Monthly Archives: August 2012

Edinburgh Festival: Part 4


I faff around my hotel for the morning until noon, at which point I make my way for the first time in another direction, which leads me straight through the main street of the Fringe Festival.

It’s time for me to make a confession. I don’t particularly love theater. Especially street theater. In addition, mimes totally freak me out, and I will skirt a block out of my way to avoid them.

So here I am, walking through these throngs of people who are feverishly trying to pass out flyers for theater stuff and there are so many of them that they have all come up with a different scheme to get your attention. They are dressed as clowns, they are naked and tied together, they are lying on a blanket smeared with fake blood, they are leaping, grimacing, waving rubber chickens about, and yes – miming. I walk as quickly as I can through them, dodging guys in kilts who skip around to bagpipe music, girls in Shakespearean dress who bow low to me while shoving their paper in my direction, and a gang of people made up as woodland animals who I guess are supposed to look cute but who I sure as hot damn am going to see again in my nightmares.

Finally I arrive at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, where Linda awaits me for lunch. We have tasting platters and talk about writing and books and Neil Gaiman and touring and are still in full chat mode when Linda’s next date arrives. She introduces us, and it turns out to be Philippa Cochrane, who will be chairing my solo event on the 27th. I stay with them for a little while and tell them my Lucia-thought-my-grandma-turned-into-a-zombie-after-she-died story and then leave them to get down to their meeting.

I try to take another road back to my hotel in order to avoid the scary festival people, and find myself on this beautiful street,

which has a ton of shops, in one of which I found the perfect gifts for my kids.

The Plum family are huge Star Wars fans

Unfortunately the beautiful curvy road ended in the wrong place, forcing me to retrace my steps and dive back headfirst into the clown mob. I think I might have actually held my breath. Which I let out abruptly when I saw this sign on the side of an ancient building:

I re-emerge for a talk by Patrick Ness, who has packed the house with adolescents who watch his lips as if he’s spitting pearls. Keith Gray chairs the talk, and the repartee between the two men, who are friends, makes the event even more entertaining. I line up and get him to sign A MONSTER CALLS for me afterward and discover that he too was traumatized by the film A THIEF IN THE NIGHT as a child raised in Evangelical circles in the 70s. (He turns to the festival worker standing behind him and says of the film, “It was basically child abuse.”)

There is no haggis on offer this evening in the Author’s Yurt, but I settle for something safe – a salmony pasta dish, and sit next to a woman who introduces herself as Janne Teller, a Danish author who lives in Manhattan and writes fiction. When I tell her I write YA, she says that one of her YA books, NOTHING, was banned in Scandinavia. Too existentialist and dark, apparently. Her description of it—a boy who stops going to school, sits in a plum tree, and tells his classmates that life is meaningless—has me immediately add it to my TBR list.

Janne lived in Paris for a while, and our conversation veers over to the French, and she gives me her very own pearls of wisdom. Once again I am bowled over by the automatic sisterhood shared by women from seemingly all cultures: we all experience the same joys and tragedies. Over the last few days I have dared to share some recent personal sorrows with some of the women I have met and have been immediately embraced and comforted by them.

Add those women’s compassion to the fact that authors of fiction often wear their hearts on their sleeves, I know I am in the right place. With the right people. And as I fly back to Paris the next day to spend time with my children, I look forward to my return in 6 days.

Books bought in the first week of Edinburgh Festival


Edinburgh Festival: Part 3


10:30 I start my day with an intellectual talk on “pursuing fugitive traces of the past”—which basically means researching rare documents to uncover previously unknown tidbits about Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Jack the Ripper and the like. The speaker is Charles Nicholl and he’s chaired by Stuart Kelly and it’s fascinating and so scholarly it kind of makes my brain hurt.

Next event: Daniel Tammet talks about his book “Thinking in Numbers.” It is billed as “An event which should open the eyes of maths geeks and numbers skeptics alike,” (myself being in the latter group), but he actually doesn’t say anything to convince me of the beauty of numbers. However, I find his description of his “high functioning autism and savant syndrome” fascinating, as well as the fact that he had to train himself to relate to people. (A feat, I suppose, for someone who can recite pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes.) I decide to order his memoir BORN ON A BLUE DAY.

Daniel lives in Paris. I think of introducing myself, but chicken out. It would be like meeting David Sedaris, whose writing I admire so much, but to whom I would have nothing to say besides raving about his books, which I’m sure gets old fast.

I float back to the Author’s Yurt thinking of numbers having colors and shapes and how different brains work, and wishing that my brain could sometimes be practical instead of ethereal- and emotion-based and suddenly find myself face to face with Charles Nicholl who is looking at me like he knows me. “I enjoyed your talk this morning,” I say, and he replies, “Oh yes, I saw you in the audience.”

(Speakers always thank me for smiling at them and tell me it’s encouraging. I don’t even know that I’m doing it—it’s like a weird subconscious cheerleading thing. Or maybe it’s the attentive look that I developed in grade school specifically to be teacher’s pet. How annoying that it still remains.)

So he and I get onto the topic of France, and his son who is moving to Paris in a  week to attend Science Po (a good university) and how Charles and his wife live in Italy near Lucca, which is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever set eyes on.

It’s time for my next event, and I run off to a talk about women writers being parents by Rachel Cusk & Gaby Hinsliff. They talk about feminism, reverse feminism, and how many women give up high-powered careers in order to focus on what is more important in life, and at the end I’m honestly feeling a bit despairing and depressed.

I quickly repair to the Author’s Yurt, where I spy steaming food on the back table. Much to my joy there is a label saying, “Haggis, neeps and tatties” in front of bowls with three scoops of different colored stuff in them. The reason for my joy: Kimbery Derting has dared me to eat haggis, and I can never turn down a dare.

Linda Strachen, the person I had been introduced to the day before as “Linda who knows EVERYONE” sidles up to me, and I say excitedly, “Look! It’s haggis!” Being Scottish and probably having eaten a kazillion haggises in her lifetime, she smiles patiently at me and even holds my drink while I take a picture of it.

Haggis served with "neeps and tatties" (Scots: turnip and potato) The haggis is the brown part.

I sit down on one of the couches to eat, and as I finish, I say proudly to the man next to me, “I just ate haggis.” He says, “You realize that’s like eating a scab.” I suddenly want to thump Kimberly Derting, but instead ask what he writes about. “Politics,” he responds.

Oh shit, I think, but I smile nicely and ask what his book is about. It’s something about defending democracy, and he’s a professor at the University of Sheffield, so I decide it’s probably not the brightest idea to attempt to engage him in any serious way on his topic. I ask a few polite questions and tell him that I was an anti-war marcher who disengaged from politics in despair after George Bush won the second time, and after that I feel like I have contributed enough to that particular conversation.

Then he asks me what I write about. “I write paranormal romance for young adults,” I say. He stares at me blankly. “Have you heard of Twilight?” I ask. “I have teenagers,” he replies, nodding. “Well, I initially pitched my book as ‘Twilight in Paris with zombies,’” I reply.

Oh shit, I see him think. Since he had just mentioned how hard it is to talk to some audiences about his stance in politics, I pick up that thread and tell him how hard it was to talk to an amphitheater full of hysterical French teenagers right after Ian Somerhalder left the stage. Although that took an explanation of what Vampire Diaries is, and what a sex symbol Ian is, but I think in the end he kind of understood. So I think, My job of YA evangelism is done here, and I get up and join Linda and walk with her to the next talk, “The Performing Writer.”

This features a panel of Lindsey Davis (crime writer), Tania Harrison (organizer of the Latitude Festival), and Angela Robertson (with Canongate publishing) chaired by Angus Konstam. They talk about the importance of Twitter and Facebook and self-proclaimed old-school Lindsey cracks me up by saying something like, “If the fans want to know about me they can come to my website.” Afterward, much to my pleasure, Linda invites me to dinner with the entire panel plus a few other people. (She DOES know everyone!)

We eat huge piles of tapas and chat about everything under the sun and the way Tania talks about the Latitude Festival makes me want to go next year. (They have dyed sheep wandering around the festival, for god’s sake – how can I miss that?)

Magic night at UNBOUND in the Spiegeltent

Afterward, I dash back to UNBOUND since I promised the organizer I would go. I spot Jonathan Ley with a table of his friends and sit with them and watch magic tricks and listen to some creepy magic-themed stories until the day is long gone and I flit back past the castle to my hotel.


Edinburgh Festival: Part 2


My first event is at 11:30. I have plenty of time to spare, so decide to venture forth in search of shoes, since in my usual state of spaciness I packed only high-heels and flip flops and nothing in between. I wander around town until I find some black ballerinas, stick my flip flops in my purse, and make my way to the event only to find that I have missed it because I was looking at my carefully-typed-out itinerary for the wrong day.

3pm I return to Charlotte’s Square for my next event, after checking my schedule a kazillion times to make sure I’m on the right day. (I have a problem with time, if you haven’t noticed. I don’t feel it passing. It’s all just numbers to me, and numbers and I are not friends.)

This event is with two new writers, Kerry Hudson and Lisa O’Donnell. They are both Scottish writers, but Lisa lives in L.A. and Kerry in London, and I enjoy listening to them read excerpts of their books and talk about topics familiar to me like how the titles were chosen, what they felt about the covers, their writing processes, and all of the questions I’m always asked when interviewed.

Kerry Hudson and Lisa O'Donnell (with moderator in center)

Afterward, I go to their signing table, buy both books, and introduce myself. And then I do something I like to do in new cities: I walk for two hours, having no clue where I am going. One friendly woman joins me for a few blocks, tells me all about her babydaddy disappearing, and then goes her own way. And finally I find my way back to the festival thanking the shoe gods for those ballerinas. I never would have made it that many miles in my flip flops.

Graveyard I wandered by in Edinburgh

I go to the Authors’ Yurt and grab a water and sit down next to someone and force myself to chat. It’s the girl who is organizing the UNBOUND event for the next night, and I promise her to come. And then I spot Lisa sitting across from us and tell her that I enjoyed her talk from earlier. “I’m about to do another one,” she says. “I’m about to go to another one,” I say, and take out my ticket and discover that I have signed up to see her once again, but this time she’s talking about screenwriting.

Jonathan Ley and Lisa O'Donnell

7pm I sit in the audience and find myself laughing because everyone is there to learn about screenwriting and Lisa is basically telling everyone that it’s a crap business and that they’re crazy to want to do it. The moderator, Jonathan Ley, tries to diffuse the situation, urging her to talk more about screenwriting, but she’s adamant that she’s much happier writing novels. Her honesty is refreshing and the confused reaction of the audience is priceless and I find myself smiling broadly because it’s all so comic.

8pm I book it out of the tent back to the Authors’ Yurt because I have the first organized meeting of my trip: Keren David, who my British editor had introduced me to by email.  Keren has written several YA novels, and has a few more coming soon, so we chat about that and when I admit I don’t know anyone at the festival she grabs a passing woman and introduces her as Linda Strachen, author of over 60 children’s books. “Linda knows EVERYONE,” Keren says. We trade cards and they run off to another event.

8:30pm I wander past the bookstore and see Lisa sitting there at the signing table with her moderator Jonathan. I sweep them off to the Authors’ Yurt and we go outside and sit and talk all evening with a wandering writer from Mexico. And when it gets too cold to sit outside in my dress and ballerinas, I walk back to my hotel and watch the fireworks explode above the castle from my window.


Edinburgh Book Festival: Part 1


Wander across Edinburgh from my hotel past this:

to Charlotte Square, where the festival is being held.

3pm Excellent talk by Colm Toibin on “New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families,” a book he wrote on writers and their families. Especially memorable, the story about Yeats and his father, a frustrated writer who sent his son his work to receive only…silence. (Good article on this.)

6:30pm Attend V. Campbell’s talk about her middle-grade book VIKING GOLD for which she brought lots of props like a replica Viking sword and helmet. I wonder what kind of props I could bring to a talk about DIE FOR ME: A replica Eiffel Tower? A beret? A box of macarons? A hot dead guy?

The festival tradition is that after each talk, the author goes immediately to the festival bookstore and signs books. I buy V. Campbell’s book and have her sign it for my son, who can’t read yet, but I’m hoping he’ll love it some day. (It has Vikings and mysteries and swordfights, so why not?)

8pm I pocket my copy of VIKING GOLD and jump straight into the line for Neil Gaiman’s event. I watch him and Chris Riddell talk about the 10th anniversary of CORALINE, and am completely enchanted. It is my first time to see Neil, and I realize why everyone I know who has met him has raved about it. He’s as amazing as I imagined him to be. Better.

One of my favorite parts of the event is when Neil reads a section from CORALINE and Chris does a simultaneous illustration on an overhead projector. Such talent with both the art and writing, I am swept away in the pleasure of pure creativity.

I had joked online about getting a picture taken with Neil, but hadn’t actually taken myself seriously. And when he announces to the audience that he has a family emergency and is flying off right after the talk and can’t sign books I give up all hope of meeting him. Following the crowd out of the tent and into the night, I head toward the festival exit.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse Chris Riddell leaving the Author’s Yurt, and a sudden thought flashes through my mind. Could He possibly be there?

I slip my Author’s badge over my head and make my way into the Yurt. And there he is: Neil Gaiman, waiting for a taxi to take him to the airport. There are four or five people standing around, talking to him about logistics for his trip back. I stand there and nod as if I’m supposed to be there.

And then, as Neil is about to walk further into the yurt to where Amanda Palmer waits for him, I walk up and stick my hand out. “I’m Amy Plum. I write for HarperCollins,” I say, knowing that he too is a Harper author. Amanda leans her head around the corner to see who I am. (Can I just say…she’s so stunning – photos don’t even get close.)

Neil gives me this huge smile and says something and I say something back but I am so starstruck that I couldn’t tell you now what we said even if you hung me by my toenails over a barrel of piranhas. I ask if I can take my picture with him, and he agrees. And then he makes a joke about how he always has red-eye in pictures, and I promise to Photoshop it out.

And that is it. I thank him and walk out into the Edinburgh night, back to my hotel room, smiling because my Day 1 of the festival ended with a beautiful little dream coming true.


Photo of the year

Um…yeah. Just my hero and all.

Me & Neil Gaiman

That’s my spiffy ready-for-Tweeting photo, but I thought you’d enjoy the real one pre-being-cropped:

Yes, that’s Amanda F. Palmer in the background! (And do you like the sign?)

And then, a little while later, because Neil’s just that nice I saw this… *faints*

That’s birthday and Christmas all put together for me this year!