Edinburgh International Book Festival: Week two recap

As another August comes to an end, we look back on highlights of the final week of Edinburgh International Book Festival

Feature by The Skinny Team | 30 Aug 2022
  • Ottessa Mosfegh at Edinburgh Book Festival

Ottessa Moshfegh

Moshfegh’s new book, Lapvona, is set worlds away from any novel she has written before. Taking place in a village in a medieval fiefdom, Moshfegh, at this event, speaks fondly of the landscape she has created. Heather Parry, who chaired the discussion, dug deep into the experience of writing Lapvona; how Ottessa discovered her characters rather than created them, and how this new medieval world became an escape from the boredom of COVID lockdowns.

It was a memorable event, with the most revealing moment being when Moshfegh was asked, by an audience member, how she feels about My Year of Rest and Relaxation tending to ‘get categorised as a book about unhinged women, and if that’s in any way reductive.’

"What do you think?" came the swift response. She thinks that instead of meaning ‘unhinged’, people (often on the internet) actually mean ‘interesting.’ Moshfegh skilfully, and with wry humour, wrapped up this question with what can be remembered as the quote of the night: "Who is hinged? I don’t want to be hinged." (Beth Cochrane)

Watch Ottessa Moshfegh's Edinburgh International Book Festival event online via edbookfest.co.uk

Amy Liptrot

Amy Liptrot follows her bestselling memoir The Outrun with new book The Instant. Set in Berlin, The Instant picks up after the events of The Outrun, although it isn’t necessarily a sequel. “It’s a book full of searching for different things – adventure, a new life in a new city, searching for connection,” Amy explained.

Based on her diaries from that time, the book spans the course of one year, with each chapter referring to a different moon. At the heart of the book is a short but intense love affair. “Like a lot of us, I live with an extra dimension of the internet alongside what I do. I’m writing about heartache in the digital age, which is so common. I’ve spent a lot of my life being heartbroken and not taking break-ups very well. It’s been such a big part of my life that I really wanted to honour that by writing about it. I wanted to get some art out of all this pain and angst,” she admitted.

The Outrun, which won the Wainwright Prize for nature writing, is currently being adapted into a film with Saoirse Ronan. Amy co-created the screenplay, which is currently being filmed on Orkney. What does she make of it all? “It’s mental! I’ve just come down from the film set. It’s halfway through filming at the moment. It’s become almost more vivid than any actual memory,” she said.

She revealed that she would love to start writing a nature column: “I feel a bit embarrassed to have written two memoirs at such a young age. I do also have ideas in different styles.” (Tina Koenig)

Watch Amy Liptrot's Edinburgh International Book Festival event online via edbookfest.co.uk

Michael Pedersen, Shirley Manson and Charlotte Church

Michael Pedersen makes a good case for his claim that friendships are the greatest love affairs of our lives. His book Boy Friends is a glorious celebration of boy friends, non-boy friends, lost friendships and departed pals. It’s sticky with friendship, love and lyricism, featuring his deep and dear companionship with Scott Hutchison front and centre.

In his Boy Friends tour, Pedersen is travelling from city to city to meet some of his most cherished pals on stage to discuss friendship and, inevitably, love. Tonight it’s Shirley Manson and Charlotte Church, both former guests at Pedersen’s now-on-hiatus Neu Reekie! night. The conversation is almost immediately intense and vulnerable, a bit like Pedersen himself. Chat swirls around the topics of first best friends, the complications of celebrity or renown when it comes to maintaining friendships, and the weird wee cat cabal Pedersen was once a part of.

Manson and Church are generous and introspective in their answers to these pretty personal questions, delving into why it can be difficult to make friends, and why they’ve felt they’ve repelled people in the past – and their musings on death are pensive and perceptive. Pedersen is, as always, an astute and charming host, able to dig deep into these fascinating people and create conversational gold that melts away the hour in a second. (Kirstyn Smith)

Watch Michael Pedersen's Edinburgh International Book Festival event online via edbookfest.co.uk 

A Golden Age for Trans Fiction: Imogen Binnie, Torrey Peters & Shola von Reinhold, chaired by Harry Josephine Giles

With the air of a glamorous squad assembled to commit a jewel heist, as put by chair H. J. Giles, the panelists gathered onstage to unpick the idea of a trans literary canon before a well-dressed crowd who hung on their every word. Subversive genre writing, notes Shola von Reinhold, the prizewinning debut author of LOTE, is prevalent among marginalised writers in opposition to the exclusionary archetype of literary fiction. It can also divorce transness from medicalisation; LOTE reveres the glittering aesthetic, rather than pain, of trans figures of the past, whilst Imogen Binnie’s trailblazing Nevada plays with the classic hallmarks of a road novel whilst her trans characters navigate their environments.

The idea of a “Golden Age” of trans fiction mostly draws smirks from the panelists, just as “trans fiction” as a marketing term draws winces. Torrey Peters, author of internationally renowned portrait of contemporary queer family Detransition, Baby, says that this wave of market interest in trans and queer stories in the publishing industry cannot yet be understood or assessed as good or bad. She writes about her community on the basis of affinity over identity, to create work which speaks to a varied audience, removed from the burden of contemporary identity. (Paula Lacey)

Watch Edinburgh International Book Festival's Golden Age for Trans Fiction event online via edbookfest.co.uk

Lola Olufemi

Amidst the ongoing bin strike, and following a year of heightened media scrutiny of industrial action, it was refreshing to hear activist Lola Olufemi’s unflinching belief in collective political action as she discussed her debut book Experiments in Imagining Otherwise with journalist Nesrine Malik. 

The work is experimental in the sense that it takes a nontraditional approach to nonfiction, meandering from fragmented essays, to poetry, to short fiction, yet Lola acknowledges that its commercial status limits its experimental potential – truly challenging political materials are free. Her writing has an ideological purpose that goes beyond words, criticising mainstream punditry and the media's fixation on debate, citing an “overreliance on language, as if language alone can convince someone that they are able to live freely”.

In the book, academia is described as a “graveyard where collective resistance went to die.” 'Was education not meant to free us?' Nesrine asks, to chuckles throughout the audience. Lola recounts her own time in academic spaces, how she existed antagonistically within the institution, gaining a greater education than anything she learnt in class. She adds that academia’s potential for good hinges on those within its ability to practise refusal of its hegemony, to share and redistribute its knowledge – “steal everything!” (PL)

Watch Lola Olufemi's Edinburgh International Book Festival event online via edbookfest.co.uk