A guest blog by Lyn Gardner, first posted on My Red House.
Around this time of the year most people are looking forward to their summer holidays. But I’m looking forward to spending August in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s the biggest arts festival in the world. I haven’t missed a festival since 1995, and yet I still look forward to it eagerly every year, even though I’ll be working and seeing at least six shows a day. That’s because Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and every year the Fringe is different and throws up so much new and exciting theatre talent.
During the three-week duration of the festival it is possible to see a show at almost any time of the day or night. There are so many shows from which to choose: around 2,500 from comedy to circus and Shakespeare to musicals and physical theatre to spoken word shows.
It’s very family friendly too: there are masses of shows for children: some of this year’s many offerings including Horrible Histories’ Barmy Britain, an adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tiddler, as well as great children’s companies such as Catherine Wheels and Shona Reppe performing at the Scottish Book Trust. And of course you can also call in at the Edinburgh Book Festival to see your favourite authors from Francesca Simon to Michael Morpurgo, or enjoy the free street theatre on the High Street and by St Giles Cathedral.
This year feels special for me because I am not only heading to the Fringe as usual to write about theatre and performance for the Guardian, but because my fictional creations, the high-wire walking Olivia and her friends at the Swan Stage School, are coming with me. Olivia’s Enchanted Summer, the fourth book in the Olivia series which has been described as “Ballet shoes meets Malory Towers”, is set amidst all the hustle and bustle and spills and thrills of the Edinburgh Fringe.
When I poured my knowledge of West End theatre, gained over many years as a theatre critic, into the first book in the series, Olivia’s First Term, I hoped that I’d get the opportunity to send Olivia to the Edinburgh Fringe. In Olivia’s Enchanted Summer I have, and though it’s very much a fiction it does reflect all the things that can go so wrong and so right for performers at the Edinburgh Festival. One of the things I love about Edinburgh is the fact that everyone is welcome. A school show or a piece of theatre for children in a small venue is as likely to win one of the coveted Fringe Firsts awarded by the Scotsman newspaper or a Herald Angel as one with a big budget and famous actors in a proper theatre.
Over the years I’ve seen shows in every location imaginable from purpose-built theatres to broom cupboards and shops and boats, and even on one occasion in a public convenience. In my novel, Olivia and her friends are performing in a big top on Calton Hill over-looking a city which at night always looks magical, like something straight out of a fairytale.
Of course it wouldn’t be an Olivia book without lots of things going wrong or without lots of adventure, and Edinburgh with its fairytale castle, long history and narrow streets and wynds is a perfect place for adventure and transformations. Every year thousands of performers travel to the Edinburgh Fringe dreaming that they will be discovered and their lives transformed. Of course most are not, but in the course of three weeks performing on the Fringe they discover a great deal about themselves, their friends and how to make sure that the show does go on even when it feels as if all luck is against them.
A fortunate few do get massive attention and have their lives changed forever by the experience. Will Olivia be one of them? I’m not telling; you’ll have to read for yourself and discover if a star is born or if the Edinburgh Fringe is a wash-out for the Swan Stage School.
This article was first published on My Red House. Lyn will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival tomorrow and you can still buy tickets here. Olivia’s Enchanted Summer is out now and you can read the first chapter for free below: