Hazel McHaffie

Writers at the Fringe

Festival city

Wow! Once again, how fortunate am I?

I live just south of the city of Edinburgh, home to the biggest arts festival in the world and in history. For years I’ve been a keen supporter of the International Book Festival. My record of attendance to date is 23 events in 2008 in that famous tented village!

Fringe ticketsHowever, since my granddaughters have demonstrated a keen interest in the performance arts, I’ve divided my time between the EIBF and the Fringe, taking in lots of plays, shows and concerts with them. A real treat. So I have a fat wallet full of tickets ready for an exciting couple of weeks this month.

This year’s events began well for me with the Writers in the Fringe event in Blackwell’s Bookshop on the first Thursday in August. Five authors gave us a fifteen minute glimpse into their latest books; entertaining as well as informing. One even put on her own little side-show involving a suitcase and audience participation! Very clever. (Five different authors each Thursday in the month if you’re interested. Oh, and it’s free!)

Food Festival teapotThe Foodie Festival in Inverleith Park was new to me but great fun, offering tastes and experiences well outside my usual comfort zone. Jam made with chocolate as well as fruit? Toffee vodka? Blue cheese oatcakes? Lemongrass chocolate? Marmite popcorn? Frozen passion fruit prosecco? All quite delicious. That was gloriously sunny Saturday – fortunately; the event was closed for its third and last day on Sunday because of the high winds!

Tomorrow evening, I’m off to a beautiful old church in Palmerston Place (creating a grand stage) to see a fab theatre company Saltmine for the third consecutive year. They’re a hugely talented young Christian group who convey powerful moral messages about society in their polished and very artistic performances. This one’s called The Soul in the Machine and tells the story of George Williams, Founder of the YMCA –

“We are more than bodies to be fed to a machine. We are made for more than work. We have souls, we have spirits and somewhere in this dead city there must be a place for those things.”

London, 1844 – Centre of Empire, crucible of the New Jerusalem. Her gutters run with effluent and blood and her skies are choked with the smoke of a hundred factories and foundries, but above the smoke, the stars still shine. George Williams is a country boy who comes to the city to find his place in the world and to make his mark. Appalled by the spirit-crushing rhythms of the Worker’s life he fights to spread the light of God, and create a place where the soul can be nurtured.

I have high hopes.

Next week we begin the serious daily show-hopping, but of course, the streets are also strewn with market stalls and performers strutting their stuff for the millions of tourists cluttering up the city, to the everlasting frustration of the natives who’re simply trying to get on with their ordinary everyday lives.


Pavement artistes

Street market










LiliesBut living where I do, I have the luxury of escaping the mayhem and sitting in the garden enjoying the peace and fragrance all about me with only the boom of the Red Arrows and the muted-by-distance explosions of the Tattoo fireworks to remind me of the frenzy a few miles away.

As I say, extremely fortunate.




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Official – in possession of a press pass!

August always promised to be a busy month. The Edinburgh International Book Festival – officially the ‘largest public celebration of the written word in the world‘ – is one of the highlights in my literary calendar. And it’s on my doorstep! This year it runs from 11-27th, but I always book tickets way in advance, as soon as they’re officially available, and even then some aren’t obtainable – an ongoing mystery to me.

But this year the month has just become a whole lot more exciting because I’ve been invited to be one of a team of official reporters at it! How cool is that? But … How come? I hear you cry. Good question.

Well, earlier this year the ESRC Genomics Forum organised an evening Salon where I was interviewed about my novel Saving Sebastian and the issues it deals with (watchable here). They subsequently asked me to write a guest post on their blog Genotype, which I duly did (here). And on the strength of that these same kind folk have now invited me to dip a toe into the dubious world of journalistic reporting for a fortnight. They were lovely people to work with, so I’m chuffed to be collaborating with them on this venture.

Basically what it entails is attending events – most of which I was going to anyway – and then blogging about them on Genotype. I even get a press pass! I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

In odd moments when I’m not fulfilling all the other commitments-that-I-wouldn’t-have-taken-on-had-I-known-about-the-extra-blogging, I’m trying to read a few of the books beforehand so I don’t come across as a complete twat. Time will tell.

My Beautiful GenomeOh, before I forget, I must share a gem with you from one of them (My Beautiful Genome) which I came across yesterday: ‘Whether you are a flu virus, a slime mold, a manatee, or a manager, your genetic code contains the same components.’ The author is a self-confessed specialist in sarcasm and bordering-on-cruel-honesty, but I can think of several situations where this knowledge could be applied with great satisfaction. OK, so I have a cruel streak too. I blame my genome.

But for now … well, this afternoon I and my unique double helix are off to give ‘a taste’ of Saving Sebastian as part of the Writers at the Fringe series of evenings organised by Blackwell’s. They’re free events but ticketed; five authors each evening, 6-8pm every Thursday in August.

To get a sense of the event and what works, I went to listen to the four authors and a songwriter who kicked off the series last Thursday. The line up included names like Sara Sheridan and Louise Welsh – and Iain Banks, probably the most famous, is listed for week 3 – so hats off to Blackwell’s for attracting real talent. To find 25 authors willing to commit to this in August is no mean feat in itself.

Is there any better city to be in than Edinburgh in the summer if you’re a writer or book lover? I doubt it.


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