City built on books

Reading today that the vast knowledge the great consulting detective Mister Sherlock Holmes displayed was due largely to his Edinburgh author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attending classes at the Royal Botanic Gardens in his teens. One hundred and forty year old records show a young Conan Doyle’s signature for attending his classes, where he would have learned about a number of interesting plants, including the deadly Belladonna, which would prove very useful several years later when he began writing the Sherlock Holmes tales, along with the already very well-known inspiration for Holmes himself which Doyle had in the shape of the remarkable Edinburgh lecturer Doctor Joseph Bell.

Sherlock Holmes 02

This is one of the things I most love about living here in Edinburgh – not just the very long, rich history, not just the culture (like having the largest arts festival in the world), the amazing architecture, perched in turn on top of even more astonishing geology (giving Edinburgh a skyline like no other and wonderful walking opportunities along streets which curve down and up, and around), it’s the books: this is a city built on literature as much as its geology. Books are everywhere here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious form of bookstores or the Edinburgh International Book Festival (again largest in the world), it’s the way so many corners of this old city are deeply tied to authors and writing, from Robert Burns, Hume and Scott, Stevenson and Doyle to publishers like Chambers with their great reference works.

Robert Burns on the Mile

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson 2

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Today you can still see Robert Louis Stevenson or Conan Doyle’s childhood homes, drink in pubs they visited… And it goes on, from the mid 20th century “poet’s pub” in Milnes, where rhymers and bards got together (the Portrait Gallery here has the wonderful painting of them all together in the pub, for where else should a Scots bard be?) to the cafes where a struggling single mother was writing what would become the Harry Potter novels which so galvanised the reading habits of millions of children (and adults!) or a drink in the Oxford Bar where Ian Rankin’s bestselling Inspector Rebus enjoys a jar or three, and indeed it is not unknown to bump into contemporary Edinburgh authors when out patronising one of our city’s many fine drinking establishments, enjoying a small refreshment. It’s a book-lover’s city.

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

2015 in pictures

Having a week look back through my Flickr stream and decided to pick out some of my favourites from the photographs I shot during 2015. No theme here (other than being roughly chronological from January through to December), not the ones which got the most views on Flickr or anything like that, or even technically the best shots, just the ones I was most pleased with capturing through my lens last year.

This old, crumbling cemetery is St Machan’s, complete with ruined church, nestling at the foot of the Campsie Hills by Campsie Glen, and it looked especially atmospheric in the snow and that blue light quality we get on some winter’s days:

St Machan's kirkyard, winter 04

Out for a walk after dark back in January with the tripod, taking some night shots of the city – for some reason while I shot buildings and other scenes it was this simple shot of an enclosed lane which runs along the side of the Assembly Rooms, something about the angle, the lights and shadows, all screamed for a black and white shot:

well-lit lane 02

From the same winter photo walk, I’ve long meant to bag a pic of this shop, an antiques and pawnbrokers, I think, on a corner in the New Town on Queen Street, with these very distinctive eagle sculptures along the top, and as I was passing by with the tripod I thought now was the time…

Duncanson & Edwards at night

This was an improvised night shot on the walk home from work – no tripod since I was coming from work, so I set the timer for a long exposure and rested the camera on top of one of the small metal bollards along the Union Canal used for tying up barges, which seemed to make it steady enough for a long exposure – how cosy do these houseboats look?

floating homes

An afternoon in the local pub, this particular one doesn’t just allow dogs in, they don’t mind them being on the seats (as long as humans don’t need the space), and as we drank my chum’s greyhounds made themselves very comfortable, so I used the timer again and sat the camera on the seat next to them to get this low perspective shot in very low light:

sleeping pub pooches 03

March – should be springtime, but on the way to work as I crossed North Bridge (which strides over the valley the railway station lies in, connecting Old Town and New Town) early on a freezing morning, I saw this view of a snow-dusted Edinburgh Castle and paused to get a quick photo before heading on to work. These are the sorts of views I can get just going to and from work, another reason I love living in Edinburgh…

springtime in Scotland 02

I’ve taken many photos along the East Lothian coast near North Berwick as my chum often drives down there with his dogs for a good walk and I sometimes tag along. No matter how many times I’ve taken the mighty Bass Rock off the coast it’s always tempting to take another as the light and seasons change how it looks. Here though the tide was in, save for a small, flat spit of sand projecting out, and when I took the shot from this perspective it made it look almost as if the people looking towards it were walking on the water:

walking on water

In May dad and I were driving past Chryston and I had noticed a now closed petrol station – not unusual these days, so many have closed down, unable to compete with the ones run by the giant supermarket chains next to their stores. But what was unusual was that everything was still in place – normally the pumps and other equipment are taken away, leaving just the weed-strewn concrete apron behind, but here building and pumps, rusting, some burst open, all still in place, and on a bright day with good light, so we pulled over so I could shoot some images of this abandoned, rusting derelict:

this petrol station is no more, it has ceased to be 07

On the same day dad and I had driven out to Hogganfield Loch, a loch in a large park in Glasgow, which we used to go to a lot when I was a kid (it was very popular for boating and had nearby golf and putting greens), first time in years I had been there. No boating anymore there, but huge amounts of birds:

Hogganfield Loch 09

Out for a walk on a pretty cold spring afternoon in May, taking some pics, and as I passed Peter’s Yard, the Swedish bakery and cafe on Middle Meadow Walk, I paused to take a few “people watching” shots, and caught this rather nice moment between two friends sitting on the outside of the cafe:

sharing coffee outdoor 02

June arrived, Film Festival time for me, and this year the festival had asked me to write up some pieces for their site as they were showing Future Shock, a documentary about 2000 AD, and the comic’s founder and major UK writer Pat Mills was up for the screening to do a Q&A afterwards. I’ve met Pat a few times and he was kind enough to do a signing in our store before the film festival showing, where I snapped this pic:

Pat Mills signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 03

Late June and the Canal Festival and annual raft race came along just up the road from my flat. I took a bunch of shots but this was one of my favourite ones, as a band played on the old Leamington Lift Bridge – I think it was the smiles I captured in this shot that made me like it so much, they were clearly enjoying themselves:

music at the Edinburgh Canal Festival 05

Walking along the Union Canal near my flat during the early summer, always swans and ducks around on there, but this day an entire family out, the adult swans and these adorably fluffy-looking wee cygnets:

The Swan Family 02

Tom Gilzean is now in his nineties – despite this, this veteran is regularly seen on Princes Street rattling his cans to collect for charities, he’s raised more than £100k doing this. I’ve always wanted to get a shot of him at “his post”, so to speak, but never managed one, until I was on the way to work, the bus stopped at the lights right next to where he was just setting himself up, so I grabbed the camera from my bag and got this very quick shot through the window from the top deck of the bus before the lights changed and we moved off. Another reason why I always have the camera in my bag – never know who or what may present itself to you for a good pic as you go round town…

Tom Gilzean, charity fundraiser extraordinaire

Festival time and Edinburgh is bursting at the seams with tourists, performers and luvvies, and as usual I try to get as many shots as I can of the performers, who all congregate on the Royal Mile near the Cathedral, in a section of road given over to them during August, some doing excerpts from their shows on small open-air stages, others in costumes, walking up and down the Mile with posters and flyers to drum up interest (with hundreds of shows at the biggest arts fest in the world you need to fight for an audience). I always take a huge amount of shots on this stretch during August, but this performer from the Paperplay puppet theatre was one of my favourites, just as I was taking pics of her and some of her colleagues she turned just as I zoomed in a bit on her and gave me this smile just as I clicked. Sometimes the photo gods smile on your timing…

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 063

Another Fringe performer on the Royal Mile last summer, on one of the small stages on the street, so she was standing a bit higher than me, light was good and I managed to zoom in and get this portrait shot that I was quite pleased with:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 081

More from the Fringe: sci-fi musical spoof Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens has become a regular visitor to the Festival, and I’ve snapped some of them in previous years, but this time they were doing a number from the show on one of the small stages and I caught this moment with one of the actors singing away:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 089

Still on the Royal Mile during Fringe time (well, I said I take a lot of pics in August!) – I still don’t know if this was an actual couple enjoying a sudden romantic moment surrounded by the bustle of Festival-time Edinburgh, or if they were from a show and promoting it (if they were they didn’t have any obvious flyers or promo material with them). I was actually shooting some other performers, looked around, saw them behind me, whipped up the camera thinking dammit, they will have finished before I can get them in frame, zoom in and focus, but no, this clinch went on and on and it gave me the few extra seconds I needed to zoom in and capture this moment. I think this was going to be my favourite pic I took this year, but one I took a couple of months later just beat it (see further down):

ae fond kiss

August also means the Edinburgh International Book Festival and of course I was there, enjoying a number of events as well as chairing a couple of the talks as well. And catching up with fellow book people, such as the fab Sarah McIntyre. This was “backstage” by the Author’s Yurt, Sarah was getting ready for her own event and had just changed into her costume, so I grabbed some photos, including this one with her own badge for her Dinosaur Police:

edinburgh book fest 2015 - Sarah McIntyre 03

Back on the Royal Mile and a pair of very young but very talented ladies who were playing classical music in the street, lovely strong light and after shooting a couple of general pics of them with their instruments I thought I would try to zoom in a bit as I wanted to capture their expressions as they played. It’s not perfect, trying to balance strong sunlight on one side with shadow on the other, and she moved just after I had zoomed in a bit more to get that close up, so it isn’t perfectly framed, but hey, shooting live on the street you grab what pics you get and while technically not a great photo frankly I loved it because it caught her expression of delight as she played her violin in front of a Fringe crowd, and I’ll take capturing a moment over being technically proficient any day of the week:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 0145

This was a pure chance shot – walking along George IV Bridge on a bright summer day, people sitting outside the bars and cafes having a drink and eating, I saw this couple having an animated discussion at their pavement table, sunlight right on them. I was on the opposite side of the street, in the shadow side, aimed camera and zoomed in across the street and had to try and grab a shot before traffic blocked the view, got this little moment:

animated conversation

September and a very warm, bright day – better than much of the summer had been, in fact, and so I went for a photo walk, ending up at one point on a busy Calton Hill, and the autumn light was so nice on the National Monument, and all the young tourists sitting on it in the sun, that I thought I’d try a monochrome shot:

Calton Hill, bright autumn day 03

A couple of comicker chums, Neil Slorance and Colin Bell came to do a signing, I was snapping away when they did this pose just as I clicked another shot:

Neil Slorance & Colin Bell signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 02

Late autumn, walking home from work on evening, that wonderful golden light we get on clear autumn days, and the long, long shadows because the sun is so much lower in the sky. I love the light quality here in autumn, it’s warm and golden, like honey on hot toast. This was the last half hour or so of daylight, sun sinking in the west, the east and north sides of the buildings sinking into deep shadows while the west-facing flanks of these tall, old stone buildings radiated that glowing copper light:

autumn evening in Edinburgh 03

Late autumn again, walking through the Meadows, unseasonably warm and again beautiful clear, autumn light, when I happened to just pass this chap making giant soap bubbles, so naturally I stopped for a pic. I love just coming across something like this, brightens the everyday world up a bit…

I'm forever blowing bubbles 03

Dad and I had a great day out visiting the Kelpies, the gigantic sculptures of these creatures from Scottish folklore, rearing up by the Forth & Clyde Canal near Stirling, quite wonderful to see. Would love to get back some time to do some shots of them by night…

Myth made steel 02

Same day out with dad, we had a quick visit to The Pineapple – I think you can see how this 1760s structure for the earls of Dunmore, near the Forth, got its name. It used to contain a hothouse for exotic plants being brought back by the many expeditions round the world at the time, the pineapple being an example of that (common to us now but then a sign of status, wealth and having travelled to far climes), while it looks down into a walled garden, which creates a micro climate allowing plants which would not normally survive the Scottish weather to flourish. The Pineapple roof is hand-carved and very clever – the projecting fronds also channel the water from it so it doesn’t collect and then damage the sculpture in winter by freezing. A wee hidden gem of a place:

The Pineapple 01

Into late October and a scene I have taken numerous times because I often walk home from work this way, straight up the famous Royal Mile. And by the end of October it is just becoming dark as I leave work – in fact the sun has actually set at this point, the streetlights are one, but there is a magical, extended twilight in autumn. I set the timer for a long exposure and sat the camera on top of a traffic bollard to steady it, pointing westwards up the Mile towards the cathedral. I’ve taken this shot several times over the years, but dammit, it’s so wonderful standing there that I just take another one to share anyway… This scene was much darker to my eyes, but I had a long exposure here, so the camera drank in what little light there was to give this brighter image, capturing what photographers call “the blue hour”, that moment when the sun has set but the western horizon still glows blue on a long exposure, only lasts a short time, but it’s wonderful when it does:

Royal Mile, blue hour

Autumn also saw a great visit from the entire Canadian contingent of our clan, including some of the younger kids who we hadn’t seen yet. At one point my uncle and I took some of them to the playpark nearby to let them run around for a wee while, and I took a bunch of pics, this one of one of my cousin’s wee girls became my favourite and probably my fave pic I took all year, just because she was so adorable and after shooting a bunch of her playing I finally got a decent close up before she moved out of frame again:

cousins at play 011

Winter and out for a shorter photo walk with dad, visiting the vast Necropolis, the huge Victorian cemetery on a small hill by the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, an astonishing place, terraced mausoleums going up the steep hillside, many large and ornate memorials, and from the top some splendid views over the city. It is reached from this, the evocatively-named Bridge of Sighs (so called because of the sighs and weeping of mourners accompanying funeral processions across the bridge taking loved ones from the vibrant city of Glasgow into this large city of the dead). An amazing place to visit:

Necropolis 012

Properly into winter and the annual festive market and fair in Princes Street Gardens had just opened, so after work I went on the prowl with the camera to take a few night shots around the market, and I couldn’t resist taking a B&W shot of these metal and glass candle holders on one stall:

glowing white in the night 02

Meanwhile, literally just a few feet from one of the brightly-lit entrances to the festive market, and all the lights, and shops and food stalls and happy browsers, this chap on the street, a reminder that not everyone gets to share in it all:

not all are included in the festive spirit

And once last night shot from the festive market – my new camera had arrived and was supposedly better at low light so I was desperate to try it out, but the weather had been so relentlessly awful, howling gales and driving rain, that most nights weren’t very suitable for a quick photo stroll after work. So when it was actually dry one night I had to go and play with the new camera – still getting used to it (unlike most bridge cameras it has manual focus and zoom options), and several times I could have sworn I had it in focus only to find out when I put them on the computer at home that the pics weren’t right, but that just needs more time getting used to the new picture box. This one came out very clearly though, especially considering it was a handheld shot at night with people moving around. Be fun to see if I can get as much out of the new camera as I did the previous one…

festive market 015

Spring blossoms in December…

Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.

spring blossoms in December 01

These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…

Fireside seat

Winter in Scotland, and one of the finest and simplest pleasures, sitting not just in the pub, but getting the comfy, cushion-strewn sofa right by the old stove, cosy, comfortable, ah, perfect…

a session in Teuchters 02

Waiting on chum and his dogs to arrive (the hounds, of course, after several minutes of demanding attention from me settled down happily in front of the warm stove for the rest of the afternoon), and leafing through a fascinating book while sipping a very fine ale by the fire on a chill winter’s day. The simple pleasures….

a session in Teuchters 03

Festive fair

festive market 02

It’s that time of year when the festive market, ice rink and fair is set up in Princes Street Gardens, as well as more in nearby Saint Andrew Square, so I’ve been trying to take a few night-time photos of it all on the way home from work, some with the freshly arrived new camera, but mostly with older camera as weather has been too foul since new picture box arrived to take more than a few pics so far, rather frustratingly. The upper parts of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound by the National Gallery are where the market stalls and food and drink stalls are, while the lower part is where the kid’s funfair is:

Princes Street Gardens decked out for festive season

festive market 03

I always enjoy trying to get some pics of the festive market each year, especially after dark (not a long wait for that given it is dark by about four in the afternoon this time of year) and trying to capture images of people and the items being sold. Since this means night shots but not using the tripod (too busy in the market and too awkward) and also not using the flash (too disruptive) it’s tricky to get a decent shot quite often, and a lot of what I shoot will end up being binned as useless, but sometimes they come out not half bad, like this display of metal and glass candle holders (click for the larger images on my Flickr):

glowing white in the night 02

And I like trying to catch some “street” shots, candid moments of folks interacting with the stall holders and food vendors, again often find many pics simply don’t come out, too dark and they are moving, so I get blurred or shaky images, but again every now and then some of them work:

festive market 01

nocturnal snacking 01

With it being such a very long, dark night this time of year in Scotland, it’s quite a welcome sight to have so much light and life against the winter blackness. This lovely old double-decker Venetian Carousel is especially pretty:

Venetian Carousel

While this other carousel is actually an open air bar (complete with the hobby horses):

life is a carousel

Other parts of town, such as the huge Dome bar and restaurant on George Street, or Ryan’s Bar in the West End are always lit up rather brightly for the festive season:

The Dome at night

Ryans lit up for festive season

But not everyone gets to enjoy the food and drink and lights and open-air market – this homeless man was wrapped up against the cold and sitting on the pavement just a few feet from one of the entrances to “Edinburgh’s Christmas”:

not all are included in the festive spirit

I’m forever blowing bubbles….

I'm forever blowing bubbles 03

Walking through the Meadows a couple of weeks ago during a sudden burst of warm, bright autumn weather, came across this chap making giant soap bubbles – I love finding little surprises like this as I wander round Edinburgh, it’s one of the reasons I always have my camera stashed in my bag, you never know what you might see just walking home from work… If you look at the lower pics, over on the far right you can just make out a bubble exploding into soapy shards, it must have popped just a millisecond after I hit the shutter (click on the pics to see the larger viewing options on my Flickr) I'm forever blowing bubbles 01

Blue Hour

It’s dark well before I leave work at this time of year, but those short daylight hours and long, dark Scottish nights are not entirely bad news, because it means I get views like this “blue hour” shot looking up the Royal Mile (although I should add that western horizon was black to my eyes, the pale blue only came out with a long exposure):

Royal Mile, blue hour

An Edinburgh View…

It was the annual Doors Open Day at the weekend and as I usually do I went out exploring. Walked from the lower east end of the New Town back up through the Old Town and to Tollcross before going for a break, several hours of walking, exploring and of course taking photos as I went. I shot a gig of pics, still culling out the duff ones, but one set I processed quickly and uploaded to my Flickr, a set shot from a vantage point I didn’t even know existed. One of the places taking part in Doors Open was the old India Buildings, which used to be offices, including the civic registry office (so there was often a lot of confetti outside the doors). At the moment it is mostly empty, plans in hand to redevelop it into something cultural hopefully, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see inside (apart from a lovely central atrium). However once through a suite of empty, dilapidated rooms on the topmost floor there was a narrow spiral staircase in a corner, only wide enough (just) for one person), which lead up to a small attic room. And as I was thinking, is that it?

I noticed outside the open window a very, very small stone balcony, invisible from the streets way below, so narrow it was only wide enough for one person, so I clambered out the window and along it, and oh, what a hidden and wonderful surprise… Views across half the Old Town of Edinburgh… Including this view of Edinburgh Castle:

An Edinburgh View 01And down into the old Grassmarket area, which contains inns that were old even when Robert Burns came to stay in them, and beyond to the large bulk of the Edinburgh College of Art An Edinburgh View 04

And historic Greyfrairs church and kirkyard, witness to some pivotal moments in Scottish and British history

An Edinburgh View 05An Edinburgh View 010

Nearby across the roofs was the lantern top of the enormous Central Library – I’ve been to several literary events in that space (multiple level library room with all those windows so high up flooding it with natural light), but I’ve never seen it from this perspective before

An Edinburgh View 07Herriot’s School, looking very much like what you would expect to see if Hogwart’s had an Edinburgh branch An Edinburgh View 012

North over curving Victoria Street to the Royal Mile and the distinctively coloured historic structure of Riddles Court, which I’ve visited on previous Doors Open (amazing interiors)

An Edinburgh View 015And a view down into Victoria Street, which curves downwards from George IV Bridge down into the Grassmarket, and which is a splendid spot for observing the multiple levels Edinburgh’s Old Town architecture exists on as it straddles the steep slopes of the great volcanic ridge which runs down from Castle Rock to the palace. Normally I am looking up at this scene of multiple levels curving around and above me, but this time I got to look down into it all – quite wonderful experience to see it all from the perspective of the eagle’s eyrie An Edinburgh View 016

An Edinburgh View 018Ah, Edinburgh, you can still surprise me after all these years living here and give me such lovely presents to point my camera at (coincidentally I noticed I just passed the 12,000 images mark on my Flickr photo stream over the weekend). There’s history and geology and literature and more embedded into this hilly, volcanic terrain and towering, ancient structures which rise from the rocks (and often cut deeps into them too, to a world below…), such a remarkable city, no wonder I love living here. Edinburgh Old Town panorama vid

Cityscapes…

Last weekend Edinburgh basked in glorious, golden autumnal sunlight, so I walked up Calton Hill, not far from the east end of Princes Street and the spot the great Robert Louis Stevenson regarded as one of the finest for taking in picturesque views of the city. It was very busy with locals and tourists enjoying the fine autumn weather, and I decided to take some cityscapes looking out over Edinburgh. I’ve taken shots from there before, of course, many times, but Stevenson was right, it’s a wonderful spot for taking in panoramas of Edinburgh, and even though I have taken pics there before, the autumn light was so beautiful I couldn’t resist taking more. I find that happens often here, there are some elements of Edinburgh I have taken photos of many times over the years, same area or building, but different time of year, different light quality (and the light quality here is constantly changing, daily, not just the major shifts with the seasons). And anyway, can you blame me for taking more views of my city when it looks like this?

Palace of Holyrood, autumn dayThe Palace of Holyroodhouse – the palace is mostly a sixteenth century structure, home of the monarchs of Scotland and today the official residence of the UK monarch when in Scotland. It is, unsurprisingly, filled with Scots history, from Mary Queen of Scots to the mighty Robert the Bruce who held a parliament in the nearby (now ruined) abbey in the 1320s. cityscape, autumn day 04

I’ve always loved the oddness of this Playfair-designed building on Blenheim Place – it’s a typical neo-classical structure of the type common in the New Town (and this area was to be essentially an eastern extension to the New Town), but look how unusual it seems, pillars and steps leading down not to ground level but to the town houses below it…

cityscape, autumn day 07Looking northwest across the New Town, in the closer zoom (below) you can even see the tall palm houses of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the upper right background cityscape, autumn day 08

cityscape, autumn day 05Looking down eastwards, the fine buildings of London Road in the foreground, Leith and the docks then the mighty Firth of Forth in the background. In the closer zoom you can clearly see some of the industrial structures around the docks area, such as the tall flour mill, then the Forth beyond cityscape, autumn day 01

cityscape, autumn day 03

Looking south, towards the bottom of the Royal Mile in the Old Town, this is the Canongate Kirk, a 17th century church near the palace – the cemetery includes residents such as Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart and “heaven sent” Fergusson, the poet who died young and was claimed by Robert Burns as one of his main inspirations. In fact Robert Fergusson’s grave there unites three different literary Roberts – Fergusson himself, Robert Burns who campaigned for a better memorial for his brother poet, then much later Robert Louis Stevenson who planned to restore the then-crumbling memorial, “one Edinburgh lad to another”. He didn’t manage before his early death, but a literary society later did restore it and now a plaque on the grave notes all three writers. That’s Edinburgh for you, it’s built as much on writing and books and words as it is geology and history…

Canongate Kirk, autumn day

Comics fun at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Over the last week or so of August I was busy enjoying the Edinburgh International Book Festival, both as an audience member and as a participant again (I was asked to chair a couple of the Stripped events in the festival’s comics strand). There was more on than I could fit in, especially as I was busy preparing for the two talks I was involved in (reading away and trying to think up some different questions and knowing full well chances of asking an author something they’ve not been asked many times already are slim, but still we persevere…).

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - busy Charlotte Square Gardens 02As chance would have it most of the comics-related events I was at all fell within a few days of each other, starting with chairing and event with Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis. This was a very satisfying one for me to be asked to chair, I have to say, since I’ve followed Rob and Karrie’s work for some time. Both authors introduced their latest works, Karrie with the fascinating, multi-voiced approach of Death of the Artist, and Rob with the wonderful mixture of grounded realism and the fantastical in the Motherless Oven. Rob explained a bit more about the level of metaphor and symbolism in The Motherless Oven, and the way the comics medium allowed him to also make some of these metaphors visual, something prose couldn’t do (which isn’t to say there hasn’t been some very effective use of metaphor in prose and verse, of course, but comics does have that added extra trick of the visual). Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Karrie Fransman and Rob Davis

I thought Motherless Oven worked as it was, but also felt with the elaborate world-building for this alternative world that Rob had put into it, that it was open to other tales in this setting, and he confirmed this was the case, that he had actually planned more with SelfMadeHero, although with the fairly sensible proviso that they would see how the first book was received (fortunately it was very well received), so we should be seeing more, I’m glad to say. Karrie explained about the multi-author approach to Death of the Artist, as five former college chums now in their thirties try to recapture a bit of their energetic youth and art. I was already familiar with the concept – look away if you don’t want to know something major about this book! – that in fact all five authors here, telling the same story from different angles, in different styles, are all actually Karrie, the author essentially being her own choir as well as conductor. I didn’t know, however, that the “friends” in the photo-comic chapter are actually all actors, with a clever bit of Photoshop used to de-age them all for their supposed college-time snaps. It turned into a three-way conversation and we could easily have carried on longer.

The following day I was again on chairing duties, this time with a writer and artist I hadn’t met before, Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner. Joe is an illustrator, model-maker and sculptor, now adding comics artist to his quiver, and he talked about how the whole approach o the art came about slowly, some ideas started then junked to be begun once more as he learned effectively on the job – being an artist is one thing, but there’s a lot more to comics artwork than simply drawing the art. He and Evie had known each other for years and they worked on this project between their own main jobs – something many comickers can empathise with, I am sure – and in fact this process took place over several years, so they had time for writer and artist, both fairly new to the comics game, to refine what they wanted to do, the shape of the story and the art changing significantly over the period of their collaboration until it took the form it does in the finished book, Everything is Teeth. We discussed Joe’s different art styles – the cartoony style for young Evie and her family, a very realistic approach for the sharks themselves, and the fantasy/fairy tale aspects of the work as the sharks become not just real-world scary creatures but take on a symbolic role similar to that of monsters in fairy tales.

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Evie Wyld and Joe Sumner 03Evie also noted that in writing for comics as opposed to her prose work she really had to boil down the words – something she and many other writers will do in prose anyway, of course, starting with a rough work and then editing and pruning, but with comics requiring far less text there was much more work in distilling the choice of what words she would permit herself to use and where (I think they both did a remarkable job, the prose and art works beautifully for both story and a strong sense of place). It was an engrossing talk with two creators already with a solid creative track record in others fields (Joe’s aforementioned arts work and Evie who has a number of literary awards for her fascinating prose novels and made the influential Granta Best Young British Novelist list) as they collaborated on their first comics work project (and yes, they did enjoy it and they are considering another collaboration, quite possibly something tilted towards horror, preferably the creepy, chilling kind of horror, which I like the sound of). It was terrific to meet them and I look forward to them producing more comics work in the future – my recent review of Everything is Teeth is here, and I highly recommend this fascinating book (and also recommend picking up Evie’s two prose novels, which are very immersive).

Another day, another comics event, and another double-header, this time a shared theme of comics and politics as Teddy Jamieson talked with Martin Rowson – surely one of our best political cartoon satirists? -and Jean-Pierre Filiu, former French diplomat, historian and academic, who worked with acclaimed European creator Davide B (Epileptic) on the first two volumes of Best of Enemies (a third is planned), a look at American interaction and intervention in the Middle East, going right back to the 1800s and some history many will never have heard of (and you have to love the cleverness of a book which mixes the oldest written tale, appropriately from the Middle East, Gilgamesh, with actual words used by George Bush to justify his ill-conceived foreign adventures). Filiu also talked with much admiration about the work of Joe Sacco (an author Rowson also professed much respect for), and I was rather satisfied when he mentioned that he not only admires Sacco’s works, especially Footnotes in Gaza, that he uses it in his lectures and classes. He also spoke of the quality of research Sacco carried out – not only with multiple first person interviews but then trying to source documentation to validate what the eyewitness testimony claimed. Filiu’s insights into the region are remarkable and one of his simplest recommendations was also one of the most effective, that world leaders should know something of the history of the region before getting involved. He was ultimately optimistic that eventually – who knows when, though – the region would solve its problems, with or without the West (or these days perhaps the East). Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015 - Jean-Pierre Filiu & Martin Rowson 02

Rowson, making another return visit to the festival, was on exceptionally fine form, discussing his latest book, The Coalition, covering what he refers to as the worst government in his lifetime. Well, he was after he dealt with a phone call – his phone rang just as the event was starting, and turned out to be his daughter calling to remind him to switch off his phone before the event! His loathing for some of these politicians was evident in both his talk and in the artwork he was showing, as he explained how he visualised the previous administration, such as the luckless Nick Clegg (as Pinocchio, the boy who wanted to be a real politician, and being made of wood he could use him for all sorts of other visual metaphors – broken up as a wheel, sawdust, used as a broomhandle), or shiny-faced PM Cameron as Little Lord Fauntelroy.

The language turned bluer than a a conservative’s rosette on several occasions – those of you who have heard Rowson talk about his craft and the politicians he covers will not be surprised to hear he flayed them, and indeed he sees that as his task, to scour these public figures and hold them to account. His satire was also turned on those who report on the politicians, notably controversial BBC former head politics reporter Nick Robinson, who had by coincidence had been at the festival days earlier and used it and a newspaper article to attack politicians he felt had a go at him for perceived bias in his supposedly neutral coverage (a major talking point here in Scotland during the Independence Referendum) – interestingly Rowson had created a cartoon about this possible bias in his reporting work and showed us the cartoon (which got a fair cheer from the mostly Scottish audience, I noticed). And even more interestingly he noted that Robinson reacted to this cartoon by telling him he had been “unfair”. Unfair?! Rowson exclaimed. He’s had many subjects of his satire contact him to swear at him, threaten him or tell him he is talentless, but, he added, Robinson is the only one ever to say he had been “unfair” to him, and left us to make of that what we would.

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On the last day of the festival I finally got to meet one of my favourite of the current crop of new British comics talent, and indeed a creator who, several years ago, used to be our very own cartoonist in virtual residence here on the blog for some time, Darryl Cunningham (no, I’m not sure how it had gone this long without me actually meeting him in person either). Darryl had been invited to join Swedish writer Katrine Marçal (author of the deliciously titled Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner), Darryl discussing some of what he discovered in his huge amount of research for the brilliant Supercrash, a comics investigation into the causes and effects of the shattering 2008 global financial meltdown, while Katrine’s work took a more gendered view, economics with a female perspective, very interesting.

I was also delighted when asked about terms like graphic novelist or journalist, Darryl explained he is a cartoonist and he makes comics – albeit ones which regularly require quite massive amounts of research, and he discussed how he set around distilling this research into something he could work with for the book, and which would allow him to get over some frequently complex concepts to readers in an accessible and understandable manner. And given some of what was going on in the financial world, that was no mean feat, but he certainly managed it. It was a very well-attended event and, despite the complexity of some of the subjects both authors, as they had in their books, did a very good job of keeping the conversation on a tack the audience could follow and indeed engage in during the audience Q&A at the end. A very nice ending to my 2015 Book Festival outings, and naturally several more signed editions for my collection…

Fringe time

It’s August and it’s festival time here in Edinburgh, the city bursting at the seams as the Fringe and the International Festival kicked off over the weekend, the world’s largest arts festival now in full swing, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the world’s biggest literary fest, starts next weekend (and I will be chairing a couple of events there again this year). Part of the Royal Mile is given over to the Fringe performers – with hundreds of shows it’s no easy task to get audiences, they have to fight for bums on seats, so they strut their stuff on the Mile, many in costume, some doing excerpts from their shows on the mini stages to entice audiences. It’s madly busy – almost literally wall to wall with people across the breadth of that historic thoroughfare – but it’s also a happy hunting ground for me to snap some more photos, and I tend to take a ridiculous amount this month (and the views on my Flickr tend to go mad as well as folks all over look for pics of the festival).

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 01The first pic I shot at this year’s Fringe, actually a couple of days before it officially started, but it was on my way home from work and I thought some performers may be out already (some preview show were running by then), and my first shot was this group of Asian performers posting up their flyers for their show. Just as I lined it up the lovely lady turned around, saw me and gave me a nice big smile and wave, which was a nice way to start my festival season of photos. Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 02

Sushi Tap 2, with their rather eye-catching neon pink costumes, hard to miss, even once the Mile filled up with more people over the weekend!

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 03Korean troupe Maro have brought Leodo: the Paradise to the Fringe Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 06

“Living” statue performer as a cyclist

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Cabaret Farce

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 012Hibiki, a troupe of traditional Japanese drummers – wonderfully kinetic performance Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 013

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John Robertson’s The Dark Room

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 018Follow the Faun! Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 021

Charming performers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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Of course all the hurly-burly of the crowds and performers and the summer sunshine can be too much for some – this chap just settled right down on the busy steps of Saint Giles Cathedral and nodded off

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Waking Beauty, a look at fairy tales from a feminine perspective

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 030This musician was singing arias, which rang out beautifully clear even across the din of the busy festival street Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 034

With their black garb and white masks the performers from Baggage were just perfect for a monochrome shot

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 040Taiwanese dancers from Gaze of the Kavaluan Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 036

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 041Actors from Knowledge and the Girl, a reworking of Snow White for a more feminine and sexually mature audience Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 046

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Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 051Pirate gals from According to Arthur – they very kindly offered me a balloon too! Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 055

Singers from The Sweet Nothings, an all-women a cappella singing group

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More pics (and larger formats) over on my Flickr page under this tag for the Fringe pics

Kelpies in Edinburgh

Kelpies in Edinburgh 02The remarkable – and apparently huge – statues of the Kelpies have been a great success since they were erected by the canal near Falkirk, rapidly becoming a landmark as well as an artistic installation. For a short time the original maquettes – the scale versions the actual statues would be based on – are on show in the West End of Edinburgh’s New Town, quite striking even at this scale. I’m looking forward to eventually seeing the full scale versions at some point. As ever, click on the pics to view the large versions on my Flickr.Kelpies in Edinburgh 01