August is over… and I feel like I’ve been in a marathon. Feet pounding pavements en route to events, dodging flyers, groups of tourists, etc.
2,839,000 tickets were sold or issued for free for more than 3,500 shows, and it feels as if I might have been to most of them.
I did try to pace myself by giving myself festival free days, but once the book festival opened its doors, it all became harder to limit my time.
I’ve added it up. I saw sixteen and a half hours of fringe and sixteen hours of book festival events in addition to the several hours spent smooching around at book launches or other festival social functions.
Was it all worth it?
First – the book festival.
Every year the book festival has a theme; this year it was Freedom, and this lead to some interesting events. I am probably biased, but my favourite was the SCWBI panel event Freedom to Read, Freedom to Write, featuring Candy Gourlay, Elizabeth Wein and Lari Don. An interesting debate, and it was great that the interviewers prioritised questions from young readers. The book festival can feel a bit creaky at times – there were events where I was sure I was the youngest person there – so an effort has to be made to ensure the new generation of readers – and writers – can be fully involved. I do think Edinburgh Book Festival makes a huge effort to do this, with a fabulous schools’ programme amongst other things.
EIBF also invites one person to be a guest selector, each year and this year’s guest selector was Yanis Varoufakis, and he invited everyone from Jeremy Corbyn (dull and uninteresting I’m afraid to say) through to Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot (inspiring, interesting and incredibly brave).
One of the highlights of the festival is when Nicola Sturgeon pops across the road to select and interview a writer. This year she chose Ali Smith – a fellow Invernessian. An interesting interviewee but I was left feeling I perhaps exist on a lower intellectual plane – not her fault, it’s just that she is very erudite and I am not. But isn’t it fabulous to have a political leader who values books so much. I just wish her valuing books would extend to keep Scottish libraries open and thriving. But I can’t somehow imagine Theresa May at Hay on Wye interviewing Hilary Mantel.
Who was my favourite author at the festival this year? Impossible to say. Richard Dawkins, Phillip Pullman, Susan Calman, Ruby Wax, Anne Cleeves, Jasper Fforde…. Take your pick. I enjoyed them all.
It was interesting how many of the authors – and also comedians in the fringe – mentioned their own mental health in passing. On the positive side, maybe talking about mental health holds less of a stigma now, but I can’t help worrying that it is a sign of our times that mental health dominates so many individual’s agendas. So it was great to see Mark Thomas talking about the NHS at 70. I had no idea that mental health was on the agenda back when the NHS was founded.
During the fringe you can see just about any famous comedian you want – and I did – Mark Watson, Katherine Ryan, Dylan Moran, Foil, Arms and Hog, but one of the pleasures is to go to Fast Fringe, see snippets from all the up and coming shows, and then visit these at your leisure. Thanks to Fast Fringe I went on to see several shows which were truly excellent. It’s quite sad to know that these comedians will be operating at a huge loss, no matter how many people do come and see them during the month.