Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh. The Edinburgh International Book Festival.
I am writing this as a pre show review in the peace of the Yurt in Charlotte Square Gardens. Its a huge one that provides the back stage and production base for the festival. Its so peaceful, my mobile phone is charging, so I am taking some time to write in the conducive cool, away from the strength of the sun.Tonight I am reviewing Irvine Welsh, a local boy that has done us proud. And influenced a generation of a certain age, through the film adaptation of “Train Spotting”. Mr Welsh is the most famed Scottish Writer Since Rabbie Burns. And just like Burns in his day. Irvine Welsh is the voice of his people. A working Class Hero, who has never lost touch with his roots. He has certainly influenced my life. What an Honor. To be an official reviewer for this Legend. Cannae wait.
I got to the book festival at 8.00pm, and had a pint of Strongbow, and some chocolate cake to eat while sat in the garden,that is Charlotte Square, among the New Town at the end of George Street and yearly home to “The Edinburgh International  Book Festival*. It is a lovely space, a sanctuary of green. conducive to  pensive thought Wrapped up in my favorite cozy coat and relaxed.I sipped my cider and took in the space as dusk brought a different atmosphere to the festival. I joined the queue at about 9,00pm. I made a new friend called Linda, we had a giggle because we were both so excited. Linda’s Son and his girlfriend were giggling too. And then we all started moving forward, to the entrance of the Bailey Gifford Main Theater. The Doors were open and the Gig was on. 
We took our seats, the lights dimmed and in walked the hero of the evening. We all warmed to him straight away, Our interviewer of the night was the very charming and funny Serene Fields, The opening theme was Mr Welsh’s new book. The Sex Lives Of Siamese twins Ms Fields was very knowledgeable of Irvine’s new release and she expertly asked the questions that would get the beloved author waxing lyrical about how he got the inspiration for the characters of  his Novel, set in Miami, Florida. Tales of Voodo and bikinis, Keep Fit instructors with the physiques of speed freaks. Mr Welsh had us all in the palm of his hand.
Instead of promoting his new book, Irvine Welsh had the most amazing of treats for us, he wanted to debut the beginnings of a new novel that he is in the process of writing. Wow! Before that though, we had a lot of time for questions from the audience. Linda, my new friend was bubbling with excitement as the microphone was passed to her sons girlfriend so that she could ask a question. The audience loved it and the reply to her question about The Hibernian Football Team, got a round of applause. Indeed Irvine Welsh is a Son Of Edinburgh.  Then the seminal reading of his new novel and amazing exclusive to this hour in the presence of genius. Confessions Of  A Taxi Driving Porn Star In Edinburgh. I have a feeling that what we experienced tonight was the beginning a of stage play.
Irvine Welsh enacted all the parts, One could tell that when he wrote this. His heart was longing for home. Welcome Home Irvine. Something very special happened tonight. A brilliant hour of Legendary entertainment.Divine is feeling blessed. Its meaningful. Another masterclass.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Divine Inspirations

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My recent experience as a writer, documenting the experience of performance art. In so many ways. Has shown me how limited my vocabulary is. I’ts only tonight that I discovered that the word “Alas” refers to a thing as being negative. Not just as sounding good when you say it. If I could really describe the essence of performance art in words, the true value of the vast array of quality performance I have experienced in the way that people who went to school for the last two years of their education would be able to.Well I guess that it would read better.

So why didn’t I go to school? I really regret not doing so now. But what choice did I have. Every lesson of everyday I was bullied and scorned for being a soft feminine young man. I was living with the full blown experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where the fear would grip me and push me into submission, I would experience the most horrific of visions. Not knowing why or how this was happening to me. I was too scared to talk about it. when your dealing with that kind of shit Algebra and Dickens kind of takes a back seat. I couldn’t wait to see the back of that Hell Hole. So PTSD and Grange Upper left me with a learning difficulty. The effects of which continued well into my late twenties. I never thought that I would lead a normal life.

Now in my late Forties, all that pain has healed and been understood, it took the best part of twenty years in which to do so. And after all of that. I realize my shortcomings in the academic nature of English.

But my appreciation of Art remains. Do I need to go back to school at 47?
June, July and August. 
From the sacred fire of Eden. 
To the sacred healing of the Solstice In The Glen.
With the Grace Of Angels to the Healing Fields Of Glastonbury.
To the new site of Audio Soup.
To Reviewing the Edinburgh Festivals of Performance Arts and Literature,
For The Mumble.
A journey of renewal to balance the experience of loss.
I found.
In gratitude.
With the moment.
Because the wealth of such experience cannot be measured.
In pounds and pence.
Because Grace is priceless.
It cannae be bought.
Of course.

Mother of the muse’s come to me.
Aum Sarasvati Aum!

My first year with a Mum in Heaven.
And my first year of being a middle aged orphan.
I found Art to be my comfort blanket.
The nurturer to my soul.

Now I’m rested.
I’ve really been tested.
I left the education system at 14.
An ignorant system that failed me.
Damo left it at 20.
But has what it takes to make the grade.
Alas no valid effort is wasted in Art.
I appreciate the opportunity.
Because this creative Season has stretched me.
And ultimately Healed me.

Aum Namah Shiva Aum!

Michael Fry & Angus Konstamm: using the past to glimpse the future

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Charlotte Square

 August 20th


 Edinburgh Fry & Konstam - credit #edbookfest

Confronting a nation’s history involves confronting its national myths. If the country is our own, that can move us right out of our comfort zone. As we in Scotland get closer to the referendum on independence, the issue of our history seems to take on more importance, and we are reminded of George Orwell’s words, from ‘1984’, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Looking at the past, for the purposes of this debate, were historian-authors Michael Fry and Angus Konstam. Their chairman Joseph Farrell described them as ‘heavyweights,’ and although Angus Konstam suggested that if the conversation flagged the two of them might entertain us with a bout of sumo, the chairman was clearly referring to their intellects.


Edinburgh Michael Fry

To Michael Fry, control of the past, as in the publication of books on Scottish history, has been left too long in academic hands, and has been a one-sided account of social and economic history replete with statistics. His bias was towards culture, society, and politics, in the search for what has kept Scotland Scotland; he has found that when a historian undertakes research he finds things which relate, albeit perhaps as echoes, to today, and that what we recognise are not the products of sudden upheaval but have deep roots. In his book ‘A New Race of Men’ – the title being a phrase taken from observations made in 1845 by the Rev. George Cruden, one of the few kirk ministers to have taken part in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland in both 1794 and 1845 – Fry presents a picture of a nineteenth-century largely at peace, with a conservative constitution (if I can use such a word) that supported that of England, union with the rest of the United Kingdom long since a ‘done deal’. Scottish capitalism was in the hands of men who had served their time as apprentices and shared social roots with the men who worked for them, giving rise to a sense of egalitarianism. In movements such as public health, it was recognised that contagion did not stop at the edge of working-class areas, and that therefore health belonged to all, not simply to the bourgeoisie.


Edinburgh Fry cover


Ideas like this didn’t fail to draw dissent from the floor. A questioner from North East England challenged the assumption that the nineteenth-century Scottish working class was any less exploited than the working class in his own area – and indeed the supposed difference that Michael Fry had suggested between the Scottish and English concepts of class did seem to sit rather awkwardly with a previous statement to the effect that the North East of England, for example, shared much of Scotland’s perceived remoteness from London and Westminster. Another questioner challenged the idea of the ‘done deal’ with its roots going back to the eighteenth century, citing the verse in ‘God Save the King’ about ‘rebellious Scots’; unfortunately her point merely perpetuated the canard that the verse is insulting to the Scots as a whole, when it is actually specifically directed at the Jacobites. Fry made this point in reply, however – that in the ‘age of revolution’, between 1789 and 1848, while the death toll in political causes in other countries was high, there was a total of twenty-three in Scotland. “I counted them’” he said.


Angus Konstam, although principally a maritime historian, has been fascinated by Robert Bruce since reading a ‘Ladybird’ book about him. In his book ‘Bannockburn’, according to the event pre-publicity, Konstam ‘debunks some myths about the legend of Robert the Bruce’. He describes the modern popularity of Bruce as ‘a national talisman… wrapped up in romantic guff’. The definition of Bruce’s wars as ‘Wars of Scottish Independence’ was a later one, as are those of a nationalist or a class war, both of which would have been lost on Bruce himself. The thirteenth- and fourteenth-century conflicts were fought to ‘solve purely medieval problems’, and in them even Bruce himself changed sides more than once. Nevertheless, by the time of Bannockburn there was an unprecedented and unfamiliar wave of specifically Scottish patriotism that must have lent something to the subsequent sense of Scottish identity.


For all that, the presentation did leave me wondering what myths were going to be debunked. It is more than forty years since Nigel Tranter’s ‘Bruce Trilogy’ was published, moving into popular fiction what historical study had long made known – Bruce’s career as a serial turncoat, and his murder of a rival. I listened to the account of Clifford’s unsuccessful charge against the Scottish infantry, and muttered to myself that surely the knowledge that horses will pull up before a solid mass of footsoldiers was known as far back as the Greek phalanx. However, we were brought back to popular myth when Konstam reminded us of the legend of Bruce and the spider – “It’s in the Ladybird book, so it must be true,” he said with a smile – for which there is no evidence beyond its existence in popular folklore.

 Edinburgh Angus Konstam

Of the two books foregrounded, it strikes me that Michael Fry’s is probably the more controversial. However both authors were kept busy signing copies of their books after the event. I have to say I was left wanting more time for public discussion with the two authors – to drill down into some apparent contradictions in what Michael Fry said, to challenge Angus Konstam further about whether the myths about Bruce were actually as powerful as he assumed. Joe Farrell did make the point that the pair seemed to have been drawn together simply because they were historians. This was the first time I had attended an event at the Book Festival when I wondered if either of the authors on stage was thinking to himself “If I were Germaine Greer or George R R Martin I would have this stage to myself. Obviously I’m considered second division!” I am happy to give the Edinburgh International Book festival the benefit of the doubt on this issue, because it does what it must to pack so much into its schedule, and by-and-large gets it just right.


Paul Thompson




Edinburgh Konstam cover

Making Meaning Of The Voices.

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Edinburgh International Book Festival.



People with severe mental health issues are often stigmatized by society. From drugs to psychiatry, solutions are complex and expensive. Eleanor Longden, a voice hearer and a qualified psychologist joins James Ley, a playwright who explores his bi-polar disorder in his writing, and Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research at King’s College London, to discuss how hearing voices and other problems can be ‘creative and ingenious survival strategies.’


Chaired by Dr Angela Woods, a lecturer in Medical Humanities,I knew that this was going to be an interesting gig. The theme of the day was making art out of pain and suffering. Eleanor Longdon became a Divine hero this afternoon. As she talked about the hell of being able to hear voices in her head and her barbaric experiences at the hands of Psychiatry.  Indeed, Ms Longden’s recounted experience was the very reason I adopted the label of Spiritual Medium, especially before I had healed the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that had prevented me from progressing in life. I chose not to become a statistic or test case for western psychiatric medicine. I chose to find my own way of understanding this debilitating condition an to heal myself successfully! 



The frustrating thing about this discussion,was not being able to be part of the discussion.The question that I was longing to ask Robin Murray, Professor of psychiatric research. Was, How is it possible to understand something if it had never been experienced first hand? Ms Longdon’s, account of possible solutions and ways of coping were admirable. However, not once was the possibility of healing the cause of the traumatic incidence aired as a solution. In fact,the only possibility of a solution that was raised, was to obtain more funding for research. Research is not going heal the cause/ causes of trauma and a damaged mind. Conscious change and removing the long held ignorance of the healing arts. Will heal the cause so that the effects no longer effect day to day life.

The first rule Of Spiritual Healing,is to take responsibility. I did and it worked. It will for you too. Good Time!


Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert




Protest! The Rhetoric of Resistance

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Edinburgh International Book Festival

Scottish Power Foundation Studio

August 16th


Elvis McGonagall
Elvis McGonagall



“Spoken Word performance can be a tool of dissent, it can give a voice to the dispossessed – and it’s not all ranting these days. Join Phill Jupitus as Porky the Poet, Elvis McGonagall, Hollie McNish and Hannah Silva as their deft rhetoric confronts, parodies and overturns issues of political, domestic and social injustice. Fun performance, clever words, serious intent.” (blurb on the Festival web site). Sometimes it’s a pity to have to review a one-off event and to publish that review in retrospect. How better it would be to be able to tell your friends “Go and see this!” I’m in that position as I write. I wish ‘Protest!’ was mid-run and you could all queue for returned tickets at the Box Office. As it was, the theatre was full for this one-off ‘shard’ (as Master of Ceremonies Luke Wright called it) of the Festival’s ‘Babble On’ series, and you couldn’t have got a return for love nor money.


Hanna Silva
Hanna Silva


We were launched into the stream of comic dissent by Phil Jupitus who, in the 1980s, quit a civil service job to become a poet, and who got gigs supporting bands “because I was cheaper than a support band”. Instantly there was a post-punk feel to the proceedings. To me this was a little odd, as though poetic dissent had started when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, as though John Cooper Clarke, Gil Scott-Heron, and Allen Ginsberg had been forgotten; or further back – the polemic verse of left-wing poets of the 1930s, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s political diatribes, Chaucer’s and Juvenal’s satire. Irony was never far away from Phil’s performance; praising the subversive nature of comics like The Beano and The Dandy, he led us in applause for D C Thomson, a newspaper publisher who (correct me if I am wrong) stubbornly maintained an anti-trades-union policy. Phil’s paean to The Beano had the kind of robust rhyme-and-metre scheme that lends a hobnail boot to humorous poetry. The audience couldn’t help laughing, in fact they couldn’t stop. Especially funny was his series of ten-line poems built up from the titles of Fringe shows (although I sincerely hope he decides to give ‘Sex with animals’ a miss this year!)


Phil provided what he and Luke referred to as the ‘glue’ between the other poets. Next up was Elvis McGonagall, and although this will irritate him no end, the comparison with John Cooper Clarke is inevitable. Substitute a Dundee accent for a Salford one, and you have the same facility for using rhyme, rhythm, and refrains. It’s tight, precise, and rapid-fire, with the likes of Margaret Thatcher (yes, she can provoke even from the other side of the veil) and Nigel Farage in his sights. There was a wonderful recitation of clichéd phrases in David Cameron’s voice, and, evoking Sir Harry Lauder, an address to Scottish voters who had not yet made up their mid about independence – ‘Stop your Swithering, Jock’!


Phil Jupitus
Phil Jupitus


There was an instantly obvious dichotomy between the male performers’ work and the females’. The latter’s humour was gentler, the seriousness ramped up. Hannah Silva instantly grabbed our attention by speaking a series of broken semi-syllables into her microphone. Operating a recording loop by foot-switch and varying the same vocal sounds in pitch and stress, she built up multi-tracked layers what can only be described as music, and suddenly over the top of that filled in all the missing semi-syllables to repeat and repeat Ed Milliband’s response to public sector strikes. Intricate, well thought-out, and damnably clever. I can say the same about her other pieces, one of which almost worked like a cumulative folk or children’s song where extra elements are added on at the end of each verse. Except there was nothing folksy, nothing juvenile in her gender politics, her direct expression about prostitution and the female underclass. What is difficult for me to describe is how this use of technology coupled with fragmentary speech built up atmosphere, evoked such a strong emotional response in me. Her repetition of the fact that forty percent of all soldiers fitted with a prosthesis return to war was particularly evocative in the hundredth year since the start of the Great War. Hollie McNish got her points across by words alone. She sustained her technical power right through each long poem without flagging. Again it was sexual politics that were foregrounded. She was able to address serious issues in a vernacular setting – the facility with which she and her elderly grandmother can converse about earthy subjects which are an embarrassment to the mother/daughter generation between them. Hollie presented us with a wonderful poem about what turns her on, starting with bricks, going through a whole lot of other things including the laughter when a fart interrupts foreplay, before returning to bricks. Probably her best poem of the session was the one she wrote when breast-feeding her baby in a toilet, whilst being confronted by a poster of a young woman in a bikini tacked to the back of the door.


I spoke to Hollie after the performance, and put it to her that although it was possible to be more outspoken, more vitriolic, more insulting in an overtly comic work of art – a poem or a cartoon, say – the very fact that it is comic tends to draw its venom, to make an audience take it less seriously. By contrast, someone who enthralls an audience the way that she and Hannah Silva do and puts across a serious point, albeit with distinct threads of humour, has a greater effect and is not so easily dismissed. Hollie was happy and relieved to hear my opinion, as she had feared that the laughter her male colleagues got was a sign of greater impact. Not so, I kid you not.


Paul Thompson


Major-Minor: Languages and Nations

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Edinburgh International Book Festival

Scottish Power Foundation Studio

August 16th




“In this age of globalisation, the English language has become increasingly dominant online and on the page. As an author writing in a different national or minority language how does this dominance affect your ability to tell your story and find an audience? Gaelic writer Martin MacIntyre and Arno Camenisch, who writes in Rhaeto-Romanic and German, join acclaimed translator Daniel Hahn to discuss.” (blurb on the Festival web site) It’s difficult to know how to review a discussion. One angle from which to look at it might be the structure and the way it was chaired. Considering that it was to last forty-five minutes with fifteen minutes for questions and answers at the end, and to include readings by two authors, on that account it was spot on, tight, and well presented. Much credit goes to the chairman, David Codling. Of course a lot also depends on the qualities of the members of the panel, so let me introduce them.

Arno Camenisch looks like a diminutive version of Simon Baker, right down to the disarming smile. He has stage presence, whether reading in his native Rhaeto-Romanic – a ‘minority language’ from southern Switzerland – or talking about his work. Despite, or maybe because of, his occasionally having to appeal to fellow panel-members for help with a word or phrase in English, he displayed a dry wit and an unconventional way of looking at things. “My choice of language depends on the weather,” he says. “If it is raining I write in Rhaeto-Romanic. If it is windy or sunny, German… I grew up in a polyphonous village. There were many languages… But television was king. We believed more in TV than god.” To Arno ‘the sound is the soul of the text’. Martin MacIntyre agreed, speaking of ‘music’ as being the key, and praising the sound of Arno’s reading. Martin was born in Glasgow to parents originally from South Uist, and learned Gaelic from them. His spoken Gaelic is precise and clear, and when he read from a recent novel we could hear that he was not simply bilingual but effectively trilingual, and the Gaelic was interrupted by both English and Glaswegian. Frankly, that was the first time I had ever heard a passage of Gaelic with the word ‘woggle’ in the middle of it! “What excites me about Gaelic is that everyone who reads it can also read English,” he said. “There’s a tension between the two.”

Arno Camenisch and Martin MacIntyre (c) Paul Thompson

Both writers translate from their ‘minority’ language into a neighbouring ‘majority’ language – from Rhaeto-Romanic to German, and from Gaelic to English. Daniel Hahn, national programme director of the British Center for Literary Translation, said “Translation is never about the language, it is about languages. The relationship between languages… We use the big languages as a bridge for translation of minority languages. This is not an unproblematic relationship.” He highlighted this problematic characteristic by the example of a translation from Welsh to English of the words of an old man who spoke only Welsh and knew no English at all. During the question-and-answer session I had the opportunity to ask him to clarify this. I made the point that if I was reading, say, I Claudius, I suspended disbelief and simply accepted that I was reading the words of a native speaker of Latin who was writing to me in Greek; so how was a translation from Welsh to English any more problematical?

Daniel agreed, up to a point. “There’s a kind of sleight of hand going on when you read a translation,” he said. “We collude in that. We pretend we are reading it in the original language.” But then he made the very valid point that the relationship between Welsh and English, particularly in the context of the novel in question, is highly political, involving the identity of people where ‘to speak one is not to speak the other’. He further reinforced this when he mentioned a New Zealand writer who said that the problem was not that speakers of a majority language couldn’t ‘see’ the speakers of the minority language, but rather that they ‘couldn’t see themselves’. There is so much creativity in translation, not simply in how best to render a text literally, but how to find equivalent, analogous, or even vaguely similar concepts in two different cultures. “With modern Gaelic vocabulary, you are restricted in usage. It forces you to hone your prose in a different way,” said Martin MacIntyre. Such expressions sent us away from the event with much to think about.

Paul Thompson


Julian Cope

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15th August




Back when I was a Young New Romantic, ‘The Teardrop Explodes’ were one of my favourite bands. ‘Reward’ is still on my play list when I Dj, its such a funky feel good classic. As you will already know our hero of the evening has had a very successful career as a solo artist too, that has lasted nearly forty years. However, aside from his illustrious career as a recording and touring artist.Julian Cope is a Wizard and celebrated Shaman..

His first publication,The Modern Antiquarian it is a Wizard Classic, that details every stone circle and sacred site in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Mr Cope visited them all and photographed them personally. For novice wizards just beginning on the path of consciousness. The Modern Antiquarian is an essential tool. Because there is nothing else like it. When I found that I had the opportunity to attend Julian’s ‘appearance at “The Edinburgh Book Festival,”  where he was to be giving a reading from his new book 131, I jumped at the chance. Julian is a Visionary on a mission to change the consciousness of the Planet. To show people a different way and to help them to heal. This is the centre of his work as an author. Fiction that has meaning and that has the potential to change the consciousness of the people that read it. 




Mr Cope was a very enigmatic figure as he took the stage tonight, with the presence and the stage-craft of a true Master. Enchanting the capacity audience with the ease of an old Pro, which he undoubtedly is. It was Julian’s presence that was as transformational as it was Rock N Roll. The Book 131, is a time-travelling odyssey with characters and plot derived from his own experience both as a mystic and a Rock Legend. Bringing to life and immortalizing his own experiences in the captivating way that only a true Bard and Visionary can. We discovered that it all began with a bedtime story that he would create for his daughter… so its foundations are built on humour and unconditional love. With only an hour to address his audience. Julian Cope introduced us to his world as a professional Wizard and caring Dad. With more than enough source material For 132 and 134. Amazing stuff, reminiscent of the four noble truths.Could Mr Cope’s new book be an Antiquarian guide book for life? 

Although a fan of his recorded work myself. It was the Shaman and the Author that gripped me tonight. He explained his new book as a tool of transformation.I am salivating at the prospect of reading it.  What a Lovely Rock N Roll Legend He Is and what a lovely way to spend an evening. “Ladies and.Gentlemen. Mr Julian Cope!”. 

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Monkey Poet: Shit Flinging

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Banshee’s Labyrith

2-4, 6-11, 13-18 20-24 Aug

Free (Non-ticketed)

Matt Panesh AKA Monkey Poet has the manic energy of Phil Kay’s shows of old – without a doubt no performance will be the same as any other.  He’s an incredibly likeable person and a natural comedian: within seconds of entering the room you feel like you want to buy him a drink (and you get the impression he would very much appreciate it if you did).

He crosses friendly chats with the audience with well performed readings of his approachable but well-crafted poetry, covering topics from masterbation to politics, such as how to be patriotic without sounding like a racist.  While this is billed in the spoken word section, it could easily stand alone as comedy, as his natural conversational style is as good as some of the more established comperes on the circuit. If you are a member of the BNP, you probably would not like this show (although it probably would make for a very entertaining afternoon for the rest of the audience) however for anyone else this is definitely worth your time.FOUR STARS
Reviewer : Lydia Mason

Sue Woolmans

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A Hundred years ago this summer, the Heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, & his beautiful wife Sophie, were shot by a Serbian nationalist on an obscure street corner in Sarejevo.  Within a matter of weeks the whole world collapsed into a conflict which would eventually touch every nation on the planet. But who was the man whose death set off the whole thing, the target of the ‘shot which rang around the world.’ Sue Woolmans has had an interest such matter for the best part of three decades & with the help of Greg King has co-written a book that reveals the real Arch-Duke, a man very much for peace & for the development of a feudal Europe very much like the one we have today.


Woolmans cast a spell over the Charlotte Square audience with a wonderful half-hour talk, showing us the struggle that the Arch-Duke had in gaining acceptance for the love of his life, his wife Sophie. The Austrian court considered her a lesser-born – she was only a countess –  & her journey into acceptance was, as chair Roy Cross said, something of a soap opera. The Q&As were vigorous, & Woolmans answered as if it was her specialist subject on master-mind. If the book is anything to go by her talk, then it should make a fascinating, & gripping read, with the shadows of the assassination ever approaching.

Damo Bullen 

Ambience and atmosphere at Charlotte Square

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At home the day had started dreich, but by the time I arrived at the Edinburgh Book Festival the sun was out and I was in my shirt-sleeves, lugging my leather blouson around as another piece of impedimenta, along with my rucksack, iPad, camera, kitchen sink… What follows is little more than my impression of the day. I had no event to go to, so what I did instead was simply soak up the atmosphere. It’s what I do every year, but on this occasion I was here as a journalist, and had to set my senses a notch or two higher.


First stop is the Festival press centre. Tucked away in a corner, in what seems to be a kind of triple-yolker yurt, is where I find it. The folk there, once I’ve announced myself, quickly get a name-badge for me, tell me what I can and cannot do, and launch me. It’s a bustling wee place, and they are kept busy with phone calls, emails, and callers-in-person. Luckily I’m there early enough to help myself to a coffee and a croissant, and am able to find a quiet corner to sit down and start tweeting. One simply has to tweet. I’m here! I’m here! Tweeting is de rigeur. But here’s the thing: yes, I can see people with laptops and tablets in the press centre, and around and about the lawn, the outdoor tables, and the bookshop café there’s the occasional person tapping at an iPad or an iPhone; but most of the visitors are quite clearly people of ‘the book generation’. This is no reflection on the Festival, because after all it is about books, and there are books by the skip-load here, all in ‘hard copy’, all begging for an author’s autograph at one of the book-signing events. But if I look at the long queue for an event, stretching all the way round the covered, cloistered, tent-canvas-and-decking quadrangle, I am struck by that singular demographic. I may feel young and vigorous, I may immerse myself in my literary agency work and in being on The Mumble team, but – heck! – I’m past retirement age, and most of the folk queuing, well, I’m talkin’ about my generation, man, and somewhere along the years we quite clearly dropped the ‘Hope I die before I get old’ line from our song. We keep on coming, and we’ll keep on coming for a good while yet. Hurrah!


There’s a quiet but definite buzz in the queue. No matter what way Scotland’s referendum on independence goes, the queue here is always essentially British. Polite, patient, eager, but never jostling, it surrounds a much calmer area where people relax with a book, a magazine, a picnic, a conversation. As I scan the central area, I see heads down, attention held. Very few folk – if anyone at all – is actually doing what I’m doing, taking in the scene. One or two pass purposefully through, a book or a periodical under one arm. So I take photographs.


It’s perfectly acceptable to take ‘candid’ shots of scenes with people in them, without asking permission, but if I want to take a shot of a particular person, couple, or small group, it’s expected of me to ask them first, and I do. Most of my photos, however, are of large sweeps of the place, but might well be cropped for the sake of composition. Thus they might look as though I had been snapping a small group when in fact I hadn’t. The finished product always confirms this head-down, attention-held behavioural phenomenon. It’s fascinating.


It’s the same in the bookshop. All I seem to see is people’s backs. They’re engrossed in what’s on the shelves. Everyone, everywhere seems so single-minded. I walk round. The books themselves radiate newness, they are crisp, they are clean. Good grief – there’s even a ‘new’ collection by Charles Bukowski! If there any copies left on my next visit I’ll buy one. Memo to self: pack less clutter in the rucksack.

edinburgh-2014-04-600 “Hey, man!” comes a call from several yards away. It’s Damo Bullen, who else! It wouldn’t be Edinburgh Festival season if I didn’t manage to meet up with this bloke. Readers of The Mumble don’t need me to introduce him. We grab some more free coffee at the press yurt, and for half an hour or so we have a loud and animated chinwag at a convenient table in a quiet corner. At least it was quiet until we got there. We lay plans for The Mumble excitedly, discussing future events – The Dundee Blues Bonanza, Perth’s Southern Fried Festival, Fringe comedy shows, gigs – before he has to dash off and meet folk at Waverley station, leaving me to spend some more time watching the absorbed folk and the insouciant seagull perched on the head of Prince Albert in the centre of the square.


This is a good day. Thank you Edinburgh Book Festival. The clouds even have the politeness to wait until I have left for the day before they intrude too far into the sky and introduce some spots of rain. Yes, a good day.

Paul Thompson



Briefly let me revise what I said a day or so ago about the demographic. It depends on the day! On two separate occasions here at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the cross-section of visitors has been totally different, and the key factor is what’s on, who’s appearing. On my latest visit, for example, Patrick Ness was one of the authors who was appearing. There were also presentations by Mark Greenwood, Tommy Donbavand (although I’m sure he would say that his comedy/horror vampire / spy stories appeal to all ages), and readings by Kathryn Ross from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. That being so, the young visitors outnumbered the mature, with long tail-backs for book-signings. Queues were still very polite and orderly; where they crossed each other, they did so without mutual disruption, often marshaled by Festival staff.


queue of young readers (c) Paul Thompson


On the train going home I spoke to a woman with two young daughters, who had sat quietly reading, all the way from Edinburgh Waverley to Perth. They had been at the Book Festival all day, had not been to any event, but had spent their time buying books and taking in the atmosphere. It’s as I say – you can do that. Although Charlotte Square is always full of people, it’s almost a haven of peace if you have been on the packed pavements around Fringe venues. There’s still time to get some of that!