One theme of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is ‘Playing with Books’, where books are brought to life by theatre production. One of the featured works is David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device (TIMD), set in Airdrie. The novel has been adapted and directed by Graham Eatough and produced in partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, starring Scottish actor Paul Higgins. David’s new title, Industry of Magic & Light, also set in the world of TIMD, is also being read at EIBF prior to the publication later in the month.
David spoke with SNACK about being involved in EIBF, the experience of having his work adapted for theatre, and some of his own festival highlights to look forward to, including Luke Cassidy and Amy Liptrot.
How did you come to be involved with the EIBF?
Just pre-pandemic, we were invited by EIBF to stage a small, experimental, one-night-only staging of a play based on TIMD, directed by Graham. It was a great success, and ever since then we have talked about doing a fully expanded version with The Lyceum that would run for the whole of the festival.
What persuaded you to agree to this adaptation?
I’ll be honest, I am not one of those writers who long for a TV or a theatrical adaptation of their work. However, the whole point of TIMD was that it presented an experience common to people growing up in small towns everywhere, so in a way everyone has their own ‘memorial device’ and probably imagines the [fictional] group and their music as filtered through their own past and passions. I realised that it truly was in the nature of the book to have as many iterations as possible, as many different – even contradictory – tellings.
When we did the first play with Graham I was quite hands-on: I didn’t know his work, because to be honest, I am completely ignorant of contemporary theatre. I have learned not to be [hands on], and after the first experience I was happy to hang back and let Graham and the crew get on with it.
And what can we expect from this adaptation?
As well as Graham, I have some good friends working on it, completely coincidentally. There is video and photography by Martin Clarke, who I went to school with in Airdrie and was one of my best buds at the time, so he lived in that world as much as I did and totally gets it.
Then there is sound design by Stephen Pastel – The Pastels are featured in the book – who again I have been best buds with since I was a kid. I think Paul Higgins brings the monomania, obsession, and zeal of Ross Raymond so well. I think it should –and it will – feel like being trapped in a room with a madman.
And you are reading from your new novel, Industry of Magic & Light, the prequel, and giving an early insight to the TIMD world. What can the audience expect from this event?
As soon as I started Industry of Magic & Light I realised it was set in the same mythical Airdrie as TIMD, only [this time] featuring the generation before. There are characters from TIMD – Teddy Ohm in particular features, as does Sinew Singer — and there are lots of intriguing details and some revelations for people who know TIMD well.
But at the same time, as with all my books, it can be read as a stand-alone book easily. The first part is written as a kind of inventory of objects, found in an abandoned caravan in Greengairs that belonged to a hippy who ran a psychedelic light show, while the second half is told in the form of a tarot spread. I combine fiction with real objects and details from the counterculture: letters from the poets Jack Hirschman and George Dowden, record reviews, transcribed cassettes, poetry journals, harmoniums, packets of crisps, bubblegum, et cetera.
And finally, can you offer some of your own personal highlights from the EIBF programme that we might want to check out?
Vashti Bunyan, Kate Molleson, my favourite contemporary author. Wendy Erskine, Amy Liptrot, Ryan O’Connor, and Antony Beevor on the Russian Revolution are some. Luke Cassidy’s Iron Annie Cabaret, James Birch talking about his brilliant book about Francis Bacon in Russia, as well as David Bratchpiece and Kirstin Innes discussing The Arches venue, Lucy Caldwell and Louise Kennedy, Pola Oloixarac, and probably some more that I can’t think of right now…
For more information on the 2022 Edinburgh International Book Festival programme including the performances of David’s This Is Memorial Device check out their website: edbookfest.co.uk