Let’s start with a conundrum. How many 1st events of the adult programme can there be?

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Nick Barlay opening the adult program of EIBF 2013

At 10:15 Nick Barlay, Director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, at the start of Patrick Ness’s event, officially opened the adult program in the Spiegeltent. At 11:30 he welcomed us and Kate Atkinson to the 1st event of the adult program in the main theatre. Hmmm! Perhaps he was a tad excited. I know I was.

Event One: Patrick Ness (Chair:Bob McDevitt)

Anyway my EIBF started with Patrick Ness. A strange choice for me, given that I haven’t read him, and did not particularly care for last year’s foul-mouthed chairmanship of China Mieville’s event. (These things really do spoil things for me.). But A Monster Calls (Illustrated Edition) has been on my wishlist forever and this was the 1st 1st event of this year’s programme. I was in the vicinity. Along I went.

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Patrick Ness: No more nerves.

So glad I did. I suspect writers would have got more out of this than I did but I must say Ness was really generous with his experience and knowledge, once he got into his stride. He was nervous. stumbled in his reading. Explained it was the carnival atmosphere of the Spiegeltent that made him feel that way. He was having flashbacks of the panic he experienced in a packed German Spiegeltent. Lots of Germans and only one author with about 11 words of German. Bless, I thought, you need a translator. (Can you tell last year’s displeasure is dissipating ….)

Anyway here’s some of that writerly advice:

– Asking permission of a publisher to write something is a terrible thing. Write what you want. Only then will there be joy in your writing and readers will respond to that.
– Plot is important. Story must satisfy, regardless of the type of fiction being written. A literary novel in which nothing much happens is only that way because the author cannot plot.
– Literary and genre should not play off against each other. There is only one criterion of quality. Is the book good or bad?
– A good book is one in which the words create a credible universe – whatever kind of place that may be.
– It is arrogance on the part of an author to expect readers to feel emotions that the author himself did not feel when writing.
– The opening sentence is important – it stakes your claim. The final sentence is even more important. If it is bad, the book is spoiled.
– Play to your strengths. Ness admitted that description isn’t his but dialogue is. He described writing dialogue as “pure play”. People are unguarded in conversation – they give things away with what they say and in what don’t. He enjoys getting to know his characters when writing their dialogue, which is why, I suspect, dialogue writing is his strength. (Refer back to advice #1).

Event Two: Kate Atkinson Chair: Jenny Brown

Time to join the long queue snaking around the square. But this is the thing, there’s never a dull moment. Along came the Gruffalo and the kids in the vicinty went wild …..

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Gruffalo: Give me a hug!

Lots of treats for the adults once our 2nd 1st event of the program got underway. There’s going to be an historical thread throughout this 30th EIBF and the chair of Atkinson’s event, Jenny Brown’ was the director of the very 1st EIBF in 1983.

For a write-up of this event, please refer to Cornflower’s excellent post. (Today’s my only free day for a week and I really can’t afford to spend most63 of it at the computer.)

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Kate Atkinson Book Signing

This was the second time I’d seen Atkinson live. The 1st was many moons ago – 7 or 8 years ago maybe when she came across as quite nervous and shy. Happy to say that she’s much more confident now. I do think though that her reading which took 20 minutes was too long. However, Life after Life, the novel she’s promoting this time around, it is without a doubt as “dizzying and dazzling” as Jenny Brown described it. My initial rating, when I read it at the start of my EIBF readathon was 4.5 stars. Atkinson persuaded me to up that to the full 5 stars. Review to follow.

Event 3: Patrick Flanery / Philipp Meyer (Chair Nick Barlay)

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Patrick Flanery Book Signing

When the current director of EIBF takes time out of what must be an absolutely hectic schedule to chair an event, you know something special is on the menu. I knew that to be the case before I got there. Patrick Flanery’s novel, Fallen Land, my 63rd read of 2013, was my first no-persuasion-needed 5-star novel of the year. A gushing review to follow.

I had my doubts about Philipp Meyer’s The Son. Described as a brutal, violent portrayal of the final American frontier in Texas, it certainly seemed that way from the graphic reading. Not for me. The stories of his research were enough …

Commendations to the chair whose own enthusiasm and detailed knowledge of both novels made this event such a pleasure. 5 minutes with each author establishing the premise and structure of their complicated novels, a 5 minute reading each, 30 minutes of detailed questioning about common themes, differing styles, (with very neat segues between the authors) and 20 minutes audience questions. It was only during the questions that there was a threat to the balance of the event. Meyer’s enthusiasm for his subject meant that he couldn’t always answer a question without offering up a history of the native tribes. (Well, he did say he’d read about 350 – hyperbole? – history books on the subject). But Barlay did step in to remind him of the time constraints and asked Flanery the final question to even out the time allocations.

So a 5-star novel and 5-star chairing. This event sets the standard for the rest of the festival.

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