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BOOKS

Every other year Edinburgh Festival sets up a kind of literary big top for authors, publishers and readers to get together and talk books. This was a fallow year but Writing November, a mini autumn festival, means print-hungry Scots won't have to wait too long for nourishment. Over the next eight days, David Lodge, Margaret Drabble and James Ellroy will be giving readings, along with flavour-of-the-year blockbusters Kate Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum) and Louis de Bernieres (Captain Correlli's Mandolin). Tomorrow, a special family event takes children "around the world with Barbar". Actress Gerda Stevenson will be reading De Brunhhoff's tales to music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and an elephantine slide show.

Traverse Theatre, Cambridge St, Edinburgh (0131-228 1404) tickets from pounds 3.50

PHOTOGRAPHY

As one of Sweden's first rock stars, Jan Oloffson used to answer to the name Rock-Ola. Now at the fag end of a swinging career which has seen him meet The Beatles in Hamburg, found a record label (responsible for "Nice One Cyril") and snap pop icons for his book My Sixties, Oloffson remains a die-hard smoker and supporter of Forest, the group which affords nicotine addicts the dignity of speeding their own demise. To coincide with The Forest Guide to Smoking in London (which lets puffers in on those secret, fuggy corners yet to be banned by Californian-style anti-tab militants), Oloffson is mounting an exibition of fag-inspired photography. So get yourself a snout, and get down to the Portobello Gold for a look at the monochrome glamour of carcinogens.

Portobello Gold, Portobello Rd, London (0171-460 4900) from Thur

COMEDY

Newcastle will be infested with professional gag-mongers over the coming days as the city's Comedy Festival gets underway. Comic hues range from surrealist Eddie Izzard to scatologist Jenni Eclair, from prog-rocker Bill Bailey to sublime keyboard player and prototypical anorak John Shuttleworth. Newcastle Brown Ale have stumped up sponsorship, so who better to give the Festival the ultimate seal of approval than Al Murray, pub landlord, philosopher and unofficial advisor to the Government on Britain's role in Europe? Murray will be rolling out a barrel of laughs on Friday at The Comedy Cafe.

At venues around Newcastle to 16 Nov. John Shuttleworth, Newcastle Playhouse (0191-230 5151) 8pm Sun; Al Murray, The Comedy Cafe (0191-232 0899) 10.30pm Fri

THEATRE

The spirit of the late Kenneth Williams carries on in a one-man show arriving in London this week. My Life with Kenneth Williams, a tour de force by actor David Benson, merges uncanny impersonation with confessional autobiography.

Kings Head Theatre, London (0171-226 1916) 8pm from Tue

EVENTS

If you felt too old to get tricked out in a white sheet and go menacing for sweets on Halloween, then why not head for one of the hundreds of free firework displays around the country this weekend? Although Bonfire night isn't officially until Tuesday, there's something for everyone. In the south, denizens of Lewes with long memories of the Gunpowder Plot will be burning tar barrels and effigies of the Pope in a traditional anti-Catholic carnival. Meanwhile Blackheath promises a 25ft bonfire and massive "surprise structure" by the thoughtfully named Emergency Exit Arts, which will be torched at the end of the evening. At Thorpe Park and Alton Towers you can view spectacular bangs and whizzes from a log flume, while Brentwood stages a musical extravaganza to The War of the Worlds and Berwick upon Tweed boasts a Night of a Thousand Guys. Wherever you are, you're not far from an explosive

Saturday night.

All above events tonight; contact local authorities for details of fireworks in your area

If Mariah Carey sits at one end of the rock chic spectrum then Skunk Anansie occupy the other. Carey opens her mouth and the rock equivalent of a deep-fried Mars Bar drops out, but Skunk Anansie's music comes with teeth. Now touring new tracks like "Yes It's Fucking Political", lead singer Skin (right), who terms herself a "bull-headed bisexual Amazonian", will be kicking musical ass from Wednesday.

Town & Country, Leeds (0113-280 0100)

HYPE ALERT

Air guitarists everywhere now have their own special wall calendar - "The Guitars the Stars Play". Pin-ups include this exotic, hand-painted 1964 Fender Telecaster owned by Manfred Mann's Tom McGuiness, a svelte Gibson Firebird strummed by Paul Weller and a mangy old thing that looks like it's been chucked around a bit by Status Quo's Francis Rossi.

Available now from major outlets including HMV and Virgin

On Thursday the Christmas lights go on over Oxford Street. Strung across roaring traffic, these electric baubles have little to do with the holy nativity but, rather, illuminate whey-faced Londoners as they bravely launch themselves into the interminable business of buying socks, decorations and crossing pushchairs with other parents battling to gain entry to the squalling halls of Hamleys.

But it's not all shopping. Some of the ancient Yuletide traditions remain, such as the issuing of novelty records. This season's top stocking-fillers include the double A-side single "Hillbilly Rock Hillbilly Roll/ Linedancing" from Emmerdale's bumpkin band The Woolpackers, and Tricia from Heartbeat crooning Sixties cover "Where Did Our Love Go?". Phil Lynott would no doubt be delighted to learn that a cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back inTown" is also out, sung by those fine musicians, The Gladiators.

If you can't face any of these classic cuts, at least purchase a copy of charity platter "Children of the World" which features an impressive chorus of B-list-and-below celebrities gleaned from the world of panto. Rolf Harris, The Chuckle Brothers, Lorraine Chase, Rod Hull and Emu, Bonnie Langford, Bobby Davro, Linda Lusardi, Brian Cant. All the old raves.

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