This year, join in the Edinburgh International Book Festival wherever you live without the hassle of travelling. The festival organisers have embraced live streaming and so quite a few events will be available for you to watch without leaving your sitting room. Here are my suggestions.
Love it or loathe it? If you live in Edinburgh you can’t be neutral about the thing. August is festival time, and people either escape, hunker down, or embrace it. Me, I love it, and I am looking forward to this year more than ever having discovered over the last two years how easily it can all be taken away.
The book festival, which was always held in the leafy Charlotte Square gardens in Edinburgh’s West End, was usually a little haven in the midst of the other festival mayhem, but in 2020 the organisers decided they had outgrown the space and moved to the Edinburgh College of Art on the south side. Last year saw a very reduced version in this new venue, which was for me and many others, sadly lacking in atmosphere, with a very drab and uninspiring bookshop. We are all hoping for better things this year, and the packed programme – over 600 events – suggests it may well be.
Many book festivals down south, which shall remain nameless, seem to focus on giving even more airtime to slebs, presumably paying them big bucks in the process (while often not paying lesser know authors anything at all.) EIBF pays everyone, and pays them all the same rate, which is so commendable. A few slebs do creep in every year, but knowing they’re on the same level doesn’t make it feel quite so bad. I have also discovered over the years that slebs who appear as writers seem to act differently, are more human, but still entertaining. So I’ll just flag up a few slebs who are here to promote books, are being live streamed, and who might just give you an entertaining hour:
Janey Godley (Monday 15th 11.3012.30)
Kevin Bridges (Wednesday 17th 17.30-18.30)
Alan Cumming (Sunday 21st 17.00-18.00)
Richard Coles (Friday 26th 13.00-14.00)
Frankie Boyle is also here, but not being live-streamed, so you’ll need to get to Edinburgh if you want to see him.
The state of the world
Is it just me who thinks about book festivals as all about fiction? Because of course there are non-fiction books out there too. Allan Little, BBC journalist and chair of EIBF, does a fantastic job of interviewing writers about the political scene, so any event he is chairing is definitely worth seeing. He is chairing 10 events this year, and my two choices will be his interview with Val McDermid (Thursday 25th 20.30) and ‘What does Freedom Mean in Europe?” – an interview with Lea Ypi about Albania (Friday 26th 16.00)
Another event which I’m drawn to is an interview with Norman Scott (the man who was nearly assassinated by Jeremy Thorpe and who was played by Ben Whishaw in the recent TV drama A Very English Scandal.) If nothing else, it will be interesting to see if Whishaw’s portrayal was at all accurate. (Wednesday 24th 13.00)
Finally I’m definitely going to see the Man Who Escaped Auschwitz, having read some extracts from this book in the Guardian and finding it incredible. (Saturday 13th 13.00)
The book festival is international, but it also does a great job of promoting home grown authors. For instance, every day at 5pm there will be a different storyteller reading something prompted by ‘On This Day’. Unfortunately these are not live-streamed but they are free. But there are also sessions with Denise Mina (Friday 19th 17.30), Irvine Welsh (Monday 29th 19.00) Ian Rankin (Monday 22nd 20.30, Thursday 25th 17.30), Doug Johnstone (Monday 29th 13.30) Douglas Stuart and Val McDermid (Sunday 28th 17.30) and so on. All live streamed.
And it has become a book festival tradition that our very own First Minister Nicola Sturgeon interviews someone of her choice. These events are always brilliant. This year she interviews actor Brian Cox (Monday 29th 20.30) and Louise Welsh (Monday 15th 17.30)
Literary greats you won’t want to miss
I’m not going to get to see them all, but here are some of the great writers you might want to catch. Monica Ali (Wednesday 17th 14.30), Anthony Horowitz (Monday 22nd 17.30) Maggie O’ Farrell (Monday 29th 17.30) Joanne Harris (Monday 22nd 11.30). Writers I am not going to miss are Emily St John Mandel (Saturday 20th 16.30) and Amy Liptrot (Monday 22nd 19.00). I’m also looking forward to seeing Claire Fuller (Monday 20th 16.15) but she is not live streamed. Oh yes and don’t forget Howard Jacobsen, Colm Tolbin, Anne Enright and Noam Chomsky! Help!
How to write sessions
The book festival also runs some interesting sessions and workshops offering practical help.There’s a workshop about cover design (Saturday 13th 10.30-2pm – this one is not live-streamed) one about marketing strategies (Monday 15th 13.30-14.45) and one about the evolution of YA literature (Friday 26th 2pm)
Finally I must mention the two ‘how to’ write sessions which I’m going to be personally involved with. Writing for children – diversity and inclusion is a watch in person panel discussion. In addition I will be chairing An Introduction to Writing Children’s Books, I’ve invited Simon James Green (author) and Lindsey Fraser (literary agent) to share their thoughts and experiences with you and there will be some practical exercises too. Not live streamed, I’m afraid, but if you do make it here to watch this in person, be sure to say hello!
Well that’s it. I haven’t even really mentioned the YA or children’s programme, the schools’ programme, I’ve missed poetry and performance, and I seem to have focused entirely on Western Literature and writing. So sorry. But there are over 600 events to consider. Bookings open 10am Thursday 23rd June so be sure to look at the whole programme before that and get ready to make your selections. Have fun.
Pic below – the book festival in it’s previous location, Charlotte Square.