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Top 10 Book Adaptations

I’m not much of a film buff, I haven’t watched everything on any ‘100 films to see before you die’ list, and I certainly don’t think anyone would describe my film choices as particularly cool, whatever that means. But, I do enjoy watching a good film from time to time, and I always look out for adaptations of books I’ve read, or books I’d like to read. There are always discussions about adaptations, and I find it interesting that they always divide opinion.

Are you a fan of Leonardo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

Are you a fan of Leo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

A perfect example of this is the reception of Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came out last summer (I loved it, but then I hadn’t seen the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the inimitable Jay Gatsby).

I think there are often two main areas of discussion around a book adaptation:

1) How faithful it is to the book
2) How it compares to previous adaptations

On number 1, film directors always seem tempted to play with book adaptations, some striving to be as faithful as possible, or others being more adventurous with the format, such as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (which will always be my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s play), or 2012’s version of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (which I also thought was brilliant).

Another example for point 2 would be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you’ve seen the original adaptation, known as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder), then it may have been quite hard to warm to the more recent 2005 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s all a matter of which one you’ve seen first in some cases, as that’s the one you’ll come to associate most with the book. I’ve been thinking about book adaptations and wondering what my favourites have been, so I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 book adaptations on screen (in no particular order).

pride-and-prejudicePride and Prejudice
I loved both the BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, as I particularly loved the actor chosen for Mr. Bingley. I only read Pride and Prejudice last year but I felt that I already knew the story inside out – it’s such a well-known story that it could probably be adapted into many different styles, in fact, the Bollywood version Bride and Prejudice was also good fun.

lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king_xlgThe Lord of the Rings trilogy
This trilogy will always remind me of those long student winter breaks, and watching the extended versions of the films over the course of a few days with my brother who is a big fan of both the films and the books. I haven’t read the trilogy (I think I’ve read just 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring), but the world that J.R.R Tolkien created is brought to life on screen by Peter Jackson and the detail in each of them is astonishing. I miss being able to see them on the big screen at the cinema. There may also be some truth in the allegation that my love of men with beards comes from watching these films. Ahem.

Harry Potter series
I loved the books, as most book lovers of my generation do. Yes, the first few films have some cringe-worthy acting in them, but I love them all the more for it. It’s so nice to see the characters (and the actors who play them) grow up on screen. Perfect films to watch on a rainy afternoon!

Harry-potter-films

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago
The version I love is probably not the same as others have seen (I’ve heard many people love the film version starring Omar Sharif). For me it’s a TV adaptation – I think it was an ITV adaptation (starring Keira Knightley in her younger years) that came free with a newspaper many moons ago. I love the story, and it will forever remind me of winter in my old flat as I watched it whilst wrapping Christmas presents and making cards with my Christmas tree twinkling beside me. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list – it’s such a beautiful story and the setting is wonderful which is why I think I fell in love with it. I’d be interested to watch the Omar Sharif film and see how it compares.

pp32424-audrey-hepburn-breakfast-at-tiffanys-posterBreakfast at Tiffany’s
I caught the last hour of this film on TV recently ago and it reminded me of just how much I love it, particularly Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the ‘genuine phoney’ Holly Golightly. I did enjoy Truman Capote’s novella, but in this case I think the film is far superior. A classic!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games trilogy
I thought the books in this trilogy were brilliant, I read them furiously, spending about a day over each of them. I remember finding it really hard to write book reviews for them as I couldn’t find a way to express how much I’d enjoyed them and was just finding my feet with blogging at that stage. I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty great as well and look forward to anything she’s in. I have recently rewatched the first film as I hadn’t loved it the first time round – I felt it had been dumbed down (or made less harrowing) to appeal to a wider audience (aka making it a 12A so that kids would be able to see it and they could make more money at the box office). It’s much better on the second viewing, and the second film Catching Fire was far superior, although it seemed loads of details were missed out to get it within a reasonable time. I’m looking forward to seeing the final instalments which have been split into two parts, á la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series.

The film poster for Bright Young Things

The film poster for Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things
This is based on Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novel Vile Bodies – the film by Stephen Fry sticks pretty faithfully for it and it’s such a hilarious story. A glimpse of the young and pretty people in 1930s England, it’s as glamorous as the book is and really captures the whole feel of it. An example of an adaptation that sticks quite closely to the original story and works really, really well.

romeo_juliet_1996Romeo and Juliet
Do you remember the first time you studied a play by William Shakespeare in school? This was mine, and I remember watching this adaptation after studying it and appreciating for the first time how the play could come to life on screen and wasn’t solely fit for the stage. It’s a daring adaptation this, a modernised version, but it really works. It has the glamour and bright lights of all the best Baz Luhrman films – it’s magical, and is all the more heartbreaking for it.

Trainspotting
It doesn’t make for easy watching but it certainly packs a punch. It’s a powerful portrayal of the drug culture featured in Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title and has brilliant performances from Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlisle – it’s one of those films that once you’ve seen it, you certainly won’t forget it. It’s an iconic film that really captures the ’90s so well.

trainspotting-poster

A Tale of Two Cities (1935 adaptation)
I remember using this book for teaching when I was working in Spain and fell in love with a black and white film adaptation which I think is probably the 1935 version. The entire film used to be available on youtube but I can only find the trailer now. If you can track it down it’s well worth a watch!

I’m hoping to watch the adaptation of Diane Setterfield’s gothic thriller The Thirteenth Tale at some point this week as I have it saved on the iPlayer. I loved the book and I’m hoping the film will live up to it! What are your favourite adaptations? And which book adaptations are you looking forward to this year?

Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

the-book-thief-poster-books-burningThe Book Thief (UK release on 14/02/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Under the Skin (UK release on 14/03/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Gone Girl (UK release on 03/10/14)
Book Review

Mockingjay: Part 1
(UK release on 21/11/14)
Film info

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Autumn Reading Round-Up, part 2.

Up next in my review of books I’ve read this autumn are a few books that were a bit of a mixed bag (see Autumn Reading Round-Up, part 1. for the first lot). In writing these thoughts down though I find I still enjoy engaging with the books I have read and hope to get back into full reviews once more in the near future and develop some of my responses to them a bit more. For now, these sparse words will have to do…

conversations in sicilyConversations in Sicily by Elio Vittorini
I started reading this book on a flight to Rome, where I was heading to start off a mini-road trip up towards Bologna, as it felt like the perfect time to read some Italian fiction. It seems at first to be a simple story, of a man returning home to visit his mother in a small town in Sicily and having conversations with the people he meets along the way. It soon becomes clear that everything is a little mixed up, as times and places and people interchange, and events re-occur in similar but slightly varied ways. There is a big serving of Magical Realism towards the end as the protagonist Silvestro becomes increasingly drunk, and many references to Vittorini’s theory of things being ‘twice real’ – existing simultaneously in the moment they occur and in a person’s memory or perception. It is one of those wonderful subtle novels which are so powerful, hidden under the radar of censorship but still saying so much about the times they’re written in.

We-Need-New-NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This book was another shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year. Set in Zimbabwe, it is the story of a young girl called Darling living in a shanty called Paradise. The first part of We Need New Names follows Darling running around Paradise and its environs with a band of friends, who have their own code of games and language that feels really fresh. The first part is brilliant, the voices of the children, the way they speak and how they see life opens your eyes. In the second part of the novel, Darling moves to Detroit, Michigan (or ‘Destroyedmichygen’ to her friends), and lives with the culture shock between the life she has left behind and her new life in America. However in the second part, the magic of the prose, the life in it, seems to disappear. There’s no doubt that this novel has something to say, but it felt like it got a little bit lost.

The book did bring to mind a really enlightening TED Talk I watched by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Half of a Yellow Sun which I have been meaning to read for quite some time now!) on ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ in which she discusses how she finds that African authors struggle to find their authentic cultural voice, being so influenced not only by other cultures which infiltrate theirs, but the views of Africa that prevail, those of poverty, famine, drought and AIDs. I found this interesting to recall while reading We Need New Names as the book featured so many of these things but in the end seemed weighed down by western culture and ideas.

anywheresbetterthanhereAnywhere’s Better Than Here by Zöe Venditozzi
I think this book came under my radar after it was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, in fact, I think it won the public vote (although the final accolade went to Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life). At its centre is the slightly aimless, 20-something Laurie who is bored with working in a call centre and living with her unemployed and unambitious boyfriend Ed whose greatest achievement in a day seems to be sticking a washing on. Laurie’s world is pretty bleak and she isn’t her own best friend, vacillating over decisions and embarking on a love affair of sorts with the emotionally-absent ex-army man Gerry. I thought the voice of the characters, and in Laurie in particular, were very clear, and felt a lot more like real life than some of the voices in fiction, but then perhaps it’s more real to me as it’s set in Scotland. Disappointingly though, I felt the story didn’t go anywhere particulary, and the plot took a bit of a turn for the weird about half way through and became pretty predictable. Saying that, I do think Venditozzi is a name to watch out for – hopefully her next book will build on the knack for character and world-building she has and serve a more hooking plot to go along with it.

yellowbirds-210The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
This is one of the first successful novels that really takes on the Iraq war and the after effects on soldiers who have fought in it, struggling to deal with everything they have witnessed. The book, despite its difficult subject, is beautiful at times, and brutal, full of vivid imagery which are just snapshots of the sights these men at war have seen. It follows the story of one soldier, Bartle, who is trying to come to terms with the death of his fellow soldier and friend Murphy, and the guilt he feels at not being able to keep the promise he made to Murphy’s mother to keep him safe. It’s a tragic story, and from the beginning you know it’s a pointless exercise as the soldiers continually attempt to gain ground and that for many of them, there is no way to cheat death. It’s a book filled with poignant moments, especially the imagery of the title, when Murphy recalls his grandfather bringing canaries out of the mines, opening the doors to set them free and the birds fluttering about in confusion and coming back to rest by the cages. This has been lauded as a classic of war writing to stand alongside the likes of All Quiet On the Western Front. I thought this book was really affecting and look forward to seeing what Powers comes up with next.

method actors guideA Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde by Kevin MacNeil
I bought this book as I read MacNeil’s début novel The Stornoway Way several years ago now and thought it was just brilliant and I loved the way it was written. I also had the luck of seeing Kevin MacNeil perform with William Campbell this summer (they combine guitar with poetry – their song Local Man Ruins Everything was particularly good) at Jura Unbound, a series of nights of free events in the Spiegeltent at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This reminded me of his other book so I picked it up a the Festival bookshop. The book started off really well and brought back memories of MacNeil’s unique way of writing with equal warmth and wit. The story involves actor Robert whose life starts to take some strange turns when he crashes his bike en route to rehearsals for a production of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson on a man with a split personality). The book is enjoyable and a pretty farcical, and I really enjoyed the send ups of actors, writers and directors. There is a serious side to it as well, as an exploration of bipolar disorder and the effect it has on a person’s life and those around him or her. I preferred The Stornoway Way but would recommend this to fan’s of MacNeil’s writing, and found it good fun company to while away a few hours with.

On a related note, today is Robert Louis Stevenson Day! There’s always loads going on across Edinburgh and the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust have lots of info and materials on their website to go along with RLSDay2013.

I’ve got some more audio round-ups and full reviews coming soon, it will feel nice to be back on it again. Right now, I’m about 100 pages into Wilkie Collins’ classic ghost story The Woman in White which I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It’s just starting to get creepy… What are you reading this autumn?

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Book Review: Natural Causes by James Oswald

natural causesNatural Causes by James Oswald was another audiobook I picked up on my Audible subscription. I was browsing through loads of different books, not sure which to pick. I was swithering over reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (which is of course a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give in to the hype just yet. It set me down a crime route and I started looking at crime fiction, trying to pick something out. I fancied something light-hearted (if you can call crime fiction that!), just something with a good, gripping story as I was needing a change from biographies. Christopher Brookmyre’s books seemed like the perfect thing to fit the bill but I had a listen to the previews and was a little put off by the narrator’s voice. That was when I remembered about James Oswald’s crime book set in Edinburgh.

James Oswald is a farmer as well as writer, and originally self-published his book, selling it (for free) through amazon as an ebook. It’s a really interesting self-publishing success story – Oswald now has a publisher behind him, with Penguin releasing his books in paperback. It was this story that brought the book to my attention so I decided to give the book a go. I recently read Laidlaw by William McIlvanney and loved how it evoked the city of Glasgow and I was hoping that Natural Causes would do the same for Edinburgh. Inspector McLean is the detective in Oswald’s Edinburgh, trying to hunt down the killer after a gruesome crime where an old man is disemboweled, and the killer of a young woman sacrificed in some kind of Pagan ritual in the 1940s, and also trying to find out what the link between the two is.

I really enjoyed the novel, I found it entertaining and gripping, and I admit that I kept listening to it as I walked around the house, listening to it while cleaning or doing the dishes to fit in some more reading time! It was familiar and easy to get into, and I found myself quickly warming to Inspector McLean and sympathising with him (and the troubled past that is eponymous in Detective Inspector’s – is there ever a fictional DI who doesn’t have a troubled past/marital issues/substance abuse problem?). There were a few things that I think could have been done better, for example, Inspector McLean is constantly having technology troubles – his phone runs out of battery about 17 times, he forgets to replace the tape in the answering machine, he is boggled at his colleagues abilities with comupters… I found it a little wearing after a time, and started playing some kind of game in my head whenever his incompetence with technology was mentioned, giving myself a mental bingo point. Yes, there was a hint of predictability to the plot, but I enjoyed the book all the same, and liked walking about in Edinburgh thinking about the characters and where they had been; of clairvoyants on Leith Walk (there actually is a lot shop where you can have tarot card readings), and tourists and performers on the Royal Mile during the festival.

Oswald has another book out in the Inspector McLean series called The Book of Souls. I am interested to see if having an editor will make Oswald’s writing style a little more polished – the story, characters and atmosphere are all there but I think a little bit of editing would have helped to make the book really stand out. I’ll certainly read the next instalment at some point as I did enjoy Natural Causes. I do have a few other books on my list that I plan on reading first though…incuding those two other McIlvanney books in the Laidlaw trilogy!

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Book Review: The Search by Geoff Dyer

The Search

I picked this book up in my work as I really loved Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer which I read late last year. This is more of a novella than a novel at 164 pages so it could be read in one sitting. I read it very quickly, it’s one of those books that you just get sucked into.

The book felt very cinematic to me and probably recalled films more so than other books. The beginning feels a little like Chinatown, that film noir feel where a private detective is led into hunting someone down without really knowing what he has let himself in for. There were also scenes which recalled Inception for me, when Walker is wandering through towns and settings that feel altered yet familiar.

The Search begins when Walker meets a woman called Rachel at a party who later appears at his door asking if he can help track down her husband Malory (from whom she is separated) and get him to sign a few legal documents. Walker accepts the challenge and this sets off a trip across America, following vague clues and instincts as he tries to track him down.

There were several things that I loved about this book, but I think the main one was the exploration of photography. Walker starts his search in Malory’s apartment and comes across a photograph entite ‘Unknown Self Portrait’ and wonders ‘at the face of this strange ghost, captivated by the closed logic of the picture’. He passes through a train station and with time to kill ends up in a photobooth, a ‘machine [that] didn’t care; it recorded but didn’t notice’.

In one of the cities he passes through, every single person is frozen in time and the clock stays frozen at 4.09 – this captured the frozen moments in photos – that ‘Every action was poised on the brink of a precipice any moment or action brought you to the edge of infinity.’

There is a wonderful episode towards the end where he meets an artist who is embarking on a project to capture the life of a city by looking at photos taken in the city in the course of one day by residents and tourists. Together he and Waker try to track the progress of the day by following Malory as he goes in and out of the pictures and it is a lovely exploration of photography and how it captures memories. I often wonder when I’m wandering around Edinburgh at just how many people’s photographs I am in as I am constantly having to duck and dodge and hang back while tourists snap the city. How many mantelpieces or Facebook and Instagram pages have I appeared on unknowingly? It’s quite an unnerving thing to think about.

The narrative is always moving, geographically and thematically and photography and film are always central to the search. I even kept seeing the word ‘film’ in there, at times related photography and at others as an oily substance that covers waste in a city Walker passes through. Many of the towns and cities Walker visited felt like ghost towns, some of them were empty and seemed to me like endless film sets, each one different, built for a purpose but obsolete now that they were no longer needed.

Some of the novella is pretty surreal and you just kind of have to go with it, there are certain places that he passes through that just could not exist but I enjoyed that too as Walker just seemed to accept them and didn’t question them at all, it was as if he was wandering through part of his own subconscious, feeling like this search, this quest he was on was merely an excuse for adventure and the impetus that he needed to feel like he is doing something worthwhile with his life.

I didn’t intend to write so much but I really did enjoy this little book! Perfect to escape into for a couple of hours.

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Book Week Scotland – My Top Ten Scottish Books

I love book lists – browsing them for things I haven’t heard of, getting an idea of other people’s reading habits. Today I decided to make my own.

Monday saw the start of Book Week Scotland, an initiative run by the Scottish Book Trust to promote reading in Scotland. There has been lots going on on twitter, and you can read what it’s all about here.

They have some pretty awesome book lists on a variety of topics from Best Twisted Romances to 10 Books with Really Good Bad Guys. Have a look at their full list of lists here.

A lovely example of some of the things they are doing is the treasure hunt to find paper sculptures (the first to be won this week was based on Alasdair Gray’s Lanark). This all links back to a story a last year when a mysterious sculptor left a paper sculpture in the Scottish Poetry Library (pictured above) with a message in support of libraries. You can read the full, charming story on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website and take a look at some of the beautiful paper sculptures here.

So naturally, all of this focus on books and reading in Scotland has gotten me thinking about my top Scottish books and what I would recommend to people as a starter. My list, and a few thoughts on each book, is below. As ever, I have missed out so many that I love but wanted to include a few that are a bit different from what might be set texts when it comes to Scottish literature. Quite the mixed bag! Here goes…

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Auld Reekie

“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
Alexander McCall Smith

Being back home has given me the opportunity to get to know my “home” city again.  After nine months of telling people I’m from Edinburgh and talking about just how great it is and how much there is to do there it’s a welcome change to actually get to sample this rich cultural tableau I’ve been going on about so much.

I’m actually not from Edinburgh itself, but a village about 16 miles away, although technically I was born there.  I spent many days in town as a girl, trailing Princes Street’s selection of shops…Littlewoods, Jenners, BHS and Marks & Spencers seem to stick in my mind, probably because they had coffee shops which were essential to any shopping trip uptown with my family.  When I was a teenager I wandered about the old town, hanging out with all the cool alternative kids on Cockburn Street, wandering down to visit Armstrongs on the Grassmarket and down the South Bridge too.

Despite all this, I feel like I’m more of a Glasgow girl, although I might not have the accent to prove it.  I know the streets, where I’ll find which shop (that sounds as if it could be grammatically incorrect…), where all the good bars/clubs are, where’s good for live music, where all of the second-hand bookshops are, and also, where the nearest Greggs is.

In Edinburgh I feel at a loss.  Greggs are few and far between which is rather distressing when you’re used to there being one, or even two on every street.  I’ve still to go on a full night out in Edinburgh so my pub knowledge is far below par, and I needed to google to track down the second-hand bookshops.  Although to be fair I probably did that at one point for Glasgow too, even though now it seems I walk to them so naturally.  Hmm….  Anyway, I have been getting to know Edinburgh again.  And it feels goooood.

Last week I went into town and found the castle surrounded by clouds and the haar creeping through its streets.  Walking through the mist just adds something to the city, a a certain mystery and the feeling that you’re in another time.  I got lost on my way to Fountainbridge and was redirected by a couple of lovely gents and eventually found my way.  After this I headed for the West Port (following a google maps image I had tried to burn to my memory) and felt rather lost again but decided to trust my instincts.  My first stop was Edinburgh Books, who have an impressive collection but high shelves that I coudn’t reach so it made browsing a bit more difficult.  For some reason I don’t like asking staff in independent bookshops if they have something, because if I don’t like the price I still feel compelled to buy it.  I guess it’s because it’s their shop, and not the shop of some big high-flyer they’ve probably never met.  It’s nice though, when you buy something, the money’s actually going to the person you’re talking to.  So much more personal.  I had my booklist in hand and bought one book there, an old edition of The Young Visiters [sic] by Daisy Ashford with an introduction by J.M. Barrie which apparently caused a bit of controversy.  The book was written by Ashford as a nine-year old and the public suspected that Barrie had actually written it himself and passed it off as Ashford’s.  Not really sure what would’ve been in this for him though…  I bought this, and an Edinburgh Books bag with their mascot on the front of it, a water buffalo named Clarence.  I assume (though I should never really assume because it just makes it clear to me that I am completely ignorant) that Clarence is some kind of stuffed head sticking out of a wall somewhere in the bookshop, although I forgot to check at the time.  Silly me, will need to go back for another visit!

Next it was on to my next bookshop, this one called Armchair books.  It’s split into two shops, each with different categories but I really came up with nothing in either shop.  Next I moved on to another shop but it was filled with Scottish books and a hotch potch of other books which I didn’t have the energy to browse through.  The owner was friendly though and answered my questions about foreign language fiction bookshops in Edinburgh.  It turned out there was one next door.  The collection wasn’t too bad but they didn’t have what I was looking for so I left the last of the bookshops and wandered down to the Grassmarket.  Went back to Armstrong’s and had a browse about, and as usual, spent ages looking and didn’t try or buy a thing, so went up the West Bow, past the cheese shop and into one more bookshop.  It’s a nice little one, but very little and didn’t take me long to see there was nothing to interest me.

The West Bow brings you out facing the National Library of Scotland (NLS).  I had been thinking about going here for a week or so to do some research for my dissertation and decided to wander in, have a look about and get myself registered.  The NLS is a legal deposit library, able to request a copy of any book published in the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland for its collection.  I wanted to go upstairs to the reading rooms but decided against it – having to put all of my things in a locker just to have a look seemed like too much effort.  Instead I took to walking around the collections downstairs.  The first one is a pretty good exhibition called Golf in Scotland.  It’s not my kind of thing but was interesting all the same, well-timed too with all of the visitors for the Scottish Open that had been taking place at the Old Course in St. Andrews.  Oh, something that I really liked about the exhibition was the guard…instead of looking bored and watching people amble about, he was reading some really intense looking reference book, and was really engrossed in it.  Nice to see that in a library!  Completely irrelevant (erroneus!!) but anyway, the next exhibit was what I really wanted to get to.

It’s called the John Murray archive, after the publishers who left their vast collection to the NLS.  The room is dark and there are lights dancing like fireflies and landing on a table in the centre of the room.  It felt magical.  The lights were actually words and as I stood next to the table they came together to write The Publishing Machine.  I touched the table and it invited me to create my own novel.  I gave my book a title from the choice of words I was given – The Love of Murder.  I gave my book a cover, a colour scheme, a font, a genre, writing style, an expected audience and how I planned to market my novel.  All the time the words circled round the table and pictures slid in from the sides.  Apparently my novel was a huge success.  I walked away from this table in a kind of haze.

Dotted about the room were big cylinders that looked like something out of a sci-fi film.  Except they were filled with relics of writers, different pieces of clothing or items that reflected a bit about their life and writing.  There was Jane Austen, Lord Byron (one of his artefacts was a turban), David Livingstone and Charles Darwin (the only thing I remember from his items was a beard, although to be said it’s only natural that that would be the thing I would remember!).  In front of the cylinders there were interactive stands, shaped like big hardback books.  You touched a photo of one of the items in the cylinder and it gave you an explanation of it’s importance.  Darwin’s beard was significant because the portrait of him as the man with a long white beard is so well known throughout the world.

Stepping out of the John Murray archive left me feeling a little giddy.  I was in there alone for fifteen minutes or so until a man in his fifties came in and I remember us smiling idiotically at each other, there is definitely something about that room.  Oh and another thing, there is a section where you are invited to write to one of the authors from the archive and they are posted on the wall, sheets of paper covered in words, interacting with the authors who are represented in the room.  Quite magical.

I feel like I am successfully revealing myself as rather addicted books and the literary world, not to mention a love of libraries.  (I am off to the library today for the third time this week…and I have visited a total of seven bookshops, as well as several charity shops to browse their book sections…)  Despite all this, my trip yesterday to Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum was incredibly boring.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood but I couldn’t be bothered to appreciate it.  It seemed pale in comparison to the John Murray Archive.  It’s basically filled with manuscripts, relics and articles of the three pillars of Scottish writing: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  The building was what they call “quaint”, although that’s not to say I didn’t like it, just don’t really like that word, reminds me of American tourists describing their image of Scottish towns and villages for some reason.  It sounds condescending, almost.  I was rather sad that it bored me so much, I’d expected it to be much more interesting but you can’t have it all, eh?  The area around the museum is much more interesting actually, the paving stones engraved with quotes by Scottish writers and makars (Scots poets).

Edinburgh’s literary history is vast and expanding still.  Every year the Edinburgh Book Festival attracts writers from all parts of the world, although I’m not really in the mood for talking about this festival as they didn’t want to emply me which makes me feel a blue mixture of sadness, rejection and despondency.  I digress.

It’s listed as a UNESCO City of Literature and there’s much more to find than what I have stumbled across.  Can’t wait to find more…

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