Edinburgh Post 6: Shaun Tan’s signature is beautiful

My time in Edinburgh is finishing up and I am so, so sad. It’s already noticeably less crowded as lots of authors left after the conference and it’s just quieter and less colourful and also less sunny.

Credit: Edinburgh International Book Festival

Yesterday I found myself with Selina O’Grady and Francis Spufford at an event called ‘An Informed Debate About God’. Selina O’Grady described some of the findings of her new book, And Man Created God, and shared some insights into the political reasons for Christianity catching on the way it has where, say, Zoroastrianism hasn’t. Spufford then read an extract from Unapologetic, describing the physical feelings of a very personal experience of God. He wrote the book in response to current way the atheist case is being made that completely ignores the emotional experience of faith. There were some big questions brought up for discussion between the authors but to be honest it wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped for. Maybe it was because there wasn’t enough time, but I didn’t think they were able to do justice to questions such as whether it is possible to respect a believer without respecting their belief, how to be part of an institution that supports injustices, what to do about Creationism and whether secular movements have caused more damage than religious groups.

I had a much better time with Shaun Tan and not just because of that

Eric, one of my favourites from Tales From Outer Suburbia

delightful Australian accent. (I can’t tell you how many people here just assume I’m some kind of British.) I didn’t realise how popular he was outside of Australia but I guess winning an Oscar would help with that. I’m a big fan of his gorgeous, offbeat and utterly human illustrations and if you haven’t heard of him you should have a look at this. Tan had a whole set of slides and used them to talk us through his workspace, his childhood drawings (crazy impressive), some of his projects, his drawing process and inspirations. He told us about his feeling the feeling of dislocation from he world around him and the way he uses fantasy elements in his work to express it. As a generally not-so-reflective person he explained the way drawing is his way of making sense of the world and his place in it. My favourite part was a visual guide to the way The Lost Thing went from book to film. The sheer amount of work that went into just a few seconds of film was humbling.

As for Shaun Tan’s signature: He had an elaborate system of different signatures for different books. The Arrival had a passport stampy kind of thing, then for The Red Tree and The Lost Thing he used an ink print of his finger to make a tree or light chicken (as he called it) respectively. So pretty. And also fairly time consuming, the line took forever, but it was definitely worth it.

It definitely feels like the festival is winding down and my next post will be my last from Edinburgh. So tune in soon for Howard Jacobson and Katie Dale and Jennifer Smith and my general thoughts on the festival.


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