We Have Lift-Off: A Preview Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015…

image.phpFor the past decade or so, I’ve been counting down my years in Edinburgh Book Festivals rather than birthdays. It’s a much less painful system, it means over two weeks of celebration, and the real birthday is in there somewhere for traditionalists.

While the Fringe rages all around it, this festival is an oasis of bookish bonhomie populated by like-minded folk, all obsessed with the written word. The festival team know they have a formula which works, so don’t overly tinker with it. The secret of that success? Invite the best writers available and get them to talk about their books all in the one place. What could be better?

This year it all happens between the 15th – 31st August, and, as usual, there’s far too much of the good stuff to mention it all here. I suggest reading the whole programme at edbookfest.co.uk, but not before you’ve read Scots Whay Hae’s preview of this year’s festival.

Scotland’s greatest writers are out in force, with  Ali Smith and John Burnside leading the way on the opening weekend. If you have to beg, borrow and steal to see those two (and you may have to) then no jury in the land would convict you. Janice Galloway has a new collection of short stories, Jellyfish, which I highly recommend and she is always worth listening to.  Others include previous SWH! podcast guests Louise Welsh, James Robertson, and Karen Campbell whose latest novel Rise is one of the best of the year so far. Michel Faber appears on the 29th, the author of Under the Skin and last year’s unforgettable The Book of Strange New Things.  The day before, the equally charismatic Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about the inspiration behind his latest novel The Illuminations.

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Once Upon A Time: A Review Of Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales…

There are few things in this world better than a carefully crafted short story. They never outstay their welcome; simply make their mark and leave you wanting more. Kirsty Logan’s recent collection, The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales, is packed with prime examples of the form; memorable snapshots of lives less ordinary.

Some people may be put off by the use of ‘fairytales’ in the title. Such people should think again as these tales are as far away from children’s stories as is possible; more Pan’s Labyrinth than The Princess and The Pea. Pre-Disneyfication, fairy tales were often gothic, disturbing, violent, psycho-sexual and full of lessons learnt the hard way. Imagine modern versions of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Heinrich Hoffman’s Tales of Struwwelpeter, or more recently the fiction of Angela Carter, and you have an idea of where Logan is coming from.

Like the above, Logan’s writing is sensual, subversive and often sinister, and is packed with rich and surprising imagery, more magical surrealism than realism. There are matroyshka dolls, mechanical and paper men, clockwork hearts, and children with animal parts. For most of the characters there is always temptation, and many have to choose between heart and head, or at least try to. Love, and lust, are ever present; usually in the shape of longing or loss.

But these tales are not pastiche, or an exercise in genre. This is modern literary fiction at its best, and what unites them all is Logan’s imagination, which seems fit to burst, and which displays a playfulness which can mask the bitter truths and, often painful, experiences which seem to have inspired the writer in the first place. From the opening title story, where clockwork tickers prove to be just as unreliable as the real ones, The Rental Heart is a beautifully detailed delight. If I read a more ingenious story this year than ‘Coin-Operated Boys’, (like Alan Moore adapting Hans Christian Andersen), or a more heartbreaking one than ‘Momma Grows A Diamond’, then it will have to be something truly special.

Many of these tales are about a search for meaning and identity; discovering who you are, and who you are not, and the trials and tribulations along the way. Logan’s stories subvert expectations as well as play with them, and the results are often exquisite, and unexpectedly emotional. Once you finish reading The Rental Heart the world outside is not as it was, and is all the better for it.