Tag Archives: Jeanette Winterson

August in our Festival city

31 Aug


August is traditionally quite a month for me. It’s my birthday at the end of the month. I remember as a child my parents always used to take us to the Tattoo (now the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo) and there was a part of me that believed them when they told me it was put on specially for me, for my birthday.

Then when I was slightly older I had a memorable birthday night lying on a picnic blanket in Princes Street Gardens sooking champagne through a straw out of a bottle placed beside my head, and gazing up in wonder at the incredible fireworks – the fireworks concert at the end of the Edinburgh International Festival is something quite spectacular.

In the last few years all I’ve wanted to do on my birthday is sleep. Or eat broccoli. You see my birthday comes at the end of a month of pretty intense festival time in Edinburgh. And since 2006 my job has been working for one of those festivals: initially at the Book Festival, and now at the Festival Fringe, the largest open-access arts festival in the world. And when we say largest we’re not kidding – it is way bigger than anything else, with 2,695 shows in 25 days and nights (with over 40,000 performances of those shows) and over 21,000 performers taking part. That’s almost twice as many performers as there were athletes at the Olympics. And we do that every year. In Edinburgh. In August.

Sometimes I wonder why I would ever want to live anywhere else. But in a weeks time I’ll be leaving Edinburgh, to live in the country, in the Clyde Valley. Currently it’s my weekend home, but soon it will be my forever home and I’ really VERY excited. Of course I’m not really leaving Edinburgh forever, as I’ll still be working there. But it will all be very very different.

But before I forget it all I thought I’d summarise what I saw this year at the Festivals: a total of 22 shows over three different festivals, and covering a few different genres, although mostly (and unashamedly) theatre. In sort of chronological order…

  • Appointment with the Wicker Man
  • Letter of Last Resort & Good with People
  • The Daniel Kitson show at the Traverse
  • Two Worlds of Charlie F
  • Das Vegas Night
  • Magic Faraway Cabaret
  • I, Tommy
  • Anne Enright (Book Festival)
  • Jeanette Winterson (Book Festival)
  • Razing Eddie
  • Macbeth on Inchcolm Island
  • The Red Hourglass
  • Re-thinking Food Debate (Book Festival)
  • The Kitchen Cabinet (BBC Radio4 recording)
  • And No More Shall We Part
  • Dream Plays (Scenes from a play I’ll never write) by Tobias Manderson-Galvin
  • One Hour Only
  • The Rape of Lucrece (Edinburgh International Festival)
  • Wonderland (Edinburgh International Festival)
  • The List
  • (remor)
  • Leo
  • Translunar Paradise

My favourite show is impossible to call – there were several truly great shows, and particularly some stunning performances. However, Two Worlds of Charlie F and And No More Shall We Part were both incredibly moving (yes, I shed a tear or two) and deserve special mention. Leo was gravity defying – clever and funny and quite incredible to watch. And (remor) was ridiculously intense, not to mention hot and sweaty – a dance/physical theatre piece performed in a prison cell with 15 audience members crammed in watching (and sweating). In fact I think it’s safe to say that my Fringe this year has been intense.



Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

15 Jan

I started Jeanette Winterson’s latest book before Christmas, it was a paperback proof copy. I don’t usually like proofs, but this one is pretty much like an ordinary paperback, so it was fine and passed my criteria for readability.

But then I got a Kindle for Christmas.  Well, initially I got a Kinder Surprise!  The hints had been dropped, and clearly picked up, but through the Chinese whispers the desirable object had transformed itself into a wee plastic toy inside a small chocolate egg. Not a bad egg, but still a chocolate egg, and I don’t eat chocolate any more. Well, not much. But it certainly was a Surprise! It was also not the real present, and the Kindle-Not-Such-A-Surprise-Afterall came close behind the disappointing chocolate egg.

So, I had to try out my new gift straight away didn’t I? And that meant that the half-read Why Be Happy… lay forlorn for a few weeks until I had read the last book in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, and then also Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie which we will be discussing at book group this week.

But today I picked up Why Be Happy… again, and curled up on the sofa to read it. And I didn’t get up again until I’d finished.

What a book. For those that don’t know, this is a story of her life, the ‘true’ story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I read Oranges.. when it was first published all those years ago – last year was the 20th anniversary of its publication.

I remember reading it vividly. I had recently become a Samaritan volunteer, and discovered the fiction of both Jeanette Winterson and Jenny Diski – I voraciously read everything they published, loving their fictionalised worlds. As a Samaritan I was in a new world, of peoples’ emotions and feelings, of loss and despair, of love and rejection, but most of all a world full of expression. People were expressing their feelings to me, and it was rarely easy for them.  It was my role to help them, to hold them as they dug deep within themselves and talked about themselves in terms of their feelings. It felt absolutely right for me, this listening to others, being a vessel to hold their fears while they discovered what they’d been hiding for so long. I don’t know why it felt right, but it did. And an enormous privilege.

So, now coming full circle and reading Why Be Happy… I am reminded of those conversations, of the nameless, anonymous, faceless people who told me their secrets. I know how hard it was for them to open themselves to one single anonymous faceless individual. And I am blown away at how Jeanette Winterson has expressed so much emotion in a book, laying her emotions bare for all to read. It is a brave book. It is a glorious book, full of anger, and hurt, and longing. Deep, deep longing. It is about love, and the search for love. And about loss, and the loss of loss.

Read it.

But have a hankie ready.

Any suggestions for what to read next?

What I’ve read this year – 2012

14 Jan

So, let’s see how I do against my targets for this year… Let the reading commence!

Oh, and in case you care, my links to buy the books are all for amazon.co.uk. If you don’t like amazon, other booksellers are available, just google.  


Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  The final book in his Millennium series, and yet again a book that could have done with a good edit. Having said that it was yet again a good thriller and a compulsive read, finished in about a week.

Carol Birch‘s Jamrach’s Menagerie.  Our book group’s first book of 2012, and a worthy book to discuss.  What started as a kids’ adventure story became a true horror story, full of gore, slime and grime. It will generate interesting discussion, of that there is no doubt.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. A powerfully emotional book, the ‘true’ story behind her debut Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson only came to my attention because it is in the Richard and Judy book group, and I saw Judy absolutely raving about it on telly one evening. It’s a quick read, and kept me guessing. The narrator of the book is a woman close to my age who wakes up each morning with no memory, but with a sense of horror that she’s in bed with a middle aged man – her initial thought is that she got wrecked the night before at a party and can’t remember who she came home with. It’s not a Groundhog Day book, and it’s not a love story – more a psychological thriller. And, as I said, a quick read.

I loved Resistance by Owen Sheers. And it brought my total for January to five books finished. Yay!


In Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Harri searches for clues after the murder of a boy from his school. He hopes the clues will lead to the killer. Harri has an innocence, he is a boy about to become a man. But what sort of man can he possibly be, brought up in this violent, unkind environment? His mother has brought him from Ghana, in the hope of giving him a better future. Harri’s voice felt ‘true’ although I did find it vaguely annoying after a while.

I read What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe as a book group book. And unusually I read it all the way through (not enjoying much of it at all) and then refused to go to book group to discuss it. I just felt I had nothing I wanted to say about it. And I found that after I’d finished I couldn’t even distinguish between the different hideous family members. Various friends have told me how much they loved this book. I didn’t. And I’m not sure it was helped by reading it in e-book form, so I couldn’t flip back easily and see who was who.

I read about The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicolson in the Sunday Times one weekend. It wasn’t a review, but was in someone’s column, and I honestly can’t remember whose. I kinda wish I could, as I really enjoyed the book, which absolutely is described in the title. It focuses on a few days one early summer in a small village in commuter distance from London. The characters are well drawn, the situations perfectly described. It’s not a rip-roaring read, but thoroughly enjoyable.




My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell had been on my shelf for years (I got it as a bookcrossing random act of book crossing kindness years ago, and really must pass it on now that I’ve actually read it). It had elements of Rebecca about it, and inspired me to re-read Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale.

After my Maggie O’Farrell feast I turned to an author new to me, recommended by my good friend Salidatious: Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Sal had read it quickly and loved it, and wanted someone else to read it so she could talk about it. I love that about her. And was so glad she’d recommended, and loaned, this book to me. A worthy shortlisted book for the Orange, a tale of an adulterous affair in Ireland. The backdrop to the tale is the arc of the Irish economy, from roaring tiger in the boom years, to the depression of the recession.

And so it seemed sensible to read another Orange shortlisted book immediately after I’d finished the Anne Enright. And as I’d bought Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder a couple of months earlier, now seemed like the time to start reading it. Some books nourish you, and stay with you long after you finished them. This is one such book.

Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall has been in my subconscious for a few months, mainly on social media, but also in bookshops, and newspaper book reviews. It’s a fascinating read, especially for someone who doesn’t like either shopping malls, or short stories. It’s made up of perfect bitesized chunks of reading goodness, a mixture of fact and fiction, but all related in some way to shopping malls. You’ll learn all manner of things, like why cross dressers like malls, and why walking round a mall is considered a terrorist threat. Unsettling and fascinating (but not necessarily in that order).

After I’d whet my appetite with TFTM I chose Swung, also by Ewan Morrison. There’s a lot of media coverage of 50 Shades of Grey just now, but I suspect it isn’t nearly as interesting as Swung, the story of a Glasgow couple trying to make their relationship work.

Books 2011 – the results

27 Jan


Here are the books I’ve read this year:


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

One Day by David Nicholls

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards


Nourishment by Gerard Woodward

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – our book club book for March


Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

Room by Emma Donoghue


Ascent by Jed Mercurio


Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh

Purge by Sofi Oksanen


Toast by Nigel Slater

Snowdrops by AD Miller


Sin by Josephine Hart

The Pornographer of Vienna by Lewis Crofts (novel based on the life of Egon Schiele)


Weight by Jeanette Winterson


When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

The House of Rajani by Alon Hilu


Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (not finished by end of year)

So.. the grand total is 26 books, and a half.  Not bad going for this year I think.

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