I admit it, I feel a bit bereft this year. I’m writing this in Edinburgh as the most weird of Augusts ends. No festivals! And in particular, no book festival. Edinburgh International Book Festival did host some amazing events online, which were hugely enjoyable, but it’s not entirely the same. So this month I thought I might pay homage to our country’s amazing selection of book festivals.
Each year there are more than fifty held throughout the country, and even though I’m a complete bibliophile I’ve not visited even half of these, so I’m only able to offer you a tiny sample. Maybe in 2021, we will again be able to visit book festivals in person; if so I hope there is something here for you to put in your diary and to anticipate through the coming winter.
- Ullapool Book Festival (7th-9th May 2021). This tiny event punches above its weight. It is small and friendly, all events held in the cosy village hall, yet it still attracts some amazing authors, and even has a ceilidh. You can book a weekend pass which is pretty good value (be warned, these sell out incredibly quickly so sign up for advance notification), or you can book on an event by event basis. Accommodation can be tricky as Ullapool is on the North 500 coast trail… so don’t leave it to the last minute. Ullapool is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland and May is probably the best time to visit. To cap it all, there are two fantastic bookshops as well, and numerous delicious restaurants.
- At the other end of the country is the Wigtown Book Festival (usually end of September/early October). This festival is also in a stunning location and has the added benefit of being in Scotland’s book town With over 1/4 million second hand books to choose from, including a dedicated sci fi and fantasy shop, it’s an amazing place to spend a few days. There are many reasonably priced places to stay in this scenic corner of Scotland, and a new attraction – Moat Brae, inspiration for Peter Pan, has just opened up nearby.
- I’ve never actually been to Bloody Scotland, but it’s on my list! Held in September in Stirling, this is a festival for lovers of crime fiction, usually attracting some really big names (JK Rowling aka Robert Galbraith even made a guest appearance). Stirling is easy to get to and is also home to the best castle in Scotland (in my opinion).
- A smaller but equally brilliant crime festival is held every year in April in the tiny village of Cromarty., organised by local resident Ian Rankin. Visit the Cromarty crime and thrillers weekend and you’ll be in for a treat. Cromarty is a lovely place to spend a few days, steeped in history, with lovely walks and excellent places to eat. (A further crime festival – Granite Noir – is held in Aberdeen. I’ve not been to this one, but Aberdeen is a beautiful city and a perfect location for this new fixture.)
- If sci fi and fantasy are your thing, look no further than Scotland’s newest festival, Cymera. First held in 2019 in June in Edinburgh, here’s hoping it becomes a permanent fixture for the capital.
- Poetry also has its own festival – Stanza- held in St Andrews around March time.
- Returning to general book festivals,I doubt you could find a place in Scotland where there is not a book festival. Towns such as Pitlochry, Nairn or Portobello, through islands such as Colonsay, Skye Bute and Isla, and of course the cities such as Inverness and Glasgow. But I need to finish with the biggest, and arguably the best. of them all…
- Edinburgh International Book Festival. Last two weeks of August centered around Charlotte Square, there is something here for everyone. And I for one can’t wait for 2021 when – covid permitting – it will be back. Here is my top tip; all the big names sell out incredibly fast, but if you become a friend of the festival, you have priority booking of up to ten events a week before everyone else. Really well worth it.