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.
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.
“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.
Sweet Venues – Grassmarket
This a most unusual piece indeed. For a start, Tim Honnef was not the guy sat at the desk when the audience walked into the room. Instead, a young, excitable blonde-haired German named Jonny Muller was sat ready to launch into the autobiographical narrative that Tim Honnef had left for him on a table. Apparently, a week previously Tim had approached Jonny in the street & asked him (& other erstwhile narrators) to read the script for him.
Tim’s effort at the fringe in 2012
So we are plunged into the romantically-neurotic world of Tim Honnef, a Dutch with an excellent command of the nuances of the English language, whose poetry is of a fine level & whose dramatic bent is of a top notch. I like the way the script is divided between personal musings, bits of poetry, & certain speeches given to the audience to read out. I’m not so sure about the randomess of his narrotor selection, however. Jonny Muller was likeable, but too fast, whose avalanche of words buried any chance my thought processes had of truly engaging with Hoffner’s script. THREE STARS.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Edinburgh International Book Festival
On the day I received my first Mumble mission for The International Book festival, I went from the Lady Boys of Bangkok to the mind of a Murderer. Stuart MacBride is a best selling author of some very disturbing material indeed. I was really looking forward to receiving an insight into what makes a writer want to disturb so many. What struck me,was just how straight he was. I was waiting with anticipation for him to reveal the workings of the darkness that inspired such fiction. In the hour that we spent together we got a reading of a children’s novel that he had written called Skeleton Bob. A tale about actor Sam Neil farting in an elevator, but no real insight into the mind that created such twisted fiction.
When question time came, the questions that the audience posed were mainly about the characters he had created in his novels. I was eager to ask if the reason he wrote such grotesque fiction, was because of the latent unresolved murderer he had within him Alas, our hour with this novelist was up and the question never got asked. But it was very entertaining. Not for everyone but fine within its field.
Ian Brown & David Greig
Edinburgh Book Festival
Chaired by the evergreen Ruth Wishart, I spent a delightful hour with two of Scotland’s most innovative theatrical giants, Ian Brown & David Greig, immersed in the history of the modern Scottish play. After Brown gave a brief but fascinating insight into Scottish theatre, showing how it did not die after the reformation, but instead gained strength, we were transported to the formation of Greig’s company, Suspect Culture, in 1993.
The two men seem to be good friends, & have given open discussions before. Today, They showed how contemporary Scots language is permeating the natural muse of the Scottish playwright, mentioning in particular the forthcoming James plays put on by the EIF this August.
The question & answer session didn’t exactly draw much of a response from the audience, which was fine actually as it allowed us to listen to more dialogue from these two experts in their field. I particularly enjoyed the idea they promulgated that Scottish theater is looking to Europe, rather than inward into a coloquial fringe.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
The Loft at Summerhall
Every fifteen minutes from 14:00 to 15:45 then 18:00 to 19:45
Van Winkle and Dan Gorman have prepared a delight for the senses in this original and fun one on one fringe experience. In a short but sweet private transcendental fifteen minutes, you are treated to poetry, music and imagery rolled into one. Not enough shows dare to do something a little different which is what I think the fringe should be all about!
Timed perfectly for a break in between shows or if you want to make a day of it at Summerhall, where there are also some free art exhibitions, other shows and a great bar, there should be no reason why you wouldn’t want to add to your festival experience with a quick burst of artistic loveliness from this pair, who create a fun inventive experience. Imaginative and well worth fifteen minutes of your time.
Reviewer : Antoinette Thirgood