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!

Peter Hook – Remembering Joy Division

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Peter Hook – Remembering Joy Division

Scottish Power Studio Theatre

10 August 8.30PM


Excellent session of anecdotes from ex Joy Division and New Order bassist, Peter Hook and chaired by Scotland’s own best selling crime writer and music aficionado Ian Rankin.

This sell out date with one of the godfathers of the post-punk is a complete joy for fans of his music and those simply just to get inside the head of one of the pioneers of the scene.  Hook is promoting his new book “Unknown Pleasures”.  Rankin guides Hook onto a variety of interesting subjects such as rise and fall of Manchester’s infamous Hacienda, how Joy Division got the biggest tax fine of any English band, the legendary gig at Lesser Trade Hall in 1976 with the Sex Pistols which spark the Manchester punk explosion to how he got his first bass guitar amped up “ and Bernard wired the guitars to my grans radiogram ..and blew it up”.  The conversation turns to Ian Curtis and how his untimely death affected band himself and the rest of the band.

Peter comes across and a warm and funny and intelligent raconteur with a truly interesting life story to share; his battle with alcohol, his bitterness about the reforming of New Order, being famous at such a young age and the wild partying, being a suspect in the Yorkshire Ripper hunt and antic of Tony Wilson (Head of Joy Divisions record label, Factory records).  It’s a rip-roaring session with some time at the end for the assembled fans to ask they own questions.  If the book is as good as his chat here tonight its going to be a cracking read.


David McMenemy