The Edinburgh International Book Festival

Friday, 21 August 2015

It's my favourite time of year – the Edinburgh International Book Festival! For three weeks every August, Charlotte Square becomes a nucleus for all things literary: a hub for fans, publishers, literary agents, published authors and aspiring writers.


On sunny days the square is filled with people lazing on the grass or lounging in deck chairs, perusing their new purchases from the bookshop tent and (in my case) enjoying a glass of wine!


As a freelance editor I have been fortunate to work on some amazing titles by a variety of publishers and it's so exciting to see the finished books on the shelves during the festival.


I always go in for a wee look at them all whenever I'm on my way to an event. 

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On Wednesday afternoon I attended a talk from the inspirational Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, a group that campaigns for civil liberties and human rights in the UK. It was in the main theatre and not a seat was empty.

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Chakrabarti joined Liberty as director on 10 September 2001, one day before the al-Qaeda attack on the USA. On Wednesday she spoke about the intensity of that time, and how she questioned her decision to leave a secure job with the Home Office to defend civil liberties in what quickly became a tumultuous and paranoid environment. In times of war our civil liberties may be restricted, but, in her own words, ‘when fear stalks the land is when we most need these values’ and she quickly realised that she was exactly where she needed to be.

Chakrabarti examined the terminology of the ‘War on Terror’, musing on the sense of declaring war on an abstract noun. She discussed the trade-off between leaders and the population during World War Two, where citizens gave up certain liberties and freedoms as a wartime sacrifice, knowing that these would be reinstated when the war eventually ended, and compared this to the liberties we are now sacrificing in the name of a vague and indefinite war on terror.

Chakrabarti referenced the oft-touted phrase, ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ and extrapolated this into a disturbing example. We now have the technology to install surveillance cameras in every private home. Should such a move be implemented? What if the footage were only to be reviewed in instances where a crime had occurred? The innocent would have nothing to fear. Of course most of us feel incredibly uncomfortable with such an idea, so why do we allow it to happen with, for example, the data collected on our smartphones? Chakrabarti reminded the audience that the convenience of a smartphone comes at a price.

Regarding the the Conservatives’ proposal to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act (which incorporates the UK in the European Convention on Human Rights) for a Bill of British Rights, Chakrabarti believes would cause the entire international convention of human rights to ‘fall like a house of cards’. More information can be found on the Liberty website.

At the end of the hour she reminded us that a life without privacy is a life without intimacy, dignity or trust between human beings. We have to remember kindness and humanity as what binds us together as a population.

On Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of an hour in the company of the incredible Kate Tempest. She performed a selection of poetry from her new collection, Hold Your Own, in a ceaseless hour-long set, her work a musical combination of spoken word, poetry and rap. Hold Your Own is a collection of poetry based on the mythical figure of Tiresias – a man who is turned into a woman by Hera following an argument with Zeus, and is then blinded but given the power of second sight. Tempest’s collection is both a retelling of myth and an exploration of modern life, and her delivery was powerful and awe-inspiring.

Here she is performing her poem 'Hold Your Own' at Glastonbury Festival 2015:

On Thursday evening I went to a ninety-minute talk titled ‘The Crisis in Ukraine: Heralding a New Cold Front?’ I felt that the talk got off to a bit of a slow start, with the two speakers, Peter Pomerantsev and Luke March, being given free rein to talk for about twenty minutes each. I would have preferred some focused questions from the chair to guide the conversation, but it was nonetheless interesting. This was followed by some general discussion between the two speakers before opening up the floor for audience questions.

Pomerantsev talked about his first-hand experiences in Ukraine, and the confusing state of life lived amongst intense propaganda and misinformation. This is an undeclared war, a battle of cyber attacks, media misinformation and psychological warfare. And, as Chakrabarti discussed on Wednesday, it is hard to get a grip on such a vague and formless battle.

I also learned about the breakaway state of Transnistria, located on the eastern border of Moldova with Ukraine. It delated independence in 1990 but is not recognised by any United Nations state.

And did you know that there exists a Russian version of Little Britain, which includes a skit on the only traffic cop in Russia who doesn’t accept bribes!

That's all for this (very long) post. I'll leave you with this photo of Tattoo fireworks lighting up the book festival, taken on Wednesday night.


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