Day 1: Edinburgh International Book Festival, Sue Perkins

By Megan Thomas

First-off: I’m bloody obsessed with Edinburgh during August/Fringe (and in general). Within the first six-ish hours of being in the city, I had already spotted Neil Patrick Harris in the line to watch the same play as me and a few hours later I’d seen Atomic Saloon, the most fabulously bizarre circus/brothel show, in George Square.

Yesterday was my first day with press tickets at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, not the first day. But I’m looking forward to a few more shows and thought it most-crucial to tell you about the fantastic authors I’ve met and the events I attended yesterday, the first being a discussion with Sue Perkins.

Sue Perkins: East of Croydon

English TV presenter, comedian and one half of the dynamic-duo Mel and Sue, Sue Perkins has written her second book, East of Croydon, and so far I’ve nearly cried from laughter, outrage, sadness and disgust on numerous occasions – the best combo, really.

The book is her travel biography of her time spent travelling through South East Asia, noting the people she met, environmental challenges she tried to tackle, as well as the food that made her very sick – she doesn’t recommend you ever try ordering a milkshake in Asia, or gulp a mouthful of the Ganges.

At this event in the Edinburgh International Book Festival‘s New York Times Main Theatre, Sue showed herself just as she is, charming, observant, funny and friendly, reminding everyone why they love her. As journalist and Sue’s interviewee Jackie McGlone described it: read this book with a medic nearby so they can get straight to work stitching up your side. (To which Sue replied that the NHS was gravely overworked and should not be wasting their time on readers!)

When asked about the implications of being a wealthy Westerner exploring and “helping” their way around Asia, Sue dealt with the topic head-on and articulately. Though agreed between the two that this event was not the time to be getting into the nuances of White Saviour Complex, Sue gave an example of how necessary self-evaluation is when doing trips such as these, and how she can sometimes think in retrospect about a situation that could’ve been a real insult. She found herself looking at rice-farmers bent-double in the fields, thinking what a beautiful photograph it would make. She didn’t take it, but on reflection can quite readily admit “how pretty poverty looks when you don’t have to live it”.

In fact, it’s Sue’s determination to be respectful of the cultures in which she’s inserting herself that often makes the story so funny and to illustrate that I’m going to share a quote from the book, at a point where she is being encouraged to take a sip from a rather revolting concoction (which is in the introduction, so no major spoilers):

I know that a choice is presenting itself. I can play the squeamish Westerner, protect the delicate flora of my intestinal tract and offend a bunch of festive animists. Or I can be another person, a different Susan – a fearless explorer embracing with open hands and open heart a strange new world.

Today at Edinburgh International Book Festival

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