While wandering through a second- hand bookshop, Sandi Toksvig came across a book on elephants. In it she read about a Sudanese myth. If a village in Sudan was in trouble, the villagers would whistle and the elephants would arrive, saving them from peril.

'I read a lot of trivia and I became obsessed with this,’ says writer and comedian Toksvig. In her first adult novel Whistling For The Elephants - she has written several children’s books - Toksvig recounts the growing years of a girl in 19605 upstate New York. The Copenhagen-born Toksvig grew up there in the flower-power era but says the novel is not biographical.

Asked if, in the novel, elephants descend on suburban America to rid it of its troubles, Toksvig is elusive. Perhaps the elephants did but, in defiance of their famed memory, have forgotten. (Susanna Beaumont)

I Imprisoned Writers, Napiers Herbalists Lifestyle Tent, 29 Aug, 5.30pm, free tickets; Sandi Toksvig (Teatime Talk) Speigeltent, 29 Aug, 6.30pm, £6 (£4).


Throughout history, many courageous women have disguised themselves as men to pursue goals that would normally have been denied them. The case of Edinburgh-educated James Miranda Barry, a celebrated 19th century military surgeon and formidable duellist, gripped Hal/ucinating Foucault author Patricia Duncker so much that she wrote a semi-fictional novel based on what was known about his/her life.

‘Where I’ve written the novel is in the space just to the left of the historical record, where there's just rumour and hesitant gossip and connections that look possible. But I didn‘t want to be too bothered with fact, because it is a novel.’

The potential of James Miranda Barry as excellent cinematic fare is obvious. Has Duncker given any thought to who might play this extraordinary person? ’I wondered about Cate Blanchett. She


played Elizabeth I and if you think about it that is really a man’s role. She would be stunning.‘ (Alastair Mabbott) I Patricia Duncker And Maggie Gee (Lunchtime Reading) Spiegeltent, 26 Aug, 7pm, £6 (£4).

KIDS ROUND-UP Events For Children

The last week of children’s book events has a challenging feel. J.K. Rowling started writing while nursing cold coffees in an Edinburgh cafe. Now her Harry Potter events sell out within hours (26, 28 Aug). Benjamin Zephaniah overcomes his dyslexia by performing instead of reading his poems (26 Aug).

Hilary Robinson wrote Sarah Spiderina to help her daughter overcome her arachnophobia (29 Aug) and Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley talk about their challenging 5000 mile pilgrimage which resulted in the fascinating Children Of Britain - Just Like Me! (29 Aug).

Mary Contini and Pru Irvine will be teaching eight to eleven-year-olds how to enjoy cooking rather than indulging in the equally pleasurable occupation of having food fights in Easy Peasy, Come And Squeezy (27 Aug) while the menu is completed with Michael Rosen's belovedly zany Lunch Boxes Don ’t Fly (29-30 Aug). (Gabe Stewart) I Events For Children, various venues, until 30 Aug.


Grace Paley


Roy Hattersley

Buster‘s Diaries, as told to Roy Hattersley, proves a nimble vehicle for the odd sleekit opinion, especially when their ‘author’ fraternises with Norman Tebbit. And all this coming from a mongrel who first found notoriety on being convicted of slaying a royal goose.

‘After the goose incident, when lots of crank letters said he should be shot, I thought if there was a risk of him being put down, then madly, insanely, lunatically, I’d have taken him to Ireland,’ says Hattersley.

After being rescued from a true paws-to-mouth existence of sleeping rough in London, Buster uses his diaries to reconcile the wolf inside himself with the

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advantages of civilisation. But Hattersley recoils at talk of insights into paradoxes of modern life and allegories of contemporary dilemmas. 'Buster‘s Diaries are words written to make people smile - particularly in the lavatory where slim volumes are usually read.‘

The former Labour deputy leader also mocks the idea that reading is an essentially ‘serious’ business. ‘Reading is not the preserve of an intellectual elite which has never watched Coronation Street,‘ he insists. ‘It can be a universal joy. It was meant to make us glad.‘

But after telling tales of a dog that pees on Tai Chi practitioners, swallows chicken legs whole and is addicted to liquid paraffin, isn‘t it time Buster was traded in for a gentler beast? ’Well, I’m allergic to cats. Show me one and I will cry, put one on me and my nose will bleed.‘ (Alison Chiesa)

I Roy Hattersley And Buster (Special E vent) Post Office Theatre, 26 Aug. 7pm, £ 6 (£4); Bland Broadsheets: The Battle Between Facts And Comment (Culture Wars) Spiegeltent, 26 Aug, 4pm, £6 (£4); Roy Hattersley (Teatime Talk)

Spiegeltent, 26 Aug, 6. 30pm, £6 (£4).

She looks like an angelic grandmother, but continues to campaign for politically radical causes in her mid 705; she is one of America‘s great fiction writers though she has never written a novel. ‘Art is too long,‘ explains Grace Paley. ‘And life is too short. There is a lot more to do than just writing.‘

And so there has been, with her socialist and feminist causes to fight for, her avowed pacifism and a life lived in rebellion. ‘The importance of not asking permission,‘ is how she sums up her own political agenda.

Her fiction, though, is never dry or didactic. Her short stories, from the first collection in 1959, reflect the drama of the world she grew up in -

Hidden gender: Patricia Duncker

her Jewish parents arrived in New York from Russia at the turn of the century. Wise and humane, she has a truly distinctive voice, one, according to Susan Sontag, ‘like no one else.’ (Elisabeth Mahoney)

I Grace Paley (Bigger Picture) Gap Studio Theatre, 29 Aug, 3.30pm, £5 (£3).


’Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to sin.’ Mary Daly‘s words to The New Yorker indicate an individual of purpose, one who has no concept of compromise and, to put it bluntly, someone who wants to get it up them. ’Them‘ being those who worship patriarchy - 'the religion of the entire planet’.

A holder of three PhDs, her first book The Church And The Second Sex got her fired, albeit temporarily, from her teaching job at the Jesuit-run Boston College. Her run-ins with the unreconstructed theologians there have continued to the present day, including a recent ruckus over her refusal to admit male students into certain classes.

‘There are . . . those who think I have gone overboard,’ she wrote in 1992’s Outercourse. ’Let them rest assured . . .

that I will continue to do so.‘

(Brian Donaldson)

I Mary Daly (Bigger Picture) Gap Studio Theatre, 26 Aug, 3. 30pm, £5 (£3).


’The most imaginative British novelist of his generation,’ insisted one broadsheet. ’A Nineties’ Robert Louis Stevenson,’ screamed another. Whatever your opinion of the writing, the importance of Iain Banks cannot be understated. When the 20th century looks back at Scottish literature, it will acknowledge Iain Banks as the closest we have to a world-renowned, blockbuster-selling author.

In his latest book, The Business, an all-seeing, all-hidden sprawling conglomerate who once owned The Roman Empire is out to gain universal control and a seat at the UN. Can our heroine, the very 90$ Kate Telman, stop it before she loses her life?

If you remain unconvinced of his literary status, how many authors do you know can get away with a pseudonym which entails the insertion of one letter (’M’) or who have a Fringe play dedicated to their genius (The Curse Of Iain Banks)?

(Brian Donaldson)

I Iain Banks (Meet The Author) Post Office Theatre, 30 Aug, 11.30am, £6 (£4).

26 Aug—9 Sep 1999 THE LIST 63