Miracles (at least of the meteorological variety) sometimes happen and today certainly was one: this is the start of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the sun is shining! Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.
I went to two events today. First up Translating Julia: the Julia in question being Julia Donaldson. This was by way of research because I am chairing an event with Julia and Peter May on Tuesday. This afternoon’s event was in the children’s programme and I have to say there was a lot of wonderful entertainment and also a lot of wonderful noise! She had children up on stage performing What the Ladybird Heard, James Robertson reading from his Scots translation Whit the Clockleddy Heard, and two brilliant illustrators – Lydia Monks and Nick Sharratt (the latter illustrated her book What the Jackdaw Saw including signing for deaf children). The title “Translating Julia” related to the translation of Julia’s words into different languages (Scots) and mediums (illustrations, signing, drama). One important fact gleaned from this afternoon’s event was The Gruffalo has now been translated into 65 languages – shortly to be joined by four more versions in Scottish dialects (Shetland, Orcadian, Dorrit and Dundonian – look forward to that!). Daniel Hahn, a well-known translator himself, was in the chair – he noted sadly that as he always translates into English, he’ll never have a chance to have this sort of fun with Julia’s words.
The afternoon’s second event was chaired by Lennie Goodings of Virago who was joined by three stellar authors: Sarah Waters, Maggie Farrell and Jackie Kay. The event was titled “The Female Gaze: Classics by Female Writers” and each author talked about a book from the Virago Modern Classics collection that had inspired or influenced her. The choices were, respectively, Rebecca West (The Fountain Overflows), Molly Keane (Good Behaviour) and Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes were watching God). What a great conversation, revealing layers of influence and fabulous writing both past and present.
Some memorable snippets:
Jackie Kay: “Good writers even though they go out of fashion never go out of orbit. Someone will always throw a boomerang to get them back.” Thank goodness!
Sarah Waters described The Fountain Overflows as “a great stuffed carpetbag of a book”, which she then admitted was brilliantly controlled and structured by its author.
Maggie Farrell said that rabbit mousse must be the most revolting dish imaginable, and at the beginning of Good Behaviour it becomes an instrument of genteel matricide. Her 2011 introduction to the ebook edition says much the same, but it’s good to read it in print. Talking of her own book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie also added how valuable the VMCs (Virago Modern Classics) had been for capturing the “voices” of the 1920s and 30s. Keane was exemplary in that respect.
In response to a question from the audience, the conservation then shifted to bookselling with all three authors adamantly defending the independent bookseller: “once they’re gone, you can’t replace them”. Word Power Books in Edinburgh got a good clap. Jackie Kay rounded on Amazon, giving full licence to tweet, that she loathes Amazon and what it does to the indie book shops. Lennie Goodings also signalled the presence of hive.co.uk – one up for publishers supporting local bookshops!