Sunday, 28 August 2011

Epic Edinburgh Excitement!

I must start by apologising to anyone who's allergic to long blog posts. We usually like to keep our updates bite-size but having just returned from a three day trip to the Edinburgh International Book festival, I find myself in a difficult position. There is NO WAY to condense this report!

So let's crack on with the good stuff. In poor Lorenzo's absence I was lucky enough to be joined on this trip by my wife, and it's thanks to her that we managed to snap all these pics (I am TERRIBLE at remembering to take pictures). We flew up on Thursday and arrived in a city bathed with sunshine. Having been told to expect bad weather I was naturally a little surprised. At least I think that's the reason for my peculiar expression.

I'll probably mention this numerous times but we were extremely well looked after on this little Scottish adventure. Mimi and I were staying at the Hudson, a great little boutique hotel located right next door to the book festival on Charlotte Square. Upon arrival, I took a little time out to appreciate the art, the seating arrangements and the bed provided in our ample quarters...

Hmmm ... comfy.
We freshened up and strolled out into the balmy Edinburgh night to meet up with Random House superstar publicists, Lauren and Lisa at the Cafe St Honore restaurant. The food was delicious, the wine delightful, and the company superb.

We then moved next door to a fantastic cocktail bar where I spent quite a few hours practising a new expression I'd been keen to share with our Monkey Nuts fans. Lisa, Lauren and Mimi were not impressed but I remained confident that the results would pay off...

Morning came a little too soon for my liking, and my rumbling tummy told me it was time for BREAKFAST CAM! The Hudson served up a rather fine Full Scottish, which included all the English ingredients plus haggis and hash browns. Heaven.

Restored to full health we headed to the festival. The entirety of Charlotte Square had been taken over by a menagerie of tents, walkways and festival show spaces and despite a light Friday morning drizzle, the crowds inside were buzzing with excitement. I particularly liked the Moulin Rouge venue!

The first of our three workshops was part of the Festival's RBS Schools Programme and took place in Peppers Theatre. We'd sold out the show and it was a joy to watch hundreds of kids jostle for position in the front rows.

After a quick introduction from Gillian Macdonald we were off! It still felt extremely odd to be running the show without Lorenzo by my side but I managed to remember almost all of his excellent hints and tips. The audience was absolutely brilliant and I found myself swamped by eager readers in the Children's bookshop afterwards. Most of them wanted to know where they could buy my Papa Smurf t-shirt.

Oh, and remember that face I'd been practising? Well I decided it was a good time to test it on the fans ... the knuckle-bump of respect should tell you that it WORKED! Nice!

With barely a moment to catch my breath I packed up and jumped in a taxi with Gaynor Bowers to head off to my second show of the day. The book festival works in partnership with the Scottish Book Trust and Edinburgh City Libraries to provide a series of Outreach workshops: the aim of which is to bring authors, creators and performers to those areas of the city where children might not be able to attend the festival. It's a great scheme and I was delighted to be included in this year's lineup.

Lorenzo was so excited that he made a very special appearance ... first as a blank head on a stick and then as a girl!

After the success of the 'colour in my brother's face' competition at the Just So festival, I brought three copies of Lorenzo's head to Edinburgh and above is the first winning result (the boy who nabbed the prize in our Schools workshop had to leave with his class so we may never discover what he came up with!).

Two workshops down and the second day was coming to an end ... but there was a LOT of fun still to be had.

We were met at the hotel by Lauren and top authors Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell and the five of us piled into a cab and headed to the magnificent First Coast restaurant. There we were joined by author supreme, Malorie Blackman, Philippa Dickinson (Random House Children's Books m.d.) and two other lovely ladies whose names I have unforgivably forgotten! This is what happens when you don't take notes at the table...

Once again the dinner was lip-smacking and the company eye-opening (how many people knew Malorie was an avid comic fan?) but Mimi and I had booked tickets for a comedy show and had to leave before dessert was served ... I can almost hear my brother's amazement/disgust!

But there was no way we were travelling all the way to the mighty Edinburgh festival without enjoying some standup comedy. Plus, the city at night has to be seen to be believed. Bristo square, housing the ever popular Underbelly and Gilded Balloon venues was sparkling with energy. Everywhere we turned there was something new and exciting to discover...

 my very own bar!

In short we laughed, we partied, we had a great time.


Waking on day three, I packed and got ready for my final appearance. I had a feeling in my tummy that this was going to be a good one ... but it might just have been my second Full Scottish breakfast turning over. When haggis is involved, you never can tell.

Our RBS Imagination Lab event was part of the main festival lineup and had sold out early (yes!!!). The first fans through the door were lucky enough to grab the multi-coloured cushions right at the front. I won't lie to you - there was some fighting. I may have encouraged it.

One of the many joys of being an author on tour is listening to the introductions to your own shows - NOT because we've got big heads but because every chairperson has their own unique spin. Simon Radcliffe delivered an absolute blinder at the RBS event, whipping the audience (young and old) into a charged, expectant frenzy.

The cherry on the cake was the discovery that one young boy had chosen to come to our comic workshop with 12 of his best friends as his birthday treat!!! That's got to be the highest honour we've ever been paid, so as a bonus I changed the rules of the 'colour in my brother's face' competition and gave him the chance to prove his skills. The lad did not disappoint!

As usual I overran our allotted time and forgot to leave enough room for questions, but I made sure to promise everyone that I'd answer any and all queries during the book signing. This led to the busiest, most engaging and most entertaining signing session I've ever held. In the third picture down you can see me explaining how Lorenzo and I first came to draw comics ... the secret of this story even drew in the kids from the OTHER queue beside me!

After the last grinning boy and girl had trotted off clutching their freshly signed copies of Sid and Rivet's first adventure, I had just enough time left to sprint to the Authors' Yurt (a super secret tent complex hidden in the festival grounds) to see if I could fit an entire cheese and ham roll in my mouth.

It turns out that I could, and Lauren was clearly impressed with my efforts.

As Mimi and I boarded the train for Bristol we couldn't quite believe that three days had passed by so fast. I had heard so many great things about this festival and I am delighted to be able to confirm that they are ALL true!

Many, many thanks to Lauren, Lisa, Philippa and all the magnificent folk at Random House for organising the trip with such military precision. Further and truly heartfelt thanks to every member of the Edinburgh Festival and Library staff who helped with clip-on microphones, cups of coffee, slideshow loading, toilet locating, taxi booking, audience seating, flipchart finding, coloured pen distribution and sandwich-to-mouth delivery. You're all legends and we cannot wait to return.

And if you thought THIS year was good, just wait till Lorenzo's in town for the 2012 events. It's going to EXTRA epic!