Litro in Edinburgh: Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe

There are literary events all year round in Edinburgh so when festival season arrives, choices shoot through the roof. That being said, it’s important to know what’s worth seeing and what’s best to avoid. I’m happy to say that Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe is a lovely showcase for Scottish performers to give a taste of their work both new and unpublished.

I happened across the third event in the series, with four authors and an acapella choir. The evening started with poetry from Meg Bateman. Living in the West Highlands, Bateman writes medieval Gaelic poetry anthologies, and read from her first collection written in English Soirbheas. With her soft, musical voice, Bateman transported the audience from the busy street of the Scottish capital taking the listener to the fresh woodlands of Skye. Each flower in the fields of her home holds a special meaning for her and gives a different emotion. Primroses, bluebells and bracken, snow piled high on hawthorn, she is inspired by her homeland. The vaulted beauty of Scottish woodland, painting the colours of Scotland with her intricate knowledge of language, Bateman tells tales through the theme of transparencies in life.

Poetry made way for prose as debut author Catriona Child read from Trackman, her novel about the healing power of music and the way songs bring back memories or can change someone’s mood. Following this with an extract from her yet-to-be-named second novel which is still a work in progress, Child read a very emotional scene of a woman collapsing on the floor with the narrator looking on entirely unsure of what is going on and what she needs to do to help her.

The third writer to stand was action crime writer Liam McIlvanney, born in Aryshire now living in New Zealand. Reading from his upcoming novel Where The Dead Men Go he returns to character Gerry Conway, an investigative journalist he introduced in his first fiction novel, All The Colours Of The Town. McIlvanney is inspired by real people and organisations he remembers from his homeland and his strong Lanarkshire accent hasn’t weathered from years abroad. Once again, the story is set in the streets of Glasgow and against a topical background of the forthcoming referendum and Commonwealth Games showing how he is able to draw inspiration from one country while living on the other side of the world.

Fitting in a spoken word event around two Edinburgh Book Festival appearances, James Robertson read from his latest novel The Professor of Truth. Taken inspiration from the Lockerbie bombing, the novel is narrated by English Literature lecturer Dr Alan Tealing and starts 21 years after he has lost his wife and young daughter in a plane bombing. Giving two readings, The Professor of Truth is a beautifully written heartbreaking human story of grief and bereavement.

Quite a tonal change, eight-piece acapella group The Wild Myrtles took the floor. Singing five songs, the classical feel and traditional song choices lighten the mood after the emotional reading from James Robertson. These women clearly enjoy what they do and ended the evening on a relaxed note with a version of popular song, Mr Sandman.

The whole event kept to an hour and a half, leaving a good half an hour for browsing and chatting to the authors. With two more Writers at the Fringe evenings to come this August, if you’re looking for a free spoken word event, a sense of calm away from the hustle of festival crowds then head to Blackwell’s on South Bridge on Thursday evenings.

Feature Film: From Up On Poppy Hill

The latest from the legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli returns to the theme of nostalgia in Goro Miyazaki’s beautiful and tender story of a girl caught between her past and future


The world of Studio Ghibli possesses effortless and natural beauty that envelops the viewer and pulls them into fantastical tales, magical creatures and Japanese folk stories. The latest of the world-renowned Japanese animation house, From Up On Poppy Hill is a little different, relying on a more human story of innocent young love set in the midst of changing economic times. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, the eldest son of co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki continues the studio’s international reputation for creating heart-warming personal stories with a fantastic attention to detail. Goro Miyazaki has taken his time in taking the lead in Studio Ghibli and while From Up On Poppy Hill may not be quite as grand as past Studio Ghibli projects, it continues the legacy of producing genuine and elegant films.

From her home at the top of Poppy Hill, Umi Matsuzaki looks out across the busy Port of Yokohama. It is 1963 and the Japanese harbour town still reels from the effects of two wars. Umi’s father was a sea captain, killed in Korea, and her mother is a professor and away studying in America. Living in and dutifully working for a busy boarding house with family and friends, Umi is caught between mourning the past and a hope for a better future.

The country and capital city look ahead to hosting the 1964 Summer Olympics and all around businesses are getting the country ready before the eyes of the world are watching. Umi is untouched by the need for change until she becomes involved with a student body crusade to save the old clubhouse in the Latin Quarter. The school board seeks to modernise facilities and knockdown the old dilapidated clubhouse but the plight becomes a central theme when the student body rally behind the cause to save the building and perform dramatic stunts, host heated debates and cover the school newspaper each day with call to action headlines. It is surrounded by business and chaos at home and at school when Umi meets Shun, a fellow classmate active in saving the clubhouse. This unexpected friendship leaves Umi struggling to work out a balance between her family responsibilities, helping with the paper and saving the clubhouse with her friends.

Economics change with the time and moving on from past wars puts pressure on the seaside town. Young students typically expected to be enthusiastic about development, advancement and change adopt a lost cause in wanting to save the clubhouse, choosing to protect the old rather than welcoming the new. Starting out with a select group, eventually the entire student body get behind saving the Latin Quarter and help with Umi’s idea of cleaning up the clubhouse. The students work together to preserve the past for the future. As they work, the audience is submerged in the attention to detail turning around a tumble-down, paint-peeling, cobweb-covered, disorganised and ramshackle affair. This notion in itself of upgrading the old so it may last long into the contemporary world echoes a current nostalgia existing in Japan. Post-tsunami towns looking to rebuild are reluctant to accept changes in layout from town planners, making it difficult to defend the coast from future natural disasters and leaving towns unprepared and at a technical disadvantage for the economic future.

This light-hearted coming of age film is about making a choice about who you want to be, about being the best version of yourself. Umi and Shun make an incredible team, inspiring everyone around them and joining in whenever they can. As their friendship gets closer, the absence of her mother is keenly felt. In a dream sequence, she wakes up to find her mother in the kitchen as if she had never left and her father outside as if he’d never died. She is looking to resurrect a time and a way of life that has since disappeared. The simplicity in the scene of seeing her mother cooking in the kitchen is an emotionally raw moment with a Umi different from the entire first section of the film. The audience cannot help but desperately feel how trapped she thinks she has come to be. The bright shining face of the earlier scenes has gone, replaced with a miserable, trapped and confused teenage girl. Once her mother has returned and responsibilities are lifted from her shoulders, everything pours out and Umi falls into floods of tears. The calm composure she has maintained for so long finally gives way.

The story rotates around Umi and Shun and the causes they fight for and concern them. It looks at the different ideas of family and education. For three generations, Umi’s family has been well educated as doctors and professors with her father as the only exception as a sea captain. This contrasts with Shun’s parents whose father is a tugboat captain. He has good parents but with his campaigning and active involvement with the student council, he aspires to more. With change sweeping across Japan ahead of the Olympics, this is representational of the time. Her mother educating herself in America, Umi wanting to become a doctor like her mother, Shun considering a political career are all signs of change and development for a future Japan.

For Studio Ghibli, while From Up On Poppy Hill does not sink into the levels of emotion and nostalgia as found in Whisper In The Heart (1995) or Only Yesterday (1991), it is a beautifully simple love story that few but Ghibli would be able to make as effortlessly convincing.

The Business of Young Adult Fiction

What’s the secret of YA fiction’s recent stellar success? Eleanor Pender investigates the fan bases, blogs and DIY authors driving sales.


For the independent Edinburgh publishing house Black & White Publishing, young adult fiction is a relatively new venture, but one that is proving to be worth investing in. Black & White are a fiction, children’s and non-fiction publisher who in recent years have branched out into young adult (YA) fiction with the creator of the Sarah Midnight series, Daniela Sacerdoti. Already a published author with celebrated adult novel Watch Over Me, Sacerdoti had been nursing the story of Sarah Midnight for over four years, living and breathing the characters.

I asked Janne Moller of Black & White Publishing why young adult fiction has been such a publishing success story in recent years and what it means to her.

sarahmidnight“The shift over the last few years in the YA market is not least due to blogs. There is an extremely well-established online community and it is incredibly welcoming to new readers and to new authors. Review space in print newspapers and magazines is dwindling and broadsheets are highly competitive. What blog tours do is offer interview opportunities and allow for direct interaction. This is a massive help from a publisher’s perspective as the readers are very active online. You can chat directly with authors on Twitter, and I think many readers are looking to blogs and social media to find likeminded chatter about the next big thing. “

A decade ago, young adult fiction had yet to prove itself a worthwhile market for investment. Then Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight exploded on the scene and trade focused in on the more fantastical genres.  A business profile was defined by the emergence of a most enthusiastic audience, giving publishers and agents all the proof they needed to branch into young adult fiction.

Call it jumping on the bandwagon, call it enterprising, call it whatever you wish. As a young adult fiction writer, I can only see this as a good thing. Having existed quietly for many years, the market for YA writing is in its element and flourishing.

The YA audience has a spirit and enthusiasm which fuels an incredibly strong online presence. Ready access to online platforms and social media mean that more and more teenage readers chat on Twitter and follow book review blogs. Blogging, forums and social media allow publishers to affect discussion points and place book reviews exactly where the target reader will find them first hand. Spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other online communities fuels debate and discussion.

It might be the kids who are reading YA fiction, but it’s usually adult who are buying the books.In the past, this has caused problems for YA writers, who have to contend with gatekeepers, the people with the power to bar the door between them and the readers – librarians, parents, guardians. Gatekeepers can become concerned that a book could undermine their authority or set a child off along a path of which they do not approve, as seen with The Insiders and The Chocolate War. This can mean that a gate has been closed and there are children who may never know these books even exist. Access has been denied. But with online reviews, social media and young adult fiction bloggers, access to the target audience is changing – authors can now bypass the Gatekeepers.

Direct interaction with their target audience via online media and social networking sites can only increase with the rise of ebooks. Younger readers have ready access to books and can download, read and comment about them online in an instant. In the list of best-selling children’s and young adult ebooks of 2012, top ranking works were predominantly YA fiction.

switchedSelf-publishing is also a potential route for aspiring YA authors, a way for a writer to make a name for themselves and get their writing out into the ether. But with stories of success and failure in e-publishing all over the internet, writers should be wary. Amanda Hocking, an ebook millionaire who self­-published her novel Switched to supplement her income is held up as a self-publishing success story. Her abrupt success has been interpreted as a sign that digital self-publishing is a new way to get rich quickly for a YA writer. But it’s easy to forget that before she began posting her books online, she wrote 17 novels and had every one rejected. In reality, Hocking only resorted to self-publishing after years of rejection from publishing houses.

In an interview with The Guardian early last year, Hocking was keen to point out that her new­found stature as a success symbol of self-publishing is not something she welcomes. “People built me up as a two-­dimensional icon for something I was not. Self-publishing is great, but I don’t want to be an icon for it, or anything else.”

Any writer who intends their work to be published and read will have done their homework and will know that it is a competitive field. And of course, we don’t do it for the money. But with the rise in popularity of YA fiction and publishers such as Black & White amending their portfolio, there is a real wind of change defined by reader demand and fuelled by imaginative authors. The young adult fiction market has come to the fore and keeps refreshing its marketability.  Sarah Midnight presented Black & White with the perfect opportunity at an ideal time; who knows, your debut young adult fiction novel could be next.

The Rise of Young Adult Fiction

The young adult fiction market is huge, spawning book series, films, stars and franchises, and more than half its fans are apparently over 18.  Eleanor Pender investigates the origins of the YA phenomenon in the decades after the second world war.

There comes a time as young readers when we move away from the children’s section, driven by a search for something more. When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what the stuff I was looking for was called, but I certainly knew it when I found it, in the work of writers like Tamora Pierce, Ursula Le Guin and JRR Tolkien.  When I’m asked now about the authors I read as a child, my first thoughts are of those books I discovered in my early teens.

What we now call teen or Young Adult fiction, has come a long way in a short period of time. From 60 years ago, when fiction written specifically for a teenage audience simply didn’t exist, YA fiction has become a multi-million pound global section of the publishing industry.

YA fiction is a new slice of literature, emerging not long after teenagers became accustomed to newfound freedoms following the second world war. As teens demanded to be entertained on their own terms, novels emerged that began to fill the void between children’s fiction and adult fiction.

The Invention of the Teenager

In the early 1950s, writers like JD Salinger and William Golding were some of the first to attempt realistic depictions of teenagers, exploring themes of angst and alienation in The Catcher in the Rye, and human nature and individual welfare in Lord of the Flies. But these were books aimed at adults, not fiction written specifically for young people.

the-outsidersThe first young adult fiction novel as we think of it today was The Outsiders, written in 1967 by SE Hinton, a 17 year old Oklahoma school girl who reportedly wrote the novel in response to her own frustrations at how school life was being depicted in literature at the time. Hinton’s work was unique: about teenagers, by a teenager, for teenagers. Whether she had anticipated the novel’s reception or not, the fact that a girl of her age had written a novel containing strong scenes of violence, gang warfare, underage drinking and smoking fuelled a negative reaction to its publication. It was ranked number 38 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–1999. The book was banned from some schools and libraries because of the controversial themes as well as its use of slang and family dysfunction. Hinton continued her success with That Was Then, This Is Now in 1971 and Rumble Fish four years later in 1975, with all three novels going on to be made into films in the early 1980s.

In 1974, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War came on the scene. He was the first adult writer of a young adult fiction novel. Cormier focused on the isolated individual actively choosing not to conform, and explored common modern-day themes of peer pressure, isolation, bullying and independence. The book also became a target for censorship, and is up at number 3 on the American Library Association’s top 100 most challenged books. But Hinton and Cormier’s efforts to blow away the taboos of what could be written for young people had opened new possibilities for writers.

Different Worlds

The early 1970s saw a wide range of new writing create a bridge between children’s and young adult fiction.  Though initially published in the early 1950s, the impact of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was long-reaching. Middle Earth opened doors and inspired the beginnings of the fantasy children’s novel. Ursula Le Guin was one such inspired writer. Her acclaimed young adult fantasy fiction series, Tales from Earthsea starting with the first novel A Wizard of Earthsea, was published in 1968, with a further five works in the series, the most recent in 2001.

Tolkien and Le Guin’s writing created a new genre and paved the way for later writers like Philip Pullman and Garth Nix. First published as a children’s novel, it was Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy that pushed boundaries further. His wonderfully vivid coming-of-age tale, set in a fantastical background of worlds within worlds, prompted interest from adult readers and was considered a serious literary contender by critics. The third novel in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was the first children’s novel to be on the Booker Prize longlist.

Philosopher's CoverAdults Catch On

Of course, perhaps the best-known fantasy series of recent years, one that reached incredible levels of success, is Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling showed the world that books written for children can be enjoyed by all ages, and proved to critics, reviewers and publishers that young adult fiction and children’s fiction were as valid as adult fiction. There is strong evidence that Mr Potter’s success contributed to the present popularity of fantastical and dystopian series The Hunger Games from Suzanne Collins and also Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. For those who like to hunt out source material ahead of new films, the latest fantastical book due for release this summer is set to be Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, a story about a family of demon hunters living in plain sight in modern day New York.

Stories have to be strong to keep young adult readers interested, so writers often choose to address more controversial topics that may directly affect their readers’ own lives. In the last decade, Yong Adult writers have begun to address new social taboos and issues.  Melvin Burgess’s renowned novel Junk takes an open and honest approach it takes about drugs and the drug culture. With two 14 year old characters as lead protagonists, Junk is considered to be the first young adult fiction novel that openly addresses the lifelong consequences of hard drug addiction. When it came out in 1996, the novel went on to win the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award despite protests from some conservative critics.

Curious IncidentThe 21st Century

Other hugely successful recent YA novels include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Published in 2003 and now a hit West End play, the novel’s first person narrator has Aspergers syndrome, and sees the world in a surprising and revealing way. Alistair McGowan took a fresh and comic approach to the difficult subject of cancer in Henry Tumor, the tale of young Hector who in addition to being a teenager has to deal with his talking tumor, Henry. Sherman Alexie explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which 14 year old Arnold is forced to go to a white school away from his reservation. Keith Gray’s extraordinary novel about friendship, loss and grief, Ostrich Boys, tells the tale of three friends who set off on an adventure with a stolen urn containing the ashes of their best friend. Patrick Ness ties multiple themes of survival, coming of age, family, friendship, love, war and consequence together in the fabulous The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in his Chaos Walking young adult series, while Cat Clarke deals with issues of self harm and sexual orientation in her latest novel, entangled published earlier this year.

Salinger and Cormier, Tolkien and Rowling, Burgess and Haddon; there have been many names who have contributed to the current  huge popularity and strong identity of young adult fiction. Malorie Blackman, recently appointed Children’s Laureate, is the first young adult fiction author in the post. She is a fabulous spokesperson for young adult fiction, now with a bigger and better platform. If you haven’t read her Noughts and Crosses I highly recommend you hunt for one in your local library or bookshop.

Of course, if you’re interested in reading more young adult fiction, go on and check out one of the many novels I’ve mentioned. With more young adult book groups springing up every week, there is little taboo associated with adults reading young adult fiction. You won’t be in the minority – recent studies show that 55% of young adult fiction is purchased by readers over 18 years of age!

Chantal Akerman’s Films: Love & Relationships in a Modern World

Our environment has more of an impact upon our decisions and daily lives than we may at first realise. Our regular interactions, chance meetings and new acquaintances can either help us feel comfortable and relaxed or can leave us frustrated and in search of answers. The work of Belgian filmic anthropologist Chantal Akerman helps us to navigate this confusing modern world, and explore the effects it has on our loves and relationships. A special retrospective at last year’s French Film Festival was an opportunity to see two of her films that are particularly exemplary in this regard, alongside other brilliant cinematic works from a bold and philosophical artist.

With a Parisian backdrop, Nuit et jour (Night and Day) (1991) follows Jack and Julie, a young couple who have just moved to the city. They never sleep. During the day they stay in the flat and make love. At night, Jack drives a cab round the city while Julie wanders the streets. Jack knows the streets as he drives around at night, while Julie recognises the city through her night-time wanderings. Theirs is a voyeuristic experience of Paris; they are always watching but never part of what is going on. Their love for each other is so intense when they are together that all they see is each other, disrupted only when Jack must go back to work.

The couple lead a relatively isolated existence. They don’t make friends with their neighbours. Their only interaction with family occurs when Jack’s parents spontaneously visit one afternoon. In this scene the four of them sit awkwardly on odd stools in a barely furnished room. Only just out of bed, Julie sits in a shirt and Jack in trousers, as if they only make a complete outfit when they’re together. The parents do not stay long or say much. When they ask what the couple do with themselves in the city, Julie simply replies, “We have time.”

Night follows day, follows night again. The dynamic begins to shift when Julie meets Joseph, a daytime cab driver, on her evening walks in the city. The two soon start having an affair. The film’s focus is entirely on these three characters, with Julie at the centre. She takes control of her relationships with Jack and Joseph. It is her choice to be with both of them, and she does not believe that there is anything wrong with the situation. She is so focused on living in the moment that she never considers what can happen next and how others feel. Whenever Jack pushes her into thinking of the future – of their relationship, their family – she diffuses the conversation by again casually responding, “We have time”. As Joseph’s jealously increases, Julie simply smiles and walks away.

As he begins to sense something has changed in their relationship, Jack’s surroundings become more important to him. He is concerned with making and controlling space by knocking down the living room wall. The couple fabricate a world for themselves indoors, a fortress away from the vibrant but unpredictable streets they used to love. No longer solely focused on each other, their lives change from here on in. They become domesticated; the two of them are seen decorating, with the neighbours they’ve never met offering a hand.

Jack and Julie’s intense love was as fleeting and precarious as the city from which they found each other. Because none of us can truly live forever in this transient state, we build things, spaces for ourselves. Simply put, Nuit et jour is an excellent example of young love and the realities of growing up. But Julie never sought stability in either of her relationships. Once their work in the flat is done and she and Jack are alone, Julie makes the significant decision to tell him all about her affair. Afterwards she leaves both Jack and Joseph and returns to the streets, slowly walking down the pavement, suitcase in hand. In this final scene Akerman’s camera focuses on Julie in the centre of the shot, while the city life bustles around her.

In a cosmopolitan city like the French capital you will find many different types of relationships and loves. Akerman’s films are similarly dynamic in their approach to this subject. Although they have been appropriately referred to as melancholy, at times they also recognise the comic, even the absurd element of human lives and interactions. Demain on déménage (Tomorrow We Move) (2004) focuses on Charlotte, (Sylvie Testud). In what is described as a Chaplinesque performance, she welcomes her mother, Catherine, (Aurore Clémen), into her duplex apartment following her father’s death, at a time when she is herself completing a commission for an erotic novel.

Fitting the lives of both women into a bohemian Parisian loft seems more than the four walls can bear. From the first scene there is tension; the camera holds focus on a baby grand piano as it hangs precariously in the air, with heaving gasping noises that betray anxiety to the piano’s fate. Once it is safely in position Catherine appears more relaxed, sitting and playing as Charlotte and the moving men continue shifting items around her, in a scene that suggests the significance of music in our chaotic lives.

Catherine indeed brings chaos into Charlotte’s flat, physically and emotionally. She fills the flat with all sorts of household furniture; there are numerous chairs, beds, cushions and lampshades. The notion of relationships and baggage is prominent in these opening scenes. Catherine has a lot to cope with, particularly the death of her husband. She can’t fall asleep without the old suitcase that contains a few of his daily items. Even after her flat has been turned upside-down, Charlotte is a dutiful daughter and does not let her frustrations grow, but her new surroundings appear to have a negative impact on her erotic writing. As her mother interrupts, asking questions and vacuuming at unhelpful times, Charlotte’s focus is disturbed, leading her to type sentences about limp vacuuming and blown fuses.

It would seem that familial love is imposing on Charlotte’s erotic life. But in an attempt to pursue with her novel, she follows her mother’s advice, “Look around you, everything’s erotic.” She sets about seeking the erotic in the everyday, turning any phrase her mother utters into something sensual in order to finish her book. Akerman demonstrates her flair for innuendo when a commonplace discussion about chicken – the cooking, the flavours, thyme as seasoning – becomes a euphemism for sex and happiness. Catherine wistfully reminisces about her marriage as they eat their way though a roasted chicken, thinking how lucky it was that her husband wasn’t into legs, as she wasn’t into breast.

Bound together, the tension between mother and daughter increases and recedes by degrees. Catherine, now living without romantic love, struggles to adjust to her new familial environment. They decide to move, although when Charlotte requests that her mother sleep in her own bed in the new place, the hassle of moving seems like it may be futile. The dynamic finally changes when people come to view the flat, introducing three new couples and characters to the plot. The simple act of meeting and talking to strangers, and striking up new friendships offers new meaning to both their lives.

But now Charlotte is faced with another challenge to her novel. In a comical scene of to-ing and fro-ing amongst the characters, conversations freely fall around the subjects of love, sex and relationships. Charlotte becomes everyone’s confidant. Mme Delacre declares she loves her husband against her better judgement, Mr Delacre claims he doesn’t love her but won’t leave her for fear of being alone, a young pregnant lady talks to Charlotte about her sex life with her husband who she doesn’t love but wants to have more children. Charlotte now has plenty of material for her book but her notes are have become disjointed. It is only with help from her friend Michelle in their shared studio that the text finds the clarity it needs; she finds someone who sees the erotic and can write it.

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is famous for declaring hell to be other people. Akerman’s equally existentialist work explores the highs and lows of living with others. The characters in Demain on déménage appear to have too much baggage (literally), too many things and too many people in their lives. To start afresh everyone must shed something. To clear out the flat, Charlotte and Catherine pile up the old furniture in the streets under the concealment of a dark wet night. It isn’t until Catherine is separated from her deceased husband’s suitcase that she is able to move on with a new man. Living in separate homes is the best ending for mother and daughter, her mother with Samuel while Charlotte remains on her own in the duplex, now relieved of the piano and furniture and finding peace in her mother’s absence. Once again, we see the young female protagonist choosing to live an independent life.

Peppered with witty dialogues, Akerman’s Demain on déménage is a triumph. The film deals with heavy issues of loss and death, but is also an exemplary offering of her excellent visual innuendo, metaphors and comedic timing. Both Nuit et jour and Demain on déménage consider the dynamic relationships we all experience in our lives. At once meloncholy and celebratory, whatever kind of love it may be, Akerman reminds us that although it may not last, it is wonderful. In Nuit et jour, Jack and Julie experienced a passionate young love for each other that fractured when it came in contact with outside forces. For many of the couples and families in Demain on déménage, romantic love has faded and another love persists, even when it becomes a burden. Although love ends, it also renews itself, and we can discover new friendships and lovers in unexpected places and situations. So when walking around where you live and meeting new people, take the time to consider your surroundings, physical and emotional. You too may find the erotic in everything, at home or out on the streets, in life itself. That is, if like Charlotte, you’ve missed it up until now.


Warming the Literary Hearts of ‘Auld Reekie’ at The West Port Book Festival


When people hear the word ‘festival’ there are many images that may spring to mind: fields of swaying glowsticks shining brightly à la Glastonbury; beer, saurkraut and wurstl flowing freely at Oktoberfest; or throngs of costumed theatrical types and aspiring comedians flocking to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, to name just a few. Besides these larger scale festivals there are lesser-known literary gems popping up all over the UK that are worth seeking out.

This is particularly true in Edinburgh, a city with winding alleyways, full of literary secrets. The brickwork, wintery blue skies and cobbled streets have inspired writers for centuries. This inspiration led to a small group of Edinburgh residents rallying together to create the West Port Book Festival. Commonly known as Edinburgh’s Soho, West Port is a patchwork quilt of a neighbourhood described by festival organisers as ‘a heady mix of booze, bosoms, bespoke tailoring and books’. Once a year, for four days, the numerous secondhand bookshops, art spaces and traditional pubs that line the West Port streets become the setting for days filled with poetry readings, artistic demonstrations and literary discussions. Now in its fifth year, the West Port Book Festival has previously appeared in June, May and October. This year, organisers chose November to warm the literary and artistic hearts of ‘Auld Reekie’ ahead of a chilly winter.

As a late-November working day drew to a close on a damp and dark Friday, I headed to Inspace, the bright venue for Take Tea with Turing, the first of two West Port events I’d chosen to sample on the festival’s debut evening. The event also marked the December launch of an anthology of creative work inspired by Alan Turing compiled and edited by Viccy Adams, writer in residence at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, and it proved to be a wonderful insight into Turing’s life and work. In a world of non-stop Facebook posts and Twitter updates, the readings and poetry in the anthology allowed the audience to take a moment to think upon the legacy of a man considered by many to be the father of computer science, whose discoveries radicalised the way we communicate. Upon hearing these original interpretations of his work through poetry, short stories, animation—there was even a poem read by a robot—my friend and I were led into a debate about what it was Turing had set out to discover. Having subsequently inspired and educated us within hours of its opening, the mission of West Port was well on its way.

I slipped out of Turing ahead of the end in order to make it in time for my second event, hosted by Rally & Broad, which was due to start at The Cuckoo’s Nest, a rough-around-the-edges but cosy Scottish pub with a small event space in the basement. It was a sell-out event, and the intimate venue brimmed with an atmosphere of anticipation for the literary, musical, tongue-twisting evening that the team of Rally & Broad had thrown together especially for West Port. Showcasing the story-weaving skills of former Edinburgh Film Festival director, Hannah McGill, the musical talents of Liz Cronin and the whimsical and elaborately crafted poetics of Luke Wright, the show was a feast of lyrical delight. The cleverly created poetry puns and well-delivered prose introduced a new crowd to Rally & Broad’s monthly event that happens elsewhere in the city, and guaranteed a great start to a West Port weekend.

Saturday had something for those with a flair for the arts, as the fine art of book repair was demonstrated by Edinburgh specialist Orlene McIlfatrick and the intricacies of printmaking was revealed by resident artist and business owner, Isabelle Ting of the Owl & Lion Bindery on West Port. For those alternatively seeking something with a more literary bent, there was an intriguing “atmosphere screening” of the 1996 film The Pillow Book, starring Ewan McGregor. The film’s interweaving concerns for poetry and calligraphy was explored—the protagonist Nagiko’s father has written characters of good fortune on her face—as over the course of the evening a model’s body was gradually covered up with calligraphy.

Sunday held more literary delights with a reading from an author in the local chip shop Kingfishers, certainly one of the more unique venues in West Port programme, and with free chips to boot. With the title, Saturday night, Sunday morning, Vicki Jarrett offered an insight into her novel Nothing is Heavy, following three characters over the course of one intense Saturday night. Unaware that their lives are already intimately connected by a previous tragedy, their fates collide again with completely unpredictable results. Kingfishers was an apt venue to hear this particular extract delivered by the author, which described the first meeting between two of the main characters that takes place in the fictional Deep Sea chippy.

In the afternoon there was a feature in the programme for readers and writers of young adult fiction, with a discussion between prominent writers Keith Gray, Rod Gill and Daniela Sacerdoti. As an aspiring young adult fiction writer myself, I had particularly looked forward to this event. I’d missed Patrick Ness and Keith Gray at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and here was another chance to hear the work and opinions of published children’s authors. The event began with readings from each author. Keith Gray read from his prizewinning novel Ostrich Boys, Daniela Sacerdoti from Dreams—a novel from the Sarah Midnight Trilogy—and Roy Gill from his debut fantasy novel Daemon Parallel. Each reading touched upon one moment and one experience for the central character. Ostrich Boys intricately describes the experience of a teenage boy’s first bungee jump. Dreams depicts the mystical world Sarah must pass into when she dreams to eliminate demonic threats. Daemon Parallel details a fantastical journey through an endless mystical department store, just to find the right department. Following this, a discussion was led by Hannah Trevarthen, Assistant Programmer for Edinburgh International Book Festival, that delved deeper into issues relating to writing literature for young adults. Each author enthusiastically contributed to the conversation about the ever-evolving young adult and children’s fiction market, how this development affects writers and the choices available to readers as a result. It was suggested that the publication of Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy has led to a stronger cross-over between fantasy fiction and young adult fiction, opening the field up to more recent series such as The Hunger Games.

Little did I know what more was in store, as following the talk, I found myself in the neighbouring pub sitting with Keith Gray, Hannah Trevarthen, Roy Gill, Emily Dodd (poet and Reader in Residence at Leith Library in Edinburgh) and Janne Møller (Daniela Sacerdoti’s editor from Black & White Publishing). We proceeded with a conversation on the topic of publishing and children’s fiction, which made for a fantastically unpredictable afternoon. Such is the power of West Port!

On Monday evening a discussion on the Future of Festivals wound up a long weekend on the perfect note. Chaired by Peggy Hughes, Programme Director for West Port, who led Nick Barclay, Edinburgh International Book Festival Director, and Lisa Dempster, director of Melbourne Writers Festival & the Emerging Writers Festival, this engaging exchange touched upon how festivals may need to adapt to the changing publishing environment in order to ‘future proof’ themselves. With around 400 book festivals currently in the UK, it was stated that eventually there will need to be some form of contraction in the market. Festivals in the future may have to cater to their strengths and focus on creating a personality for themselves, tailoring a programme to a theme or genre or offering an international appeal to connect with different audiences in order to compete with each other. Another option discussed was to integrate the ever-growing audience of social media. The Emerging Writers festival is an excellent example of this, using Twitter to encourage interaction and incorporating an online community to the festival to complement ongoing face-to-face discussion. In 2009, the organisers of West Port themselves were also responsible for the world’s first Literary Twestival, and they can often be found building literary apps, twittering, friending people and blogging.

What does it mean to talk of literary festivals in terms of markets and competition? Festivals such as West Port, Edinburgh and Melbourne are non-profit, and aim to establish space for debate and discussion, to bring people together over common interests. They rely upon the enthusiasm and passion of the organisers and participants, without whom, regardless of market trends, these events would not happen. Then again, these financial issues are an important reality, and if festivals start to disappear due to lack of monetary support, we risk losing these choice events, with fewer opportunities to hear from noteworthy authors, poets and speakers.

Whichever way literary festivals go in the future, West Port is certainly one to remember and cherish. It was very efficiently organised, with quick and easy booking available through EventBrite for popular events and smaller venues alike, making it easier to be able to attend whichever events you wanted. Moreover, with everything free, it was a wonderful opportunity to hear from both published authors and local artists. Six different venues, twenty-four separate talks, presentations, readings and one team of volunteers behind it all, each event had a real sense of community. Supported by local businesses, paid for by sponsors and with money raised through bake sales and charitable donations, it is this overriding community spirit that brings a new and transient audience to West Port over this short time. Long may it continue! I’ll be keeping an eye out to see when it will pop up in 2013, that’s for sure.

For more information on the West Port Book Festival, visit the website.