Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 21, 2019

Gothic Delights at the Book Festival

Image result for gothic gravestoneI’ve had a fantastic couple of days at the Book Festival, listening to some terrific authors and discovering lots of books to go on my wish list. Looking at my ticket stubs, I realise I’ve had a bit of a gothic theme going on…

First came Michelle Paver and Susan Fletcher, talking about their respective ghost stories, Wakenhyrst and House of Glass.  I’m reading Wakenhyrst at bedtime just now – not my best ever choice, since it’s certainly not a book to lull one into a peaceful sleep… I’m loving it!

Next was Joseph O’Connor on his latest novel, Shadowplay. I can’t wait to read this: it’s a fascinating mix of fact and fiction, based on the relationships between Bram Stoker and legendary actors Sir Henry Irvine and Ellen Terry. And, of course, Dracula is always hovering in the background…

I have yet to read any of Jess Kyd and E S Thomson’s books, but am correcting that omission right now. I can’t resist the call of the Victorian gothic, and both writers have protagonists who sound irresistibly unusual in their latest books, Things in Jars and Surgeon’s Hall, set during that period of the 19th century when superstition and science collided and circus sideshows and anatomy lectures weren’t a world apart.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 18, 2019

Rocket to Charlotte Square?

chris close moon shot

I’ve been into space! Well, not quite, but as near as I’m likely to get, thanks to the imagination and skill of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s resident photographer, the wonderful Chris Close.

He magicked up this cosmological photo of me to celebrate my Balloon to the Moon event. This may well be my all-time favourite photo (of me, at least)

A week of the Book Festival gone, and the yurt hasn’t quite floated/been blown away yet. The atmosphere in Charlotte Square has been as magical as always, and I’ve been to some excellent events. Last night’s was Ambrose Parry – aka Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. I loved their first book – The Way of All Flesh – and am looking forward to submerging myself in their medical-gothic Edinburgh again when I read The Art of Dying.

I am having a day off, but it’s full immersion next week, starting with Michelle Paver, Susan Fletcher and Joseph O’Connor tomorrow….





Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 15, 2019

Image result for backpackersLife is a bit hectic – but enjoyably so – at the moment. On Tuesday I did an event based on Balloon to the Moon at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Great questions – well done, audience!), followed by a filmed conversation with space scientist Sheila Kanani , then a reading for Amnesty International. Then went home for my birthday tea and was forced to drink champagne. It’s a tough life…

Meanwhile, in the real world, Son is getting ready to go off to South America for 3-4 months (As you do. Apparently.) with his friends Pete2 . This involves me trying to persuade him that a first aid kit is not a waste of packing space and that it’s a good idea to have some local money and book a hostel for the first night before you get to another continent. Oh – and correcting his mistaken impression that Terminal S is part of Heathrow, not Gatwick. Glad we got that one sorted out before he got there and missed his flight to Brazil.

I’m sure it’ll all be fine. Really.


Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 12, 2019

Let’s Take Care of the Hairy Chested Crab…

Image result for yeti crab alex rogersThese are Yeti Crabs. I had never heard of a Yeti Crab in my life, in spite of studying marine biology as part of my degree, until this morning, when I listened to a superb talk by the Marine Biologist Alex Rogers, based on his book The Deep: The Hidden Wonders of Our Oceans and How We Can Protect Them, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. These crabs live round hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean and have ‘hairy chests’ on which they grow bacteria which they then eat. (They’ve been nicknamed the ‘Hoff Crab’ because of their resemblance to actor David Hasselhoff’s famously hairy chest!) Because they live in the deep ocean, they are blind and pure white. They’re found nowhere else.

We know so little about the oceans – far less than we do about the moon. We have more detailed maps of the surface of Venus than we do of the seabed. There are probably hundreds of species that no human has seen yet – let’s hope we get the chance to find out about them and cherish them rather than carelessly make them extinct…

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 11, 2019

Did Anyone Pack An Inflatable Ark?

Image result for reading in the rainWell, my first outing to this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival was memorable…

Of course, they always are, but not usually because of the weather. There I was, with 600 other people, avidly listening to Kate Atkinson being interviewed by Lee Randall, when the thunder started; in the middle distance at first, but steadily drawing nearer. Then the rain began. And the lightning flashed and the thunder and rain both got louder and louder and louder, until Kate and Lee gave up trying to make themselves heard and we all sat, mesmerised, waiting for the tent to float away, or perhaps cave in on us.

Enter Nick Barley, festival director, dripping gently, to announce that all the electrics would have to be switched off due to the proximity of lightning. A few seconds later, the lights went out and we sat there, trying to find the torch function on our mobile phones, wondering whether to stay in the dark tent or venture out into the wet night.

Eventually we all dribbled out, as the rain moderated, to find Charlotte Square somehow managing to carry on regardless, (except that the events had been suspended). I made for the sanctuary of the yurt to console myself with a glass of wine and wait to see what happened next.

The lights briefly came back on (cue cheering), then went off again (groan). The rain increased to biblical proportions. Trapped in the yurt! Oh no! How dreadful! Would the wine outlast the rain? (Fortunately, yes)

What next, I wonder…

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | August 2, 2019

Lanyards a Go-Go

Image result for lanyards and passesEdinburgh. August. The streets are full of… The streets are full. Period. Performers struggle on and off buses with the most unlikely assortment of objects. Will they be allowed on? It’s always an entertaining spectator sport. I once saw someone get on with a full-sized concert harp. They may be dressed as rabbits, aliens,  Roman centurions, Elizabethan courtiers… no one bats an eyelid.

That was one of the thoughts that inspired my first novel The Chaos Clock: the idea that in the middle of Edinburgh in August, no one would notice if time got a bit mixed up and people from the past started appearing.

But whatever they’re wearing/impersonating, they will have a lanyard with some sort of important looking pass clipped to it.

Edinburgh. August. You are literally no-one without a lanyard.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | July 29, 2019

My Icelandic Saga

All been quiet here as I’ve been away on holiday in Iceland, a country I’ve wanted to visit for some time. It did not disappoint – what a place!

Reyjavik is a delightful town with some fascinating architecture, from Hallgrimskirkja to the corrugated iron buildings, which sound horrible, but are very beautiful, and come in a wide range of colours…

Image result for hallgrímskirkjaImage result for reykjavik corrugated iron buildingsImage result for reykjavik corrugated iron buildingsThen there are the geysers, waterfalls, lava deserts, seabird cliffs, and the thermal swimming lagoons. Not to mention the whales, dolphins and porpoises. And great folk-tales too. Sadly, no pictures of elves, trolls or the truly terrifying sounding Julekatte (Of which more nearer Christmas. Be afraid, be very afraid…)

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Image result for geyser strokkurImage result for minke whale icelandImage result for secret lagoon iceland

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | July 16, 2019

Soup Dragons Are Go!

Image result for moon landing anniversary clangers episodeI will never again write a book that benefits from such a slew of public-consciousness raising as Balloon to the Moon. You can’t move for documentaries, exhibitions, posters and other books. It’s wonderful to have even a tangential involvement, but I’m reaching saturation point with documentaries, however wonderful,  to be honest. BUT… I’m sure I’m not the only person to be in paroxysms of delight at the best anniversary event of all: a special episode of The Clangers! And with added Maggie Aderin-Pocock!! Truly, we live in an age of marvels.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | July 12, 2019

How to Blend in at Festival Time

Greetings, Edinburgh Festival visitor. You have just entered the most beautiful, infuriating, unpredictable madhouse of culture in the galaxy. Here are some tips to help you slip seamlessly into the life of the city and avoid passive-aggressive tutting and head-shaking from the locals

Image result for one o'clock gunThe one o’clock gun: The clue is in the name. Every day at 1pm, a very big gun is fired at Edinburgh Castle. If you want to look like a local, don’t duck and look round wild-eyed. Check your watch.

Image result for greyfriars bobby statueGreyfriars Bobby: Don’t rub the statue’s nose. It isn’t good luck. This is some nonsense promulgated in the last few years. His nose had been black since the statue was erected. It shouldn’t be shiny. Step away now. But not into the road (see Photographs)

Image result for tourists taking photos in edinburghPhotographs: We understand you want to take lots of lovely photographs and in general we will try not to get in your way, but we do like to be able to walk along the pavements. And do try not to step backwards into the road to get that perfect shot. This particularly applies if you are photographing Greyfriars Bobby or the Elephant House in George IV Bridge. Bus drivers do not like having to swerve round you.

Image result for lrt busBuses: We have a great bus service in Edinburgh, BUT the buses don’t give change. Really. This is actually one reason why the service is so good, as it cuts down the time a bus spends at the stops, but if you’re not prepared, you will find it a bit of a pest (and there will be lots of passive-aggressive tutting from the natives behind you in the queue). Make sure you have change or buy a day ticket and hop on and off to your heart’s content.

Image result for edinburgh weatherWeather: Anything is possible – sun, all-day fog, snow, vertical wind, horizontal rain – all within an hour. Be prepared.  There’s a reason why the locals dress in layers.

Image result for people disguised in masksFamous People: You could run into anyone on the street/in the pub/in a queue during Festival time (Steve Martin once helped me carry my daughter in her push chair up a flight of steps in a graveyard…) Natives consider themselves too cool to get excited, so you must pretend you have no idea who the famous person is. Unless you have just reached the front of a long signing queue for your favourite author at the Book Festival. That would just be silly.

Posted by: gillarbuthnott | July 11, 2019

The Calm Before the Storm

Image result for edinburgh at festival timeEdinburgh is gearing up for the festival season, with the Jazz Festival kicking things off this weekend. When I was growing up I loved festival time – especially the Fringe where, for not very much money, you could take a chance on events by people you’d never heard of, and the Fringe programme was a single fold-out A2 sheet…

As time went on, the programme grew and grew to a point where you had to go into training for weeks just to lift it, the city got more and more busy, and I slightly fell out of love with the whole thing.

And then the Book Festival began and I had something new to fall in love with – an affair that has continued without a break ever since. I went to events in the main Festival and occasionally to the Fringe, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I fell back in love with the Fringe.

The unlikely reason was that my son had a job on a food stall in George Square and when I went to sample his cooking, I was caught up in such joyful bustle that I was charmed. Now I find I look forward to the whole mad month, even though the Fringe programme is now much too heavy to lift at all and the city can seem crammed to bursting point.

If you’re a visitor, see my next post for some tips on blending in…

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