I spent most of the first weekend of the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival sheltering from the deluge. It appears that summer is over, and it’s once more business as usual in Scotland, but at least the festival ducks were happy, all lined up ready for a race to the puddles.
(I hate to tell them that they’ll have to search hard to find a puddle these days. The vastly improved decking makes life much less wet and muddy for homo sapiens visitors. Once upon a time wellingtons were de rigueur. No longer.)
As far as first weekend events go, I found myself spending time with many of my favourite authors – all British and male, as it turned out. My favourite females are arriving later in the week.
It started comically with Jasper Fforde, who seemed genuinely astonished at the size of crowd waiting for him, after his 4-year hiatus.
Not that he was sitting on his backside doing nothing he said, just sitting on his backside suffering from writer’s block – a condition he had no belief in, until he experienced it himself. He no longer knows how he previously wrote 12 novels in 12 years.
He was at the festival to present his new novel, Early Riser, a thriller set in a world where humans have always hibernated. The premise is something he called “a narrative dare”, a challenge he sets himself in every novel. Like trying to explain the temperature differential in porridge in The Fourth Bear. He also likes starting novels on a train – Early Riser is the third time he’s done it. It’s a situation full of inferences, he said. Someone is travelling from A to B (both need describing), and the setting is ideal for enabling random conversations. Good fodder for getting into the novel. When asked to summarise the novel, he answered, that it is absurd, silly, full of appalling (even infantile) jokes, bad puns, but built on a bedrock of seriousness. The lamest joke, he said, takes 96 pages to set up and he demands a good groan from the reader when they get to the punch line. (Onto the wishlist it goes.)
Scottish cartoonist, Tom Gauld, was presenting Baking with Kafka, which I reviewed last year, but it is a cartoon from his previous book, You’re Just Jealous of My Jetpack, which is sticking in my mind this festival.
Authors, beware. I shall be assessing your responses to audience questions based on the following:
As you can imagine, Tom Gauld’s presentation of his literary cartoons went down very well with the festival audience. There were fans of his cartoons for the New Scientist present as well. The key to a successful cartoon, he said, is to be silly without being insulting and to give a well-known thing a surprising twist. He did have to brush up on his basic scientific knowledge when he took on the New Scientist gig, but he gets the most fan mail for those cartoons. People are over the moon when a jokes about plant biology appears, even if it’s not exactly brilliant!
How should one read a cartoon?, asked the chair, James Runcie. Words first, or picture first? We are programmed to read the words first, said Gauld. So the cartoonist must use placement on the page to get people to read both words and pictures in order to form the joke in their heads.
Has he ever offended any living person who features in his cartoons? Not that he’s heard of, he said. I don’t take anyone down in my cartoons. I just poke gentle fun at them. Humour comes from human fraility, from the idiots we can sometimes be. The more someone takes themselves seriously, interjected James Runcie, the more they should be teased! I wish you’d do something about Will Self! (Cue roars of audience laughter.)
And we’d best move swiftly on ….