Edinburgh After Dark

With it being dark not long after four in the afternoon now it’s a lot easier to take night shots, without having to wait till much later at night and then stand around with camera and tripod as drunks come out the pubs! I was taking a few photos in Saint Andrew Square, one of two large, grand squares (along with Charlotte Square, home to the Book Festival each August) at either end of the Georgian-era New Town part of Edinburgh. In recent years the gardens in the centre of the square have been opened up to the public again and it’s a busy spot with folks coming and going, or using the garden paths as a shortcut to the other side of the square. I had been taking pics of the column and the new, small glass coffee store all lit up in the dark of a corner of the gardens when I looked behind me and realised that the wet, glistening path lined up perfectly with the vista of broad and rather posh George Street leading west, last glimpse of twilight still in the western sky. And I thought why have I never stood here and lined up this shot before? Especially at just the right time of evening where it is dark but with that last little light of dusk still in the west:

George Street, dusk
(as ever click to see the larger versions on my Flickr)

This is a zoom in on the statues that line the top of one the large, old bank headquarters on Saint Andrew Square – shot them before bathed in sunlight but not at night, the long exposure had the side effect of giving the fluttering flag this cool sense of movement which I was quite pleased with:

statues and very fluttery fluttering flag

And here’s Sir Walter Scott, seated between the enormous pillars of the soaring Scott Monument – again I have taken various shots and angles of Watty’s statue over the years but for some reason had never thought to zoom in and line it up so the illuminated clock of the Balmoral Hotel’s tower in the background would show over it like this at night, just noticed it while taking other pics nearby and realised it would make a nice picture. Funny how I have taken night shots around there so many times before but that perspective never occurred to me. One of the nice things about taking a lot of photos is sometimes you just see something you know very well in a different way because of the time of day (or night in this case), weather, season, just looking at it slightly differently…

Sir Walter and the Balmoral Clock, winter evening

Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Last month as well as reporting on the Edinburgh International Book Festival as I do most years I was on stage for some events, the first of which was chairing a talk with superstar Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison. We discussed his earliest work in Near Myths, an anthology which grew out of the old Edinburgh Science Fiction Bookshop (which would become the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet years later) which was well ahead of its time in trying to create a comics form for adult readers and also featured the first appearances of Luther Arkwright by the great Bryan Talbot – in a lovely moment Grant took the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryan’s place in the medium (Bryan was in the audience at the time and was, I think, rather delighted) – it was nice to see this peer to peer respect from one top creator to another. We discussed his Batman and Superman works, his plans for reworking Wonder Woman and the return to Seaguy, before throwing open the second half to questions from the audience, who were eager to ask Grant their own questions (and he was looking forward to the chance to interact with his readers, so we tried to give a good chunk of our hour to the audience Q&A).

I’m not mad at being in front of the camera, I prefer being behind the lens, but it was a fun event and from folks I bumped into over the rest of the Book Festival it seemed to have gone fairly well as they told me they enjoyed it, which was a relief as that was my very first time chairing an event at the Book Fest. I have done plenty of events with authors in my bookselling career of course, but it’s been years since I had to do an on-stage event and doing it with a major name, at the world’s biggest literary festival, well, that’s a hell of a way to get back into the saddle! But it was fun to do it as part of the huge Stripped segment of comics themed events at the Book Festival:

My video interviews from the Book Festival

During my very busy period at the Stripped comics strand of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in addition to chairing a couple of the author events this year I was also delighted to pose the questions for a couple of their series of short video interviews with authors, including this one I did with Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda shortly before chairing their event (which was great fun) – don’t worry, you don’t see me in either as I am safely behind the camera (which I prefer) and indeed as they edited it to mostly the author’s responses you barely hear me, but was nice to be asked to do a couple and fun to do. I talked to Lauren and Inaki about their collaboration (this was the first time they met in person) as well as their next projects:

And I also got to ask Neil Gaiman some questions, which was great – hard to believe it’s been around twenty years since I first did an author event with Neil in my old bookstore. Our slot got bumped by another interview team but Neil noticed this and very kindly arranged to fit us in after the next item on his very busy schedule, and so we got to stand in late summer sunshine in Charlotte Square and I got to ask Neil about his returning to the Sandman, working with JH Williams III and how it felt, having grown up like most of us our age watching Doctor Who, to walk onto the TARDIS set knowing they were filming a story you wrote, and how much more receptive the people now at the BBC are towards his work:

We’ve lost Iain

It’s Sunday evening, and I’ve just come home and learned that one of the UK’s most innovative and hugely bestselling novelists, Iain Banks, had succumbed to the cancer he only announced he was diagnosed with recently. The news of Iain’s illness at only 59 was a real shock to many of us in the literary world; friends and readers (and readers are often friends in our book world) were shellshocked at his announcement. To find this evening that we’ve lost him so soon, when we still held some distant hope that a treatment may help prolong his stay on this planet is devastating. I’ve had the honour and pleasure of doing many a book event with Iain over my years in the book trade, and I’m sitting here right now, like many others I expect, thinking this can’t be bloody right, trying to square my mental image of a hugely genial, friendly, good natured bloke with a love of life with this news that he simply isn’t here anymore, and it makes me feel sick to think of it.  And he was genial and friendly – the first time I met Iain I found it hard to think this smiling, open chap I was chatting to was the man who devised the disturbing Wasp Factory (one of the most astonishing Scottish novels of the 20th Century).

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(Iain signing copies of the Algebraist back in 2008 in Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre. Books to sign for readers and a pint by his hand equals contented author. Pic from my Flickr)

Iain straddled literary genres with ease, creating his science fiction (including the remarkable Culture novels) and also his ‘straight’ literary fiction (if you could call anything Iain wrote ‘straight’!) and also deviating into some non fiction for his whisky tour of Scotland (he once told me one of the few books where the research required was a genuine pleasure to undertake). Few writers get to be successful in both a genre and be equally accepted in ‘literary’ fiction (a cumbersome, imprecise term), but Iain did, and both his fiction and science fiction both were covered by the literary critics. His science fiction, in particular his Culture novels, displayed a displeasure at the inequalities of the world as it is but, like Clarke and Rodenberry, a hope and belief that humanity could be better, more evolved, more equal, more caring, more enlightened.

Iain often stuck by those principles in his own life – when Blair and his acolytes fudged ‘intelligence’ to prove why we should invade Iraq Iain refused invites to Blair’s Downing Street gatherings of various artistic worthies and instead cut up his British passport in disgust at this action and said he would do without foreign travel and getting a new passport until the wars were ended or Blair out of office. I am glad that in his last few months he got to go abroad again, having a honeymoon with his long term partner Adele (many Edinburgh geeks will know her for her sterling work in the city’s Dead by Dawn film  fest). I received an email from Iain when he was away with Adele a few weeks ago in Venice. I replied saying I hoped he wouldn’t feel compelled to emulate Byron and challenge the locals to a swimming race down the canals. No chance, came the quick reply, I’ve seen what goes into those canals… That was Iain, humour always there, even at times like that, facing what he was facing.

The very evening before I was due to start here at Forbidden Planet several years ago I was treated to a huge, slap-up feed with Iain, Adele and fellow Scottish SF author Ken MacLeod. I had a bad experience with my former bookstore and Iain and Ken had been among the writers I had worked with who stood up and defended me, which was a huge morale boost for me at a very difficult time in my life. It was to be a cheer up, could be worse night out, but by then I had met with our own Kenny who had asked me to start at FP, so it turned into a celebration night. Huge amounts of curry and wine ensued. Despite his huge bestselling status for so many years Iain remained the same friendly, open and very approachable man, the sort of bloke you could just stand in the local pub and chat to over a pint. We lose him just before his publisher, the very fine Orbit Books, one of the homes to the best in British science fiction, could get his new book out. I know they have been rushing to try and get the book out much sooner than possible, everyone thought we would have a bit more time, but again that bastard devil Cancer has had its way instead (and in the words of the current advert series “up yours, Cancer”) and now the book will come out just that bit too late. And ironically one of the main characters is a man facing terminal cancer. Sometimes when art imitates life it is interesting; in this case it may well prove interesting but also rather bitter to the many of us who loved Iain’s writing. I’ve been so looking forward to the Edinburgh International Book Festival this August, but the thought of that annual major literary bash without Iain’s usual presence seems so damned wrong.

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar
(taken just last year, two of Scotland’s bestselling authors beginning with ‘I’, Iain Banks and Ian Rankin, enjoying one of Edinburgh’s fine hostelries, pic from my Flickr)

We’ve lost one of Britian’s finest writers (held by many to be among the top 50 most influential and important writers in the UK since 1945) and a major influence in our beloved science fiction genre, and worse we’ve lost a damned good man, and far, far, far to bloody young. If you enjoy a good drink then when you have a decent ale or even better a good dram of single malt, raise a wee toast for Iain, he’d doubtless appreciate that. And maybe as well as picking up The Quarry later this month from Orbit readers may, if they are able, want to consider a wee donation in his memory to Cancer Research, still fighting fighting against this damned disease which takes too many of us (are there any of us who haven’t lost a family member or friend to it?). In a small mercy his wife Adele said that his passing was without pain.

Goodbye, Iain, your inventiveness brought so many of us onboard and you took us with you on some extraordinary expeditions into the imagination, and on a personal note you and Ken and many other writers were there for me when I needed it and stood up for me, which I will always be so grateful for. Rather than dwell on losing Iain so damnably young I prefer to remember him smilingly signing books for fans, chatting away to them and other writer friends and booksellers after the author event was over, usually in the bar over a pint, beer in his hand and big, open grin on his face. My thoughts go out to Adele, his family and closest friends who have had to endure the thought of his dreadful illness and now his sudden passing. Somewhere, in the vastly distant future, when mankind has perhaps evolved to be more like the Utopian Culture he imagined I hope one day there will be a Mind piloting a starship and it will choose to call itself after Iain.

 

Poet’s Pub

I enjoyed a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, the first time I have been in for years as it was closed until recently for a huge refurbishment. Many spots now much more open and lighter, including the nice room they have an old friend of mine, in an old favourite from before the refurbishment, Sandy Moffat’s Poet’s Pub. Always loved this piece depicting some of the most important and influential writers of mid 20th century Scottish culture (including, as you can see on the far right, Captain Picard!). In the new display room it is in an airy, light filled space with a comfortable big padded seat right in front of it so you can sit there and regard it, with a touchscreen interface angled into the armrest so you can tap it for more information while sitting comfortably in front of the painting, touching the individual writers lets you hear them reading some of their own work in their own voice. Lovely.

The work itself is a composite as they were never all in the same pub at the same time and the location itself is a combination of elements from three different Edinburgh pubs, the Abbotsford, The Cafe Royale and Milnes. All still exist, although sadly Milnes these days is an awful chain-operated place with lousy service that I long since gave up on (complaints to company who runs it made it clear they never gave a damn about standards or customers so sod them), although the Royale and Abbotsford are still firm favourites of mine. In fact I was in the Abbotsford just a few nights ago and bumped into a number of contemporary Scottish writers I know, including two of our bestsellers, Ian and Iain:

 

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

Pat Mills, Rodge Glass, Nick Hayes & William Goldsmith at the Edinburgh Book Festival

(Pat Mills on the left and Rodge Glass on the right signing after their talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the weekend; all pics from my Flickr, click for the larger versions)

The Edinburgh International Book Festival for 2011 came to an end last night and over the final weekend I was lucky enough to catch not one but two final comics-related talks, both of them double headers, with Rodge Glass, author of Dougie’s War, talking with Brit comics godfather Pat Mills about the portrayal of conflict in comics and the aftermath of various effects on the men and women who have to engage in real warfare. This was followed later on Sunday evening with two of Jonathan Cape’s latest alumni, Nick Hayes and William Goldsmith discussing their recently published works.

My Sunday at a soggy but still happily buzzing Book Festival started with the Rodge Glass and Pat Mills event, where the focus was on the depiction not only of warfare in comics but the effects the events and stresses of combat have on real life soldiers, especially after the conflict is over and they find themselves on their own, away from the support network of the comrades in their unit and the infrastructure of the armed forces and back to ‘normal’ on civvy street. Rodge wrote the recent Dougie’s War, the title itself a nod to the influence of Pat’s earlier work (and one of the great classics of British comics) Charley’s War. Where Charley’s War shoved us into the brutality of the mud and blood of trench warfare in the First World War Dougie’s War deals with a contemporary conflict as our protagonist has to deal with his return to everyday life back home after fighting in the dust of Afghanistan, with an admirable focus on having to cope (or failing to cope) with the emotional and mental after-effects from the intense strain of combat situations, seeing and being involved in violence and death.

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And as we know men in general are rather poor at seeking medical help at the best of times, with a proud former soldier, meant to be self reliant and tought, it can be even harder to ask for that help (if it is available) but if they don’t the effects can spiral – it’s a very sad thought that quite a number of veterans in the UK, USA and elsewhere will end up with a broken family, homeless or with a criminal record all from the effects of what they called Shell Shock in the war Pat and Joe Colquhoun so clearly documented and what by the time of Rodge’s book would be known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, soliders who have performed often heroic acts at great peril, unable to reconcile themselves back to normal life afterwards. The pictures on the AV display flicked between the earlier and later comics works and some documentary photographs, from the bizarre electrical and optical devices scientists cobbled together to try and treat Shell Shock in the Great War to modern psychologists who mean the best but usually can’t totally relate to the soldiers they try to help because, simply, they weren’t there… Both Charley’s War and Dougie’s War both took pains not to varnish the truth or to make warfare look glamorous and both have been well received by actual veterans as well as readers and critics.

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In the evening I was at the Jonathan Cape double-header with William Goldsmith and Nick Hayes, both of whom had some very interesting debut works out from Cape this spring, William with the visually unique and fascinating Vignettes of Ystov (there’s also a sample of his style to be found in the Karrie Fransman-inspired Imaginary Cities anthology from the London Print Studio) and Nick with the massive Rime of the Modern Mariner (you can read a Director’s Commentary with Nick talking us though Mariner here on the blog).

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William’s Vignettes of Ystov is a series of interlinked short stories, each only two pages, set in a fictional city with a central/Eastern European feel to it, each story standing on its own but also, as you progress through the work, building connections, weaving up a tapestry until, like the acclaimed Raymond Carver in Short Cuts, the stories of various seemingly unconnected individuals in a big city come together to show the connections we all, often unknowingly, share in a large urban environment, all with a very distinctive, loose art style (William said he experimented with different styles at art school but the final, loose art came to him when he realised he only had a few weeks to his project deadline!) that is, visually, one of the more unusual and unique (not to mention interesting) looking comics works in the UK this year, with the mutliple short stories set in the same city allowing us to take in a large cast of quirky, eccentric and sometimes wonderfully absurd characters (which may be why he said the short story form appealed to him so much, despite the fact that it demands a real economy of storytelling on the part of the creator). I’m happy to report that he is planning further Vignettes in the future.

Nick explained some of how he approached Rime of the Modern Mariner, which, inspired by Colerdige’s original verse, uses clever rhymes with the comics frames to deliver a contemporary take on the classic poem which takes a much more environmental bent. In fact Nick explained that he was originally inspired by reading about some of the horrific messes humans have made of our planet, such as the North Pacific Gyre, a vortex where many worldwide ocean currents converge, which also means it has become a focal point for the garbage we’ve dumped into our seas, mostly especially plastic that refuses to biodegrade but does, as Nick explained, photo degrade, slowly shrinking until small particles of it float in this large mass of plastic and are consumed by marine creatures… and then later in the food chain by those who consume those marine creatures, including humans. It isn’t all doom and gloom, thankfully – Nick takes his repentant mariner on a voyage both literally and metaphorically, which eventually opens his eyes and mind and soul to the natural world, and showcases some fabulous imagery, not least a beautiful depiction of a blue whale. Published in a format similar to a hardback prose novel it is a huge but very satisfying work.

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The event went very well, I’m pleased to say and there was, despite it being late in the evening and rather cool and wet (ah, the joys of the late Scottish summer! But rain is no stranger to Book Fest veterans and doesn’t stop us!) and both writers/artists being fairly new to the scene, with a good line of readers eager to get their books signed (I had to kick myself for leaving home with my books, carefully left on the table near the door so I would remember them, left behind… bugger…) and those readers all having a good chat with the Cape boys. Great night and both books much commended for your reading delight.

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And so ends another year of the world’s biggest book bash, just under 800 authors have graced the graceful Georgian environs of Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square and thousands of book lovers, with folks from the comics community playing their part in the diverse make up of the festival, from talks to comics workshops (in fact I bumped into Metaphrog’s Sandra and John during the Pat Mills signing as they were on their way to run a comics workshop for kids, still obviously delighted at their earlier chairing of a masterclass event with Shaun Tan at the Festival). Again it is great to see such a major literary event embracing the medium so happily, backed up with a good display of graphic novels in the on-site bookstore as well. Many thanks to the organisers and especially to the lovely folks in the press office for sneaking me into the events. You can read reports with photos from the Grant Morrison and the Neil Gaiman talks at the Book Fest earlier on the blog.

Grant Morrison at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

(Grant Morrison in conversation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the weekend, all pics from my Flickr)

This weekend I enjoyed a late evening literary bash at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as Scots superstar comics scribe Grant Morrison took the stage in front of a packed audience, which, I’m delighted to note, had a pretty good gender mix (so much for the oft-repeated but simpyl wrong mantra that comics are only for boys…). In fact later on when I was getting my own copy of his new Supergods book (part history of superheroes, part autobiography, very interesting – out now from our friends at Jonathan Cape) I mentioned to Grant how well his recent signing at our Glasgow store (a location he knows well) had gone (he spent over three hours happily signing for everyone who patiently lined up round the block to see him) and he commented that there too and at other events to promote the new work he’s been really pleased to note how large a proportion of the audience are female.

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It was, as you’d probably expect from one of the more consistently inventive writers in the medium, a pretty interesting talk, with Grant elaborating on some of the themes in Supergods, such as taking the superhero figures that have been the industry mainstay for eight decades as ‘real’. By this he didn’t mean real as in actual superbeings walking (or leaping tall buildings) among us, but that the effect and inspiration such characters can have on readers, that is real. And as Grant continued he brought together one of the arguments he’s proposed before and in the book, that with the convergence of humans with their constantly progressing technology it may only a matter of time until ordinary people in future generations will have ‘superpowers’ and abilities beyond those natural evolution gave us, with a look at one of the possible causes of recent unrest we’ve witnessed in UK cities, pointing out that some youth don’t care about society because they feel no connection to it, abandoned by it and with no future – what of a future where those kids grow up to have these new scientifically enhanced powers? Surely, he argued, the heroes we’ve grown up with, Superman, Batman and the rest, offer up a decent role model of how to behave responsibly with powers and abilities. Perhaps one day when superhuman abilities are commonplace that generation will look for role models and guidance on how to deal with their enhanced abilities and they could do worse than look back to our superheroes.

(cover to Supergods: Our World in the Age of Superheroes by Grant Morrison, published Jonathan Cape)

With DC’s imminent reboot of their universe with fity two new issue ones he was asked about reworking classic characters and why it seemed that Superman seems to be remade fairly frequently while Batman, for all the ups and downs creators have put him through (including Grant himself, of course) still tends to retain his backstory more. Grant put this down to the fact that Superman seems to require more re-imagining than Batman and as a character seemed more open to it as well, while Batman’s more complicated back-story and universe simply serves the character so well that although every generation makes changes, it doesn’t need radical overhauling, it works too well. He was also asked about Wonder Woman; in the book he discusses how the earliest strips of our Amazonian were rife with S&M elements, many of which reflected her creator Marston’s own sexual interests (having had a look at a memo Marston wrote, usually locked in a secure DC vault, Grant’s opinion was that Martson was certainly a bit bizarre on some of his sexual preferences and kinks). And yet it seemed these bondage and sexual elements were clearly an important part of her make-up, he said, noting how quickly Wonder Woman faltered after Marston’s passing, how that took something important out of the equation that makes her work. Asked about how he intended to approach this classic but often very hard to write for character, Grant couldn’t elaborate too much for the obvious reason that it is a work in progress. He did tell the audience that he was fairly confident he had found a way to incorporate those original sexual elements back into the world of Wonder Woman but without being sleazy or exploitative – not an easy trick to pull off, he acknowledged with a smile, but he feels he has a handle on how to approach her and hopefully 2012 will let us all read that result for ourselves.

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It was a great event, taking in iconic characters that have lasted decades (as Grant said, you can’t kill the superheroes, even in the wake of Watchmen in the ‘Dark Ages’ of comics of troubled, screwed up characters, when a lot of folks thought that was game over for the traditional hero, they came back. And they always will, the superhero was designed to take on all assaults and problems, after all), treating the comics universes as real, almost like a virtual universe but made of paper (a theme he elaborates on in Supergods), magic and meta fiction, the influence of Hollywood’s interest in comics (perhaps making too many writers try to show that they can write a Hollywood style script for their comic with one eye to being optioned and maybe being asked to become a screenwriter; part of his response has been to try and devolve more power to the artists again on layouts and design of pages, rather than the writer dictating too much on that, telling his artists to to go back to enjoying using those devices that only comics can do rather than trying to be ‘cinematic’ – play with the perspectives and slicing up of time that only a comic strip can do convincingly), gender and just why we still feel compelled to tell and read tales of superheroes. The talk was pretty good natured throughout, with plenty of humour and the queue for the signing afterwards stretched out the tent and down the walkway; it took me almost an hour to get my own books signed and when I left the end of the line still hadn’t even made it into the signing tent! Undaunted Grant was happily signing away and chatting to each and every reader. Hugely enjoyable talk from one of our best writers. Thanks to the press crew at the Book Fest for being kind enough to sneak me into the talk.

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Neil Gaiman at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

(Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger just before their event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival yesterday afternoon, all pics from my Flickr)

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of seeing two excellent authors of both prose and comics works in conversation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as Neil Gaiman chatted to Audrey Niffenegger. It was, as Neil commented, a kind of continuing chat between the pair which has been going on and off for several years on different continents at different book events and here they were chatting to one another again “while we just had to watch and listen”. Of course we were quite happy to watch and listen…

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The hour-long talk to a packed audience (the event sold out within a few hours of the EIBF box office going live this summer) covered a number of writing topics, from folklore and myth to children’s books, novels, comics and screenwriting, starting off with a look at myth and fairy tale – Audrey asked Neil what he thought the difference was between them and after thinking about it he offered the thought that perhaps myths decay into fairy tales and folklore over the centuries, often starting out as sacred mysteries people were initiated into, which over time degraded into mythology, which slowly degraded into fairy tales, but that the same stories and archetypes remained and repeated (and given his quite excellent use of folklore over the years I’d guess Neil is the perfect writer to ask on that score).

Of course comics came up and it was nice to note Neil yet again commenting on the debt he owes to his friend Alan Moore for his help and advice on writing for the comics medium, and in a (somewhat long and rambling) question from an audience member later he was asked if he found being able to use parts of the DC Universe in the Sandman (especially early tales) a help in setting up that world. He explained that while he could have essentially created a pretty similar set up with only original characters he was still quite happy at getting to play with some of DC’s established characters in his own way, with a special fondness for Cain and Abel.

Look: it’s the new life-sized Neil Gaiman action figure – fully poseable!!! –

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On the books front one of the topics that pricked up my ears was Neil talking about a sequel to the brilliant American Gods novel, with the possibility of a third book much further down the line. Naturally the subject of screenwriting came up and especially being asked to pen an episode of Doctor Who. I knew Neil was thrilled to write for the show – like many of us in the UK he grew up with the original show, so having the chance to be a part of the cracking revived version today had to be pretty exciting. He told us all how it began with Steven Moffat dropping him a line to say thanks for the kind things he had said many times on his popular blog about the new Doctor Who and that next time he was in London he’d buy him a drink. As it happened he was in town the next week, he and Moffat meet up for dinner and drinks; at this point Neil had heard Russell T was due to leave the show and Moffat would be taking over, but it was still, as he put it, ‘a state secret’ (a real state secret, not like MOD secrets to be left on a laptop on the train), so they found themselves talking ‘hypothetically’ about the possibility of pitching ideas for the show, before Moffat came out and said you obviously know and I know you know I’m taking over when RTD leaves, so do you want to write for Who?

Well obviously he did and we loved the result. The story was originally going to be called Bigger On the Inside, as Neil had originally thought of an idea which involved a Nasty invading the normally safe environs of the TARDIS and pursuing the Doctor through the ship, but then he thought as the Doctor knows the TARDIS so well that wouldn’t be much of a fight, so then the idea of an entity possessing the TARDIS came to him, which suggested he had to move the TARDIS’ persona somewhere else, and the idea of putting the TARDIS mind into a human body came along. He tells Moffat who delightedly cries “TARDIS woman!” A little later, with the episode put back to the next season due to budget constraints (which worked to their advantage, he added – they got their Blue Peter competition running for kids to design the junkyard TARDIS console and he also now had Rory to add into the mix which he enjoyed), Moffat tells him he prefers another title – The Doctor’s Wife. Nice, but, Neil points out to him, that would be a good title for at least half a dozen other possible Who stories that they would do themselves out of. Ah, but Moffat points out to the other ideas, good thought they might be none would ever be really the Doctor’s ‘wife’ in the way the TARDIS is, she’s everything to him and always will be; companions come and go but the Doctor and the TARDIS are together forever, “a boy and his box exploring the universe” as Neil put it. He also went on to say that working with the Who team was one of the most pleasing experiences in collaboration he’d ever had and it was clear he was still on a roll from the enjoyment of being involved with the show and how well it all turned out, how much love and imagination the Who team add in alongside that of the writer to make that show what we love.

As ever there was a signing session afterwards and with Neil that of course means a very, very long line, inside the signing tent, snaking outside and out into the square – I even spotted a number of comics folks who had lugged along the not inconsiderable bulk of their Sandman and Death Absolute Editions to be signed. Brilliant event – thanks again to the lovely folks of the Edinburgh Book Fest for letting me attend and to Neil for kindly letting me stooge around the press tent to snap a couple of pics of him and Audrey before the show began.

Bryan Talbot in Edinburgh

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On Saturday I was lucky enough to spend some time with one of Britain’s finest comics creators, Bryan Talbot, when he paid a return visit to the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet. Seemed to go well with readers coming in and of course I had to get my copies of the first two Grandville graphic novels signed for my own collection. Time for a quick drink and natter afterwards before Bryan headed through to Glasgow for a second signing session.

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(Bryan signing books for one of my chums from the Edinburgh SF Book Group)

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Winter poem

A friend at LittleBrown publishers asked to use one of my photographs to go on a newsletter from Scots author Alexander McCall Smith, to accompany the Winter Poem:

That there should be winter, that this hard light
Should fall over a December Scotland,
Should make the sea gray, like steel, and the land itself
A rock rising from metalled water;
That there should be empty skies,
Free of protecting cloud, too cold
Even for that; that there should be
A vapour trail of some great jet heading west
To the colder shores of Greenland, Labrador,
Northern neighbours to us, distant cousins
In our marginality and our pursuit of fish;
That all this should be in a land that in summer
Is so soft and wet with drifting veils of rain
And filled with deer and clouds of midges
And the rich fecundity of ploughed fields
That will yield gold barley and whisky
Beyond the barley –

Scotland is a country of the north,
Everything here cries north; north the natural
Orientation of all our signs, our habits;
I sometimes wish, I confess, for a life spent
In the scent of wild thyme and olive trees,
For evenings when one might stroll
Slowly about a square and watch pigeons
Launch themselves into Italian air
From some tower dreamed up
By some High Renaissance imagination;
That, though, is not where we are from
Or where we are destined to be;
Our place is north, our natural gravity
That of a land that is an afterthought
To Europe, a land that comes late
To so many of the parties it’s been invited to,
But which we love with all our heart,
With all our heart.

Winter doesn’t make us better, then, or worse,
But enables us to find ourselves again,
Because it forces us to be quiet, obliges us
To listen to the coursing of our own blood;
Winter reminds us that warmth
Is not something we find naturally,
Some gift of munificent nature, but must be made;
That we should make in Scotland
A small place of warmth, a small country
Of kindness to others, of brotherhood,
Is what our poets have been striving to say
Since they first gave voice to song.
That we might find this, in winter,
In the ice and the cold is a local miracle,
Is a particular joy.

Iron road to the Highlands 20

The photo, by the way, was shot by me just under 3 years ago on my way to Inverness as the train moved up through the Cairngorms national park, past snow covered mountains, white-dusted trees and the occassional deer walking by the edge of the railway line. I shot some photos through the window glass, not sure if they would work or not. This particular on was taken as the train crossed a bridge and as I did a flock of birds soared into the frame for good measure. I got lucky and the shot worked, despite shooting through a window.