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The Vampyre: John William Polidori

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

Reading Workshop with Marcus Sedgwick 

Edinburgh International Book Festival | 22 August 2019


We don’t know much about John William Polidori. He had a short life. And there was something about him that made people want to silence him.

After he died in 1819 his sister destroyed the parts of his journal that were ‘sinful’, copied out some of it, and then destroyed the rest.


The journal describes his trip across Europe in 1816 with England’s poetical star (and some said, notorious closet case), George Gordon, Lord Byron. Byron, who liked to surround himself with beauty, hired the dark and handsome Polidori, 21-year-old medicine graduate from Edinburgh University, as his doctor. But Polidori didn’t want to be a doctor – he wanted to be a writer.


Byron didn’t think that was appropriate. When Polidori naively showed him some writing, Byron laughed at him.  Polidori put up with it. He had a controlling and critical father. And he may already have been deeply involved with Byron.


But then something unexpected happened. In Switzerland, Polidori and Byron met Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. One dark and stormy day in Switzerland they took part in the famous ghost story writing contest which produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein– and Polidori’s The Vampyre.


It’s now been just over 200 years since the two books were written. Each created a new type of writing which has survived. This year Edinburgh Book Festiival held a reading workshop on The Vampyre – in which a writer invited readers to explore a work.


I remembered the Festival’s reading workshop on Giovanni’s Room a few years ago, led by gay American writer Garth Greenwell, and wondered what there might be to say about The Vampyre as a queer book. Marcus Sedgwick, musician, illustrator and prizewinnng author of young adult novels, was the workshop leader. He pointed out that there was no evidence that Byron and Polidori were lovers. But it was clear, he said, that Polidori ‘idolised’ Byron. The Vampyre even drew on a three-page story which Byron had abandoned.


Sedgwick and the other 18 participants in the workshop felt that Polidori’s novel, while not brilliantly written, captures our imaginations by making the vampire attractive, seductive, charismatic.  Polidori had made a major and original leap. Sedgwick had studied the original European vampire legends, which were very different – the vampire was a gross figure, usually a peasant, who returned to commit mindless violence. Polidori’s vampire changes the pattern – it draws on popular tales of the aristocratic rake, ruthless and dangerous, desired by everyone he meets – and on Lord Byron himself.


After the ghost story contest Byron and Polidori fell out within months: Polidori is supposed to have been ‘jealous’. Was it a breakup, or an employment dispute? Whichever it was, it was traumatic. Alone on his travels, Polidori wrote The Vampyre, the story of a naive hero driven mad and destroyed by his murderous companion.


The Vampyre became a huge bestseller, but it was too late for Polidori. Depressed and in debt, he committed suicide three years later. 


But he had his revenge. Byron is a classic poet, but Polidori’s vampire character has become part of our culture, inspiring novels and films all over the world, living on for centuries like the vampire himself. Polidori even appears as a character in numerous sci-fi and fantasy novels.


Edinburgh Book Festival celebrated both Polidori and Mary Shelley this year. We don’t know much about Polidori, but the people who wanted to silence him didn’t succeed.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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Kate Charlesworth: Sensible Footwear: A Girl’s Guide

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

 Edinburgh International Book Festival | 19th August 2019


‘Queering history?’ ‘Queering memoirs?’ What does it mean?

‘Colouring in some of the blank spaces,’ said crime writer Val McDermid, introducing Kate Charlesworth and Luke Turner at the Book Festival.


The two have written books which are part memoir, part history. Colouring especially describes Kate Charlesworth’s vast cartoon chronicle of the last fifty years of LGBT life in the UK, centred around her own story as lesbian, cartoonist, and writer.


Some of her cartoons are panoramic. Things are happening all over the page. Wry comments float out of the corners. Twenty years ago, she says, she realised that, in her career as a cartoonist for LGBT and many other publications, she had drawn years of LGBT history – and she had the idea of bringing it all together in one cartoon story.


There’s a lot to say about the impact of pictures. There’s the case of news photography and its role in ending the Vietnam War. And Section 28 – it wasn’t a novel that spurred the panic among Tory legislators, it was a picture book for children.


The pictures in Sensible Footwear make history more real than words could: ‘lost LGBT worlds of the fifties and sixties’ – presenter Nancy Spain, lover of Marlene Dietrich, who had her right to wear butch clothes written into her BBC contract – and Kate’s own amazed realisation that singer Dusty Springfield – was a dyke!


As time goes by, the story unfolds in a variety of styles - ‘pencil and wash at the start, then the sixties and seventies were more hard edged.’ Kate had saved years’ worth of ephemera such as leaflets and badges (‘I like badges’) and they went in as well. There are Gilbert and Sullivan parodies with a cheery approach to bitter political battles - ‘you can just sing along’.


Luke Turner’s memoir, Out of the Woods, colours in a different space. He adds that we shouldn’t forget the colour grey – for the things we can’t, and shouldn’t, define.

Originally, he wanted to write about Epping Forest. He’d been drawn to the forest since his childhood and was living nearby when his relationship with a partner ended, drastically changing his life.


The forest is over 12 miles long, a fragment of ancient woodland in the northeast of London. Outlaws have lived there from early times. It’s always been a place for men in search of the nameless stranger. But the community values the wood: a public campaign saved it after developers destroyed the neighbouring Hainault Forest in the 1850s.

Luke Turner wanted to write about the forest in working class history. But his own history as a bisexual man came out as well – and his own fascination with the forest as a meeting place for sexual outlaws. ‘To tell the story honestly I had to put everything in it’.


‘Derek Jarman was my inspiration,’ he said. He needed inspiration, since his coming out journey was lonely and complicated: his parents are devout Methodists. ‘A relative who was gay was chucked out of the church. But my parents have been very understanding – though they haven’t read the book yet.’


Jarman’s films helped him survive the 1990s, ‘a horrible time to come out’ in the midst of Aids and Section 28. He stumbled on the Pet Shop Boys and Neil Tennant – ‘just finding little bits all over the place.’


Out of the Woods, like Sensible Footwear, binds different elements together. ‘I’ve always liked writing that could jump around from journalism to essays to fiction.’ He feels nature writing has to reflect the fact that ‘we are split from the forests and nature’.


Dealing with sexuality isn’t straightforward either. ‘Bisexuality,’ he says, ‘is not a good term – it floats between grey areas.’ Binary thinking is hard to shake, ‘but I wanted to be as open ended and grey as possible.’

‘Being a visible bisexual man,’ he says, ‘is one good way to

mess with the straight world.’

Kate agrees. ‘I don’t want to offend people – but I like to disrupt them.’

‘But is queering history useful politically?’ asked someone in the audience.


Kate answered that she was outwith that, ‘but it’s important to know our history…especially in times like these – where gay marches have been stoned in Poland.

‘And if we know our history,’ she adds, ‘we can say, “We’ve been here as long as you have.”

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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morag hood: Aalfred and Aalbert

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

 Edinburgh International Book Festival | 20th August 2019


Aalfred and Aalbert is a children’s picture book. It’s a love story about two aardvarks.

Aalfred’s favourite things are broccoli and stars. He likes to stay awake at night and sleep all day.

Aalbert is a different character. His favourite things are cheese and the sun. He stays awake for the sunshine and goes to bed at nightfall.


Morag Hood, Edinburgh writer and artist, read the aardvarks’ story to her audience of children and their parents and drew her characters as she went.


Aalbert and Aalfred never meet because they are never awake at the same time. Sometimes they wonder what it would be like ‘to be in a pair’, but mostly they just look for things to enjoy.


A little blue bird, however, decides they should meet. It’s not easy to arrange, but they finally do – and they like each other. They decide they get on so well that they move into the same burrow. 


Are they friends? Are they lovers? Are they partners? They don’t wear trousers, ties or feather boas. They both have what sound like male names. The rest is up to you.

Morag Hood drew Aalbert and Aalfred surrounded by their favourite things and said, ‘It’s nice in books how you can have the sun and the stars at the same time.’


Hood has written other books which say a lot in a very few words: Brenda is a Sheep (is she? Why does she have sharp teeth and a long tail? Never mind, the sheep all think she’s cool) and The Steves (a story of two puffins with the same name - ‘You’re Steve the Second, I’m Steve the First,’ each insists.)


Hood invited her child audience up to tables with paper and pens in order to draw the characters, and showed us all the right shapes to use. I managed a recognisable image of Brenda with her rough coat, sharp teeth and woolly jumper. Sometimes the best way to do complicated is to keep it simple.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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HORSING AROUND WITH CLARE BALDING

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

Edinburgh International Book Festival | 19th August 2019


Clare Balding used her Book Festival reading, not to talk about herself, but to talk to her young readers.

‘Who does regular sport?’

‘I do karate.’

‘What do you enjoy about it?’

‘Practising with my friends.’

‘I do HOCKEY.’

‘I like swimming.’

‘I like everything.’

‘I do horseriding and I do it at Riding for the Disabled.’

‘I do tennis and my favourite player is Serena Williams.’

‘I like it because you’re never lonely.’


Unlike most children’s events, Balding’s was in the main theatre. It was packed with children. About two thirds were girls. Taking Balding’s picture during the reading would have been hard because she constantly moved back and forth, calling on questioners and encouraging them to say more.


What about books?’ she asked. Why did the audience love reading?


‘Because when you read it, you can’t stop.’

‘It’s so exciting, it takes you somewhere different.’

‘That’s why I decided to write for your age group, because you lose yourself in your imaginations.’


It would be hard to take Balding’s picture at the best of times, unless you could persuade her to slow down (unlikely). She is a former amateur jockey, a BBC sports presenter who has appeared at the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Grand National, Britain by Bike on BBC 4, and many more. She is also an amateur (and according to her, not so great) golfer. ‘I keep on doing it, though, because I enjoy it.’


She urged the crowd to do what they enjoyed and to keep at it, no matter what anyone said. 


It’s advice she’s taken herself. In 2010, Times Columnist A A Gill reviewed Britain by Bike and couldn’t resist making a feeble joke about a ‘dyke on a bike’. He had already called her ‘a big lesbian.’ Balding took him to the Press Complaints Commission. 


The Times felt that Balding should ignore Gill. He had been taken to the Press Complaints Commission 62 times and won on every occasion. Balding argued back. For her to be the target of snide comments about her sexuality was unacceptable. A serious newspaper wouldn’t describe a ‘a big Black swimmer’ or ‘a tiny French-Asian Treasury consultant’. She won her case


Since then Balding has become a children’s writer. Her books are about nine-year-old Charlie Bass and her encounter with a racehorse, Noble Warrior. She’s also written another book, My Animals and Other Family.


When is her next book coming out?

‘This is a secret, don’t let anyone in on it – I was supposed to to one this summer. 

‘But,’ she said, ‘I’d rather talk to all of you.’


@ClareBalding

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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Fran kiss stein: jeanette winterson

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

Edinburgh International Book Festival | 18th August 2019


‘We may lose and we may win, but we’ll never be here again...’

Jeanette Winterson put a line from ‘Take It Easy,’ a song by the 1970s band The Eagles, at the beginning of her new novel, Frankissstein. Glen Frey co-wrote the song. He said his message was, ‘You shouldn’t get too big too fast.’ 


Winterson’s novel is a retelling of the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Shelley’s hero is a brilliant scientist, Victor Frankenstein, whose powers get too big, too fast when he gives life to a monster he cannot control. 


The teenaged Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1816 while escaping to Switzerland from scandal in England. Her lover and future husband, Percy Shelley, was married to another woman. Both their parents had disowned them. The weather had taken a catastrophic turn with year-long freezing, flooding and ruinous storms.


Frankenstein distilled this atmosphere into a powerful novel which has sold in the millions, been made into dozens of films, plays and computer games, and inspired other writers for 200 years. Winterson’s retelling has just been published by Penguin Books. At the Book Festival she explained that she had re-set part of the story in our era. Like the dying Frankenstein in the original, Winterson wants to warn the world against scientific arrogance. 


On stage, Winterson read scenes from her novel without a moderator, the first time I’ve ever seen a Book Festival writer on the stage on her own. She was accompanied only by slide pictures, subtitles and sound effects (including thunder). 

She read from her book with great energy and made her points with passion.


We’re all glued to our smartphones.’ Winterson told the audience, ‘and soon, they’ll be glued in literally, as implants.’ 


In her novel, she pictures ‘Victor Stein’ giving a lecture, live-streamed on the Royal Society website, describing his vision of ‘Type 3 Life’ - artificial life which won’t eat, drink or die, and will be ‘fully self-designing’. Mary Shelley becomes a character in the story: Ry Shelley, doctor and trans man, who is ‘self-designed’ because he was not comfortable as a woman. ‘In the mirror, I see at least two people. What I am is not one thing and not one gender.’


It’s a sympathetic characterisation, but others are more disturbing. Lord is a sexbot entrepreneur, whose creation, Claire, accidentally bursts out of her holdall and tries to seduce the Royal Society audience. 


Sorry about the dirty bits,’ said Winterson, but she explained that sexbots are not far from being real. China is the world’s largest manufacturer of sex dolls. They sell for up to $20,000. They are ‘realistic’ without being anything like real women, but some people believe that men will come to think of them as companions.


Winterson wants us to be aware this is happening. Lose or win, we’ll never be here again, she says: this is almost the last moment we can influence the direction AI is taking, and most people, especially women, know very little about it. We need to learn fast, she insisted. ‘We need to shape the future instead of having it happen to us.’


‘You can start by buying my book’ she added. ‘And teach your daughters to code.’


It’s a disturbing argument. Many people will resist. Winterson will be back next year with more on the subject – whatever anyone thinks, she won’t give up.


@Wintersonworld


ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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My Name Is Monster: Katie Hale

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

Edinburgh International Book Festival | 18th August 2019


The end of the world is always popular. If you google ‘suppose you were the last person on earth...’ you’ll find masses of entries including a Daily Mail article and an urgent question on a social media site: ‘If I were the last person on earth, would you date me?’ 


End-of-the-world films follow intrepid loners played by actors like Charlton Heston and Will Smith. The best guess seems to be that even when the world ends, it will be a man’s world. 


Katie Hale told her Edinburgh International Book Festival audience that she decided to write My Name Is Monster after thinking about Robinson Crusoe – who is alone on his desert island until he finds a servant, his ‘man Friday’. Hale began to wonder what the story would be like if the last man in the world were a woman. 


Originally Hale was supposed to be joined at the Book Festival by Rita Indiana, who, said the programme, planned to talk about climate change and queer politics. Indiana had to cancel, but as Hale’s talk unfolded, it touched on an important theme in queer writing and lives: isolation. 


Hale’s heroine calls herself Monster. She doesn’t like people. She welcomes being alone – she survived because she went to the Arctic to work in a seed vault, while disease and war wiped the rest of society out. She ‘is not the most likeable character’, says Hale, ‘but she is a survivor’. You would not call her ‘feisty’ or ‘headstrong,’ any more than you would say those things about Robinson Crusoe. 


Survivor characteristics are different, says Hale, when attributed to a woman. Like other apocalyptic heroes, Monster is completely occupied fighting such threats as feral dogs at first, but after awhile things begin to change for her. Wanting isolation is not the same as enjoying it and Monster is no longer sure what she wants. She breaks down when holding a sparrow. If she were to meet even one other person, how would she identify? Who would she be? And when her situation changes, the change throws up much more than she imagined. Endings give way to beginnings and Monster has to take a hand in creating them, for better or worse. 


Hale started writing the novel a few months after Brexit and wrote through a week of extreme weather when The Beast from the East struck. She said she was influenced by people’s feelings of fear of isolation and the terror of climate change. 


She also wanted to create a detailed picture of survival and of a woman who could devise practical solutions. Fighting feral dogs is just the beginning. Monster is an engineer and she ends up living on a hill farm and creating a means to live – and hoping there will be something (and someone) to live for. 


And will there be? No spoilers here. Read the book and enjoy the writing – the excerpts Hale read were simple, vivid and haunting as befits a story of the apocalypse. 


So why is the end of the world so popular? ‘There’s always an element of escapism in fiction,’ said Hale. ‘You can stop being yourself for awhile - and just enjoy everything going to hell in a handcart.’


My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale is published by Canongate Books and is available now in bookstores and online.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

Outriders: Jenni Fagan and Harry Josephine Giles

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

Edinburgh International Book Festival | 14th August 2019


Everyone likes to hear about a journey - even when they’ve never heard of the destination. The more unlikely the better, and do you have your photos? 


The photos played on the screen all through the Outriders talks. Some were beautiful, unexpected, startling. But there was much more to the trips. 


Edinburgh International Book Festival (with other bodies including the Scottish Government) sent writers Harry Josephine Giles and Jenni Fagan – who both live in Edinburgh – to North America, where they were paired with local writers. Each was asked to write about their journey. 


Harry Josephine Giles is the author of The Games (Out-Spoken Press) and many other poems. They performed a 2019 Fringe Show, Drone, whose run has just ended. 


‘The journey is the destination’, said the Book Festival programme when it announced the Outriders talk. The journeys both Fagan and Giles undertook were so fascinating that it’s a temptation just to try to retell their stories. But space is limited and I’ll focus on the end of Giles’ journey in Churchill, Manitoba, in the far north on the shore of Hudson’s Bay. 


The slide show projected roads lined with snowbanks, a journey by dogsled, long lakes, sparse forests, and a snowbound fishing boat (built in Buckie). 


Of the first European expedition to visit the Churchill area, most didn’t survive. Then came the Orcadians. They did survive. They gave their names and their words to their descendants and to indigenous people as well. 


The internet has brought dialogue between the people of Orkney and Churchill, sharing what they know of the history of their relations who came to settle. 


Harry Josephine Giles comes from Orkney and has done research on the Scots and Orcadian language, and wanted to understand more about the way the languages had affected the colonisers and the colonised – and the decolonial process now taking place. 


Giles wrote on their blog that, as Scotland seeks to redefine itself, ‘I don’t think the conversation can continue in an honest way, let alone a liberatory way, without a confrontation with our past and ongoing participation in colonialism.’ 


And there is far more to say about this – you can find out more about it on Giles’ blog here - https://harryjosephine.com/category/outriders/ They also published a poem about the trip, The Travellers Lexicon


Meanwhile, Jenni Fagan travelled from New York across the USA to San Diego and the Mexican border. As she crossed the continent she worked on her poem, Truth, and shared it with her travelling companions. You can find out more about one of her novels, The Sunlight Pilgrims (William Heinemann), in this review https://www.npr.org/2016/07/26/485864506/sunlight-pilgrims-is-more-than-just-a-chilling-tale-of-climate-change?t=1566220943067. 


At the end of the packed hour, the Outriders programme announced a group of new journeys with writers, Outriders Africa, which will include Nadine Aisha Jassat, Scottish-based author of Let Me Tell You This (404 Ink). 


I felt I had travelled far myself as I listened to these journeys, crossed some borders I hadn’t thought about before, and – hopefully - made a start at helping to break them down.

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WHAT IS GENDER IN THE 21ST CENTURY

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

New York Times Debate Series | Edinburgh International Book Festival | 13th August 2019


For much of the 20th century, 'gender' was a drab grammar term, trapped in footnotes and tables with M and F at the top - but even then it probably dreamed of something better. 


Gendered parts of speech were arbitrary. In French, cars and rivers are feminine, books and wine are masculine. In the 1960s feminists came along and said, ‘Hey! The roles women and men play in real life don’t make any more sense than these words!’ 


In the last fifty years gender has gone beyond M and F - transgendered and non-binary people have entered the conversation, while queer people now have the right to marry someone of the same biological sex and women are still fighting for equality - and safety. 


Edinburgh International Book Festival's panel discussion, What is 'Gender' in the 21st Century?, on 13th August was billed as a debate – but if there was supposed to be any debate, it never happened. The panellists were all journalists or writers on society. Rather than arguing about what gender is (and whatever else it is these days, it's contentious), they wanted to tell us what people are doing about it – quite a lot. 


Palko Karasz, reporter for the New York Times, starts every working day looking at trending topics on Twitter and Google. Gender, he says, is now 'everywhere, and in most stories I cover.' 


Amelia Abraham has just published Queer Intentions (Picador). She wanted to write a book about queer culture based on a wide variety of interviews and places. A lot of queer theory, she says, is read only by students on university courses – no one else would want to read it. Her dad has given up on names like LGBTQ+ and calls them all 'BLT'. She wanted to write something readable, something based on people's lives. 


Naomi Wolf is the author of The Beauty Myth and eight other books, most recently Outrages (Virago), about gay sexuality and censorship in the 19th century. She said she was hopeful that multiple genders (or none) were becoming more acceptable - her kids did not struggle with 'they' as a nongendered pronoun, and she had seen a study that said 40% of British undergraduates did not choose a gender if they did not have to. 


The breadth of the panel's experience was impressive. But it was not unlike roaming the internet – overwhelming, random and often negative. 


In Hungary, a showing of the film Billy Elliot was condemned as 'a threat to young Hungarians'. In France, young mostly male journalists for prominent publications started the LOL League. They targetted feminist and LGBT colleagues, first on Twitter, then in real life at nightclubs and parties. In Sweden, there are some hopeful signs - the nongendered pronoun 'hen' has been used for many years, and, Amelia Abraham told us, using stereotypes in Swedish schools is illegal. 


The panel was all white and western. They did what their publications do best and gave us facts and quotes, indications of how it might all be going (or not), cautionary stories about the need for vigilance. 


The one moment of controversy came when an audience member asked what they thought of the attempt to base the definition of woman on feelings rather than 'biological facts'. Naomi Wolf asked if someone was actually trying to do such a thing. 'Gender is a construct,' she said. 'Women's genitals were once believed to be men's genitals turned inside out. Why are we so attached to being one thing or another? Why are we so invasive of each other's decisions? We should just STOP it.' The audience burst into applause. 


Whatever it is, gender is out of the box and will be part of questions about liberation for a long, long time.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

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ALI SMITH AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL

WRITTEN BY SIGRID NIELSEN

The second story in Ali Smith's early collection, Free Love, is called 'A Story of Folding and Unfolding'. All sorts of ideas, images, thoughts and threads were folded into Smith's reading and talk about her new novel, Spring, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And they unfolded like fireworks, with one colour, pattern and shape inside another.


Smith's stories are always about the unexpected and surprising inside the everyday. Her characters can cope with doubt, loss and hopelessness, but the language is always playful and centred in the reality we all share.


It was storming yesterday evening as the reading started and the Book Festival tents' garden was flooded. The covered walkways started to leak on the long queues of people who'd come to hear Smith's talk. 'Who in this room has wet feet?' she asked and hands went up all over the packed tent. 'I have terrible wet feet as well as cold feet – and I'm about to read you a horrible right-wing rant. Hands up anyone who doesn't want to hear it.' No one expected a right-wing rant in a Smith novel, and many probably weren't prepared for it on top of wet socks and dripping jackets - but few hands were raised and Smith read on.


'We need news feed shock. How dare she? How dare he? How dare they? We need bots. We need cliché. We need to say we're offering hope.'


Though Smith thought 20 years ago when she first planned the novels that they would be about nature and the countryside. The seasons themselves turned out to be a strong presence, but 'you don't choose the book, the book chooses you', and the novels came to reflect the times we're living in as well. Smith read passages about her characters' timely dilemmas: one, Richard, is a storyteller himself, a tv producer who has been asked to work with a script which is based on a lie. Another, Brittany, isn't able to afford university and gets a job in a detention centre for immigrants. The characters' inner voices made them real even in the short passages Smith was able to read out in an hour that was over almost before we knew it.


Smith mentioned a talk by the writer John Berger in which he had said that the obligation of a storyteller was to be hospitable, to invite everyone in. Not only her stories but also her Book Festival readings are that kind of party.


Spring by Ali Smith is published by Hamish Hamilton (RRP £16.99) and is available now in bookstores and online.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Sigrid Nielsen is a writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books.

SOMEWHERE AT THE BOOK FESTIVAL: LAVENDER MENACE TAKEOVER

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SOMEWHERE AND LAVENDER MENACE

We will be featuring news, reviews and roundups from some favourite moments of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.


Our guest writer will be Sigrid Nielsen, writer and co-Founder of the Lavender Menace Bookshop, a much-loved and much-missed LGBT+ literary space for the community, which is enjoying a revival this year as part of many LGBT+ bookstall and festival events, in conjunction with Lighthouse Books. 


See https://www.facebook.com/Lavender-Menace-Returns-560421927808697/ for more


THE BOOK FRINGE

The wonderful Mairi Oliver and her team at Lighthouse Books on West Nicolson Street are hosting various LGBTQ+ focused events as part of the Book Fringe:.


August dates to make a note of:

3rd Queer Voices: Poetry

6th History of Polari

7th Mia Violet - You are trans enough

14th Amelia Abraham - Queer Intentions, and also discussing 4 anthologies with strong LGBT representation, namely Pushin's Exile Anthology, Derek Owusu with Safe: Black British Men reclaiming Space, Comma Press' Resist and It's Not about the Burqa. 


Check out: https://www.lighthousebookshop.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pg/LighthouseBks/events/?ref=page_internal for more!