"Finished! At last! Finished!"

posted 13 Oct 2017, 05:18 by Cat-Like Tread   [ updated 13 Oct 2017, 05:24 ]
Now that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has come and gone, we feel it is high time to sum up our 111 Places Challenge experience and to have a chat with the author of the book. We met with Gillian Tait on her beautiful roof terrace to talk about her favourite locations and about some of the challenges she faced when putting the book together.

Why '111' places? 
My book is part of the international 111 Places series of guidebooks published by the German company Emons. There seem to be several reasons why they first came up with the number 111 – it’s visually attractive and memorable, and it makes a change from 100 or 101. But it also has to do with Emons’ home city of Cologne, where the number 11 has a special significance. The city’s coat of arms has 11 teardrops on it, said to refer to the legend of St Ursula, who was martyred along with 11 virgins – a number later inflated to 11,000 due to a clerical error! And Cologne’s annual carnival begins at 11.11am on 11 November. 

What challenges did you face when putting the book together? 
The first was to select a range of unusual and little-known places all over the city (and a little way beyond) that would be intriguing to locals as well as tourists, and to get the right balance of monuments, museums, pubs, gardens, arts venues and so on. There are a few iconic landmarks included, but in these cases I concentrated on some quirky aspect or surprising story connected with them. Then for each site I had to find an additional ‘tip’ – somewhere else of interest nearby – so actually you get 222 places for your money!

Cutting down the texts to the required length of a single page per place was a difficult task – I became so fascinated by many of the stories and characters in Edinburgh’s history that I kept getting sidetracked in my research, and soon found that I had far too much information to condense.

The photography posed other challenges. The design of the book meant that the photos had to be ‘portrait format’ – oriented vertically – which was counter-intuitive for many locations. And trying to schedule photography in a city with such an unpredictable climate was a bit of a nightmare!

What was your favourite location?

It’s difficult to single out just one. The mysterious rock-cut Gilmerton Cove was definitely the most fascinating. I was also charmed by Chalmers Memorial Church in Port Seton, with its delightful painted interior. And seeing the WW1 practice trenches at Dreghorn was a very poignant and memorable experience.

If you could include one more location what would it be?
Several spring to mind, including the Museum of Fire, which sadly closed down shortly before the book went to press. And the Forth Road Bridge, which I feel has been unduly sidelined in all the excitement about the Queensferry Crossing. However, I think the 112th place I would have liked to include is the Church Hill Theatre in Morningside. It’s a vital part of the Edinburgh amateur theatre scene, where I have greatly enjoyed both watching and performing in many memorable productions over the years, and I think it deserves a higher profile as a city venue.

We really enjoyed working our way through the 111 Places as a countdown to opening night of The Sorcerer, our show in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As an Edinburgh resident and performer, do you have a favourite aspect or memory of the Fringe?
I have loads of fond memories of Fringe shows in the 1970s and early ’80s, and I saw quite a few unforgettable performers before they were famous, including Rowan Atkinson (mesmerising and hilarious) and Hugh Grant (drop-dead gorgeous). But I really want to hand it to all you Cat-Like Treaders, not just for completing the Challenge, but for what was a truly exceptional, fantastically enjoyable production of 'The Sorcerer’. The talent, enthusiasm, commitment and originality of your company all recall for me the true spirit of the Fringe as it once was – celebrating the ‘amateur’ in the very best sense of the word.

What is your favourite Gilbert and Sullivan operetta?

It’s very hard to choose just one, but my special favourite is the show that introduced me properly to the canon, around 1974. A friend and fellow student of art history, who was mad about the Aesthetic Movement, dragged me along to see a D’Oyly Carte production at the King’s Theatre, and I was hooked. That show was ‘Patience’.

What a coincidence! Keep an eye on our social media pages and website for more information about our next Fringe Festival challenge. We want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported us throughout this challenge – to all the locations, to Karen Seiger at 111 Places, and to Gillian Tait for her advice and assistance. Now on to the next project. Watch this space!