A Gay Girl’s Guide To Edinburgh Book Festival

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of trying to get my attention whilst I am attached to my Kindle, I’d like to talk today about something I’m truly passionate about – literature. I’m lucky to live in the UNESCO City of Literature – a city, as Alexander McCall Smith states, that  breaks the heart again and again and again. One of the best things about loving literature and living in Edinburgh is the annual Edinburgh Book Festival.

Stacey has already written a short introduction to Edinburgh Book Festival in our Guide to Edinburgh Festivals, so I’m going to refrain from writing about how bloody wonderful this festival is. Instead, I’m going to gush about some of my favourite writers – and how this year I’ve been able to see some of those writers at the book festival, with tickets courtesy of the wonderful Clicket. Clicket is an events website which illustrates the wealth of entertainment and activities which occur in Edinburgh on a weekly basis – if you’re planning on visiting this wonderful city, you should definitely check this site out.*

Anyway, the Edinburgh Book Festival is soon to kick off, and my excitement for the 2012 programme reached fever-pitch when the organisers released this year’s line up, and I saw a number of my favourite authors included; Ali Smith, Jackie Kay and Zoe Strachan. The reason that I love these authors so much? They all fall into the contemporary, female, queer, Scottish literature bubble which I obsess over.

My love for (modern) queer Scottish fiction was ignited by Ali Smith. Not only is Ali Smith an honorary graduate of the University of St Andrews (my Alma Mater and the town which still holds my heart!), she’s also the author of Like, my favourite novel ever, and is potentially my biggest inspiration when it comes to writing. I first read Like after taking it out of the English department section of the University of St Andrews’ library, during the exam period when I’d finished my exams but none of my friends had. The story of Amy and Ash, of England and Scotland, of two girls and a symbiotic relationship which changes both of their lives – well, it changed mine. If you like contemporary queer fiction, I cannot recommend it more highly. Similarly, I would recommend going to see Smith at the Book Festival – she’s a finalist in the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book Awards on 17th August, she talks about puns and wordplay in Seriously Playful on 19th August, and I’ll be seeing her discussing Style Versus Content on 18th August.

Before then, however, I’ll be seeing Zoe Strachan (along with Benjamin Wood) talking about her novel Ever Fallen In Love – a story of self discovery. I first came across Strachan after picking up her novel Negative Space, a story about grief – from a charity shop, and I fell in love with her storytelling. Strachan’s stories have always appealed to me because their descriptions of the remote parts of Scotland entirely embody how this country often makes me feel – bleak and lonely, and yet wonderfully beautiful. Her most recent novel – Ever Fallen In Love features a gay lead, and whilst Strachan also lives with her partner, fellow novelist Louise Welsh, in Glasgow. I’ll be enjoying seeing her talk about the novel on 13th August.

I’m also very excited about seeing wonderful poet and writer Jackie Kay, another queer Scottish wordsmith who’s work has moved me on numerous occasions. I have a couple of Kay’s books – including Trumpet, the story of Joss Moddy – a jazz singer who is revealed to be transgender after his death, and one of her books of poetry, but it’s a collection of short stories (Wish I Was Here) which has most enthralled me. Wish I Was Here is a collection of short stories all based around the theme of love; gay and straight, smooth and bumpy – and they’re in turn funny and sweet and painful and disturbing. I absolutely love this book; it’s the kind of thing I’d happily give to fellow reader friends for their birthdays. I’m going to see Jackie Kay read some stories from her newest book of short stories, Reality, Reality – and if they’re anywhere near as good as Wish I Was Here there’s definitely going to be a new book on my bookshelf.

I’ve already missed the event with Louise Welsh (her reading way on my birthday, when we were at Foodies Festival!) but her crime-thriller novels are also favourites of mine. (The Cutting Room anyone?!). Her most recent novel (which was published on August 2nd) is the story of a lesbian couple in Berlin; I must admit that I haven’t managed to pick up a copy yet, but the blurb sounds brilliant and it’s probably going to be downloaded onto my Kindle asap! You can find Welsh’s newest novel The Girl on the Stairs in the Edinburgh Book Festival book shop, or over on Amazon.

Similarly, I missed Sarah Hall’s event today, where she talked about short stories along with Tessa Hadley in Short and (not so) Sweet Stories. Whilst I can’t comment on Hall’s sexuality, she sits on this list due to her 2007 novel, The Carhullan Army (Daughters of the North); a distopian story with a lesbian slant. I haven’t read The Carhullan Army – but after reading her first novel Haweswater, a beautifully sad story recommended to be by Gareth from Los Campesinos!, I definitely want to.

Whilst author Jeanette Winterson has said that Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is not a ‘lesbian’ novel, it is something of a lesbian right of passage to read it. Written in 1985, it tells the semi-aut0biographical story of Winterson growing up and coming to grips with her sexuality and her family. 25 years on, it still resonates – and the author is speaking about Oranges, as well as her most recent book, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Unfortunately the event is sold out – but you can find both books at the Book Festival book store.

If you’re looking for more lesbian or queer-friendly events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, there’s also Britain’s Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy reading some of her new poems (although I wouldn’t be surprised if this sold out too soon!), and there’s an Amnesty International book event to campaign against the persecution of LGBTI people across the world. If you find any more LGBT friendly Book Festival events or authors, please drop me a line – I’d love to add them to this list, which is anything but comprehensive!

*I’ve been given tickets for some Edinburgh International Book Festival events, as well as for some Fringe shows by Clicket, in exchange for blogging about the venues, events and general atmosphere. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to – and Clicket have been brilliant. I’d like to thank Grace from Clicket for doing an amazing job so far this festival – coordinating multiple bloggers going to multiple events over a whole month is a mammoth task!


2 Comment

  1. […] outlined my love of the Edinburgh International Book Festival back here – and a love of queer literature is something which adds to that. Zoe Strachan’s debut […]

  2. […] you’ve read my Gay Girl’s Guide To The Edinburgh Book Festival, you’ll know that Ali Smith is undoubtedly my favourite author; her books […]

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