Michael Palin and Danny Wallace at Edinburgh Book Festival

Circus act: Michael Palin was in Edinburgh for 2012's Book Festival
Circus act: Michael Palin was in Edinburgh for 2012's Book FestivalElaine Downs

By Elaine Downs

If laughter truly is the best medicine, then residents and visitors in Edinburgh are a picture of health this August. Not content to be eclipsed by the Fringe, the Edinburgh International Book Festival has also brought comedy talent to the capital, including Michael Palin and Danny Wallace.

Michael Palin, for all his TV travels, is still best known for his part in the archetypal British comedy, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In his formative years, he came to Edinburgh as a student to perform in the Fringe.

He said “I was member of the Oxford Review, we put this show together. It was a wonderful feeling, we were very free. You can’t really recreate that time, like you can’t go back to your old university. Oxford is not my place anymore; it’s a new generations place. It’s a useful lesson in life, keep moving onwards and upwards.”

His new novel has environmental issues at its heart and involved him travelling to India to research how mining threatened the way of life of an indigenous tribe. He is careful not to preach or be hypocritical.

He said “We all use the products that can have an effect on our environment, so it’s complicated. You have to really understand the issue before you can take a stand.” However, he admitted “Comedy is my default mode. Humour is such a huge part of British culture.”

Humour also drives Danny Wallace, the Dundee-born comedian and author, to write non-fiction books that stem from his ‘mad boy projects’. These include the highly successful Join Me, and Yes Man, a self-help book without the bulls*** which was turned into a Hollywood movie starring Jim Carrey.

Charlotte Street is Wallace’s first foray into fiction writing. This is essentially a love story, but an unconventional one, with large doses of Wallace’s optimistic brand of humour.

When asked about the difference in writing fiction and non-fiction, Wallace describes a departure from his normal writing process. Non-fiction involves writing factually about actual projects but for Charlotte Street, he said “I knew the beginning of the book, and more or less how it ended, but didn’t really know what would happen in the middle. The more I got to know the characters the more they developed and then it just flew.”

Both Wallace and Palin are living examples of the adage performed at the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics by fellow Python Eric Idle: Always look on the bright side of life.

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