Monday, August 20, 2012

Edinburgh Day 2: The Book Festival

My first event this morning was a talk with Garth Nix, but I wasn't quite sure where it was. My plan was to go to a coffee shop and get some wifi (the hostel only has it in certain places, and you have to pay for it) but then I took too long getting ready and ended up using the very restricted Internet on my phone and staring at a street map. Charlotte Square gardens is where the Edinburgh International Book Festival is held, and it's at the end of George Street, the main street in the New Town.

The New Town has a very regular layout, with statues in the centres of the main intersections and beautiful tall Georgian buildings lining the wide streets. I found Charlotte Square and wandered through the festival foyer into the main lawn with its statue and deck chairs, and the tent venues and temporary bookshops around the outside.

Garth Nix spent the first few minutes telling us that, yes, Garth Nix is his real name, showed us all his book covers and talked about the importance of persistence, or 'being too dumb to give up'. He's currently writing a prequel to the Old Kingdom series called Clariel, which will be out next year. He talked about taking ideas and things that resonate, and making good stories out of them, and how Hadrian's Wall had directly inspired the Wall of the Old Kingdom - he saw a photograph with snow on one side of the wall and sun on the other and it started him thinking... He's a very good speaker, although he does like shaggy dog stories.

I met up with a lovely lady for lunch and we had baked potato and salad in the crypt of a church by the botanical gardens, then wandered around the flea market in Grassmarket, looking at all the antiques and bric-a-brac. My next talk was with SD Crockett and Caroline Green at 5, so we arrived back in Charlotte Square for that and had an icecream before going in.

The talk was on dystopias and their popularity today and in the past, as well as their impact on the world. Crockett has written After the Snow, about a boy in a future ice-age UK, and Green's book is Cracks, set in a dystopian society with mind reading devices and a pretty messed-up ecological system. Many dystopias share the idea of a central lie, making the supposed utopia into a dystopia, and have vibrant settings with huge conflict, which is maybe what makes them so popular. They said it would be nice if dystopian books had an impact on the world through making people think, and this has probably already happened to some extent with some books.

My last talk of the evening was Alain de Botton, in a packed main theatre. He was talking about his book 'Religion for Atheists', where he says that the secular world could learn a lot from the world's religions, and rejected 'the idea coming out of North Oxford' that religion as a whole is a terrible idea and should be scrapped. It was very interesting, and he made some good points including the secular world's emphasis on individuality and cool, dry education and the religious world's emphasis on oratory, community and beauty intertwined with life.

The sun was going down as I walked back to the hostel, casting beautiful silhouettes of the statues along George Street.


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