged when we get things wrong, but I’d like for there to be places where we can get it wrong and learn as we go along (or simply disagree without thinking we’re getting it wrong) without this damaging our credibility or excluding us from future conversations forever.

I also appreciated the fact that Ness’ speech tried to avoid having the debate amount to a bunch of self-congratulatory people go on about how bad those “poor other countries” have it. There are of course big differences of degree, but censorship is relevant everywhere. This is a point Nick Laird made explicitly when the conversation threatened to veer in that direction: of course the rest of the world matters and that we should talk about it, but we shouldn’t be too busy lamenting it in a smug, us vs them kind of way that we fail to notice what’s happening in our own backyards. There were writers from all over the world at the conference who did make relevant points about what happens in their countries, but I was glad the debate didn’t turn into a group of Westerners othering the rest of the world and patting themselves on the back.

Depressingly but predictably, the discussion eventually degenerated into a white man ranting about how “political correctness” has made his life oh so miserable – how dreadful that the gypsies don’t want to be called gypsies anymore, but instead you have to remember all these different names like Romani, Dom, Lyuli and Lom people. One of the greatest tragedies of modern life, right? It was at this point that Ben Okri pertinently reminded everyone that anti-PC backlash is often the backdoor through which truly repulsive racist notions find their way back into mainstream culture and public debate.

My favourite intervention of the afternoon was probably China Miéville’s: he made pretty much the same points he makes in his essay about Tintin in Congo from earlier this year. I have to quote some of it here, because it’s so brilliantly put:
It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It’s really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy?
It follows from this that self-censorship isn’t always a bad thing – we have all grown up in a culture full of toxic ideas, and not every thought that crosses our minds should be spoken out loud. He also commented on what Cordelia Fine dubbed the Modern-day Galileo phenomenon (in regards to gender, but it really goes for everything): people pretending that they’re being incredibly brave and subversive by challenging the PC thought police, as if the reactionary things they’re saying weren’t still the default.

I’ve spent the past few days thinking about how I reconcile my agreement with China Miéville with my appreciation for Patrick Ness’ main points, and I think it all comes down to context. Like I said, I suspect Ness moves in circles akin to my own, where the overwhelming majority of people share a similar worldview (though how broadly or narrowly you define “similar” is a worthy question in itself) but have impassioned debates about the nuances and specificities of their beliefs (which, I should add, can be hugely important and are legitimate subjects to debate). China Miéville’s point, on the other hand, is a much needed reminder of what’s going on in the world at large; of just how common racism, sexist, homophobia and etc still are; and of how naïve it can be to assume that there’s any sort of righteousness or commendable bravery in uncompromisingly insisting on speaking the first thought that crosses our minds.

China Miéville and Janne Teller

The final day of the Writer’s Conference was dedicated to “The Future of the Novel”, and the keynote speaker was China Miéville. Again, you can click over to read his speech in its entity. Because this post is ridiculously long as it is, I’ll try to keep this brief. I found Miéville’s speech refreshing and the debate that followed pretty frustrating – some of the interventions almost felt like disingenuous misreadings of the points he was trying to make (never Kamila Shamsie’s, though. She was awesome all the time). I particularly liked how Miéville called himself an “anguished optimist” and said that the future of the novel really comes down to novels and futures. But the session threatened to turn, as he put it at one point, into “two hours of ‘But how do we get paid?’” – which, while relevant, is not exactly my favourite topic. I mean, I think distribution models and the economic side of writing can be interesting, but personally I’d have liked slightly less panicky reactions and more of an emphasis on oh, I don’t know, how storytelling might change in the future, what new formats will emerge, where we might be headed with it comes to experimentation in narrative, how the novel will continue to compete with emerging media, does it have to be a matter of competition at all, etc etc. The debate could have headed in a hundred different directions, but instead it slipped into false dichotomies far too often. As Miéville reminded us, the current copyright model (which he called “ridiculously outdated and punitive”) does not work in the protection of art, and leaving it behind doesn’t amount to giving up on everything we value.

Lastly (is anyone still with me as I recklessly head for 5000 words?), there were the signings: the fact that I only took one item of hand luggage to Edinburgh meant some choices had to be made, so I only got Kraken and Margo Lanagan’s last two novels signed. To be honest, the only thing it takes for me to count a signing as successful is me succeeding at making myself go. When standing in front of someone whose work means so much to me, I kind of tend to forget what words are and how they work. My conversationalist skills, not exactly brilliant even at the best of times, dessert me completely. Anyway, Margo Lanagan was incredibly friendly and warm despite my awkwardness and tongue-tiedness, and she graciously rescued me from having to kick myself later for not being brave enough to introduce myself. And China Miéville is far less intimidating than I feared he’d be. He was friendly and kind and I couldn’t tell you what in the world I said to him – something about how much he rocked at the censorship debate, I think? – because it’s all a blur in my mind. I do know I didn’t say much of substance to either of them, but neither did I make a terrible fool of myself (probably). The experience meant something to me in any case, and I suppose that that’s what counts.

I survived!

4923 words later, I’m finally going to shut up. Here are a few more pictures:

Melvin Burgess, looking uncannily like Rumpelstiltskin/Mr Gold from Once Upon a Time.

Seamus Heaney

Ben Okri

David Crystal

My brand new festival tote bag :D


  1. A brilliant synopsis Ana! I'm SO glad you finally got to see China Mieville in real life! He's a brilliant speaker, isn't he and has so many interesting things to say. And you've also reminded me that I need to read some Margo Lanagan soonish.

  2. Wow, what a fabulous line up of authors! I've never been to Edinburgh but would like to visit since it's your favorite city.

  3. This is such an awesome post, thanks for taking the time to write it.

  4. What I wouldn't have given to be at both of these events. The more I read about Diaz, the more I admire him. I would have loved to have been an audience member for everything you've written about here. Thanks for the fantastic post!

  5. Wow, Ana! So much gratuitous awesomeness in one place. :-) Someday, if I can save enough money to get across the Atlantic, I'd love to travel to Edinburgh to attend that festival. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  6. What I love most about the Edinburgh Festival is that YOU go, because you give such wonderful pictorial summaries that I feel *almost* as if I had been also! Re Ness and censorship - that's part of what I love so much about the Chaos Walking series - how he inserts his take on information dissemination and control and censorship so seamlessly and yet so centrally into the plot. For me, the lack of courage to speak is always conflated with fear of not being effective because of being too emotional and inflammatory. I would love to learn how to respond to discussions better!

  7. Wow, Ana. I read the whole thing and will now read it again. Your post brought me into all of these events. Thank you and thanks for the links.

  8. Ahh, this sounds so amazing...thank you for writing about it so well and in such detail! (And hooray for Patrick Ness and China Miéville both being awesome both inside and outside of their books.)

  9. Aww, that sounds amazing! I'm TOTALLY with you on the Edinburgh vs. Paris front. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and if I ever move back to the UK that's where I would like to live (in fact I'd like to live there for some time in general, not just 'if' I move back to the UK). I'm really glad you had such a wonderful time


  11. looks like a wonderful time you had there and great pics ,all the best stu

  12. This post put me in a really good mood, because I love Patrick Ness and also I love you. :)

    The issues discussed sound really interesting and as usual your thoughts on them and your fairness and your attempts to reconcile conflicting feelings...all so interesting. And while I agree we don't want to listen to people being racist and homophobic and sexist and all other manner of ~ist, we need to give space for people to be wrong. Including ourselves!

    anyway fascinating, I'm jealous, and this post reminded me of all the reasons the bookish world is such an interesting place.

    I've read one book by Kamila Shamsie which I liked well enough...the themes in the book were really fascinating and I suspect you would be interested in them. (it was Burnt Shadows) It's a book that has stayed with me through the years so there's definitely that!

  13. Wow Ana! What a great time! Thanks for sharing. I saw some good things about Mieville's sessions in the Guardian so I saved the links. I'm looking forward to having the time to watch them :)

  14. That's awesome Ana! If I ever go there I am totally timing my trip to coincide with this event. :)

  15. You got to see so many great authors! Some day I'm going to make it to this festival (I hope).

  16. This all is just…awesome/incredible/enlightening and dammit I so wish I was there!!!! I have to make it a life goal to go to this one year! Before I met you, I never would've thought as Edinburgh as a place I HAD to go to before I die, but damn, it is now :) Also, WHAT TWO MORE OLD KINGDOM BOOKS????? You just made my night!!!!!

  17. It was great to be able to see all this through your eyes!
    I read that Englander collection of short stories back in February and liked it.
    Also, a necromancy bell? Just say no.

  18. I wish you'd gone on for another 5,000 words. Seriously. In fact there's just so much awesomeness here that I want to comment on that I think I shall write you a long, rambly email next week when we get back from our wanderings. Lucky you. Ha!

    I am just so very happy that you had such a marvelous time!!! :D

  19. Sounds like the you had a great time! Rather jealous about Garth Nix on my boyfriend's behalf! He is a self-confessed Nix fanatic, and know he'd definitely want a set of necromancers bells :-D

  20. I'm so thrilled that you got to go again! I've been to Edinburgh, but I have yet to go to the festival. I love hearing about your experience. I'm in the middle of The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao right now, so it's fascinating to hear about Junot Díaz.

    I think what Lanagan said about implied sexual violence vs. spelling it out is fascinating. We do fill in the blanks, but our minds will only take us so far when things are implied, which is so good for younger audiences.

    I really want to like Miéville more than I did with The City & The City. I think I may Kraken or his YA novel next. i love your comment about "there’s more to fiction than what I’m in the habit of valuing."

    And yes, Melvin Burgess looked exactly like Rumpelstiltskin!

  21. Oh, Ana, thank you so much - what a wonderful post. I feel like I was there myself through your notes. Some very very interesting discussions. I'm so glad you shared this with us.

  22. Thank you for that well-crafted, insightful post. It was a delight to read!

  23. Oh my gosh, it sounds like this was a trip of a lifetime this year, and that you had a great time. The authors that you got to meet were truly the top notch in the business, and I am glad that you got a chance to experience this for yourself.

  24. Wow, Ana, this all sounds amazing. I loved reading all of your descriptions of what you saw and what the authors said. It makes me wish I had been there myself - maybe next year. Thank you so much for writing up all of this awesomeness.

    I'm very intrigued by China Mieville's comments on characterization. I feel like I've felt that while reading his novels too, and it's been one of the things that has really stopped me from 100% connecting with them even though I really like them. I think his comments have put that into perspective for me.

    I have read Kamila Shamsie's novel Burnt Shadows and it had a big impact on me - way back in the early days of book blogging, I think. Definitely worth reading.

    Also, I love that tote bag. :D

  25. Wow. Those are some truly amazing authors! So very jealous.

  26. Sounds awesome! One of these days I'm going to get to Edinburgh for this. I love what Diaz said about race -- it's so true that whiteness and maleness in writing tend to avoid interrogation when femaleness and non-whiteness don't.

    Also, you SHOULD read Helen Oyeyemi. You should read Helen Oyeyemi because you would love her.

  27. I like what Junot Diaz said, it puts into words something that I think we acknowledge without thinking about it. There's a raw-ness with short stories that let you see a depth in characters that novels can't always capture due to their length.

    I now know for definite that I should get a move on and read both Lanagan and Mieville. What you've said about Kraken sounds so interesting, less emphasis on characterisation. I love characters too, but a chance to look at something else would be great.

    It's a pity that we, as a society as a world, can't get to a place where we're comfortable with the amount of self-censorship whilst comfortable in how much we're allowing people to speak their minds - and actually allowing them to do so. I don't think we ever will, but it's a nice thought.

  28. Wow. Lovely pictures! So many interesting ideas!

    OT: I've been reading a galley of The City's Son by Tom Pollock. I'm not even half-way through it, but what I've read so far makes me think that you would probably love it.

  29. This was an amazing post with wonderful encapsulations of what each session contained for you, Ana! I certainly got a sense of what the authors said, and even if it is through your Ana-Lens well by now you must know your Ana-Lens is a wonderful thoughtful way to see the world! So it was like going to the festival with you :-)

    Interesting thoughts you had on each session, I particularly enjoyed how stressed it got with the future of writing, and how it didn't go into what could be for writing, all the possibilities out there. I would have been frustrated too.

    Mostly, Meiville. Ness. Lanagan. Of course, I would have looked for some mystery authors too like Ian Rankin, though over all it sounds like a fabulous book festival, and that tote is to die for! :-)

  30. I'll confess that I skimmed a couple parts of your post only b/c I am less curious about some of the authors. But I read everything you wrote about China Mieville. I've only read two books by him but I love them and I love all the details you included about what he said at the festival, including his reactions to the more frustrating interventions. And yes, a Mieville romance sounds awesome.


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