Sunday, 22 August 2010

EIBF and Irregular

Two things I always forget when enjoying the build-up to the Fringe are a) it's harder to enjoy if you're broke and b) however exciting you think the atmosphere will be, the reality is that the tourists will get on your gears after a mere half an hour and you'll just have to endure it, all the way through to the end of August.

Back in July, when my bank account was suffering less, I splashed out on tickets for two Book Festival events - Scarlett Thomas and Matt Haig - on the basis that I'd most likely be making an appearance at my favourite quasi-employer Canongate in August. They don't actually pay me, but it's ok because I only do pretend work, like filing, and they make up for it in the books they throw at me in abundance every time I turn up there like a bad penny.

Matt Haig read from his new book The Radleys, a sort of young-adult crossover family drama with light-hearted love interests, teenage angst, familial bonds and abstaining vampires. He says he wrote it before we were all collectively whacked in the face with the current wave of paranormal fantasy fiction, TV and film because he saw a gap in the market. It's a breath of fresh air from everything we've seen before though, and great fun - while Twilight has its time and place, I'm sure (although it's a far, far away place), Haig's central characters are a "normal" English middle-class family - the teenagers are underconfident, dumbstruck in front of their teenie crushes, spotty with skin rashes (as a result of their contact with direct sunlight), picked on at school for being weird. We've all been there, or if you're worth your salt you have, anyway. This is first and foremost a book about family and loyalty, with the added bonus of some fantasical fun and games thrown in to liven up the story.

Scarlett Thomas also dabbles in the supernatural in her latest gem Our Tragic Universe, a 'storyless story,' a novel with no real plot about a writer trying to write a novel with no plot. She doesn't really ever make it clear whether she's just joshin' with us or whether the magical elements she includes are some sort of clue to something else unexplained... it's all very mystifying. Very good, though - her characters are convincing (although admittedly a tad repetetive if you've read her other novels) and she looks closely at relationships; how they work, why they sometimes don't work, how sometimes you have to do what looks like the wrong thing in order to do the right thing.

On Friday night at Irregular, Canongate's author cabaret event, hosted by Unbound at the EIBF Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square, the audience were collectively dumbfounded, shocked and baffled by possibly the worst compere since Jerry 'The Saint' St Claire off of Phoenix Nights. Dave Peron, a man with a hairdo styled on the most evil, mass murdering dictator ever to pick up a paintbrush, recited terrible performance poetry to a backing band with a saxophonist and a walking bass line... the band were good, the man was just embarrassing. He put the authors into perspective though, who were so bloody brilliant it was almost a relief about the compere, as there'd have been too much of the good stuff for one stage otherwise. So, who read? Emily Mackie, from her novel And This Is True, about a boy who lives in a van with his father, and falls in love with him. Janice Galloway, a legend in her own right, was very polished, professional and read with a surprising, sharp dose of comic timing, which was brilliant. John Wray caused the entire female contingent of the audience to melt in their seats with his sugary smooth tones as he read from Lowboy, his novel about a paranoid schizophrenic teenage boy loose on the streets of New York. Dan Rhodes capped it all off with extracts from Anthropology, his bizarre, magical 100-word long oddities about relationships. Music was provided by Edinburgh folk band The House of La, and frontman William Douglas returned to the stage later on to continue their good work, alas alone but armed with the best joke this side of post-feminism: "the girls have all gone home because everyone's got babies now and stuff. I've got a baby too, but... I'm a man."

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