Every year I make it my business to spend some time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – sometimes at the Book Fringe too, if I can make it, but definitely at the Book Festival in Charlotte Square. In addition to attending events and writing reviews, I get to meet a lot of interesting people, at book-signings, in the media yurt, and just round and about.
This year I have been lucky enough to rub shoulders with, amongst others, Professor David Crystal, the UK’s foremost academic in the field of linguistics, and his son Ben Crystal, Shakespearean actor and expert on the ‘original pronunciation’ experiment. It was a great thrill and privilege to meet David and Ben, and to talk to them, as my field of study has touched on their fields of expertise. I have several books by David Crystal, and lately have bought their jointly-edited Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary.
Other names I’m able to drop this year include poet David Kinloch, Paul Merton, Anthony Sattin the biographer of T E Lawrence, actor Meera Syal, Nicolas Parsons, Helena Nelson of Happenstance, and political geographer Erik Swyngedouw. I was also able to listen to the music of Scotland’s alternative hip-hop band Stanley Odd. Not that any of these people are unapproachable, as there is an opportunity for anyone to meet them at book-signings.
One feature that grows and moves in the village that Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square becomes, is the collection of photo-portraits taken by the Festival’s resident photographer, Chris Close. During the long fortnight he has the task of photographing the writers, celebrities, and others against a white screen, and displaying them around the Festival walkways. This has to be one of the best jobs at the Festival!
Stand-out moments from this year – for me – include the following: Ben Crystal’s presentation, to a young audience in the Baillie Gifford Imagination Lab, on getting into Shakespeare; engaging Erik Swyngedouw in discussion about dissent, trades union membership, democracy, and such; the tray-bakes in Café Brontë; the ‘end-of-term’ antics around the media centre on the last day. And just about everything else; if it is not a complete oxymoron, I would say that everything stood out. And what’s more, the sun shone all the time I was there.
I always try to escape for a while, and to take in some of the other events in Edinburgh. This year I was lucky enough to be alerted to and invited to Brite Theater’s one-woman version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, featuring Emily Carding, which was totally captivating. On my last day there I took some time to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and the Royal Mile, taking in the stalls, buskers, and Fringe events. The end of the Book Festival always seems to mark the end of summer for me. Back home the apples and Victoria plums are ripening and we’re testing out the central heating system.
All the images in this update are © Paul Thompson, except for those from the official collection of Festival portraits, which are © Chris Close and are used here by his kind permission. No further use may be made of any of these images without the direct permission of the copyright-holders.