This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival (10-26th Aug) celebrates 30 years of its annual, residency at Charlotte Square, and for all the fantastic venues and places of interest in the wider festival, I can think of nowhere I’d rather spend my time.
The programme is as deep, wide and tall as it always is, and it is quite daunting to take it all in, but this preview works as a handy guide, with a few personal recommendations, so that you don’t have to.
As always there are themes which run through the festival, including the Best of Young British Novelists, Memory and Imagination, Blueprints for the Future and 30 Years Back, 30 Years Forward, amongst others, but there are three I want to concentrate on in particular.
The first is Stripped, which is a celebration of comics and graphic novels, and which sees legends such as Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Grant Morrison, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre in town. Other highlights include Denise Mina and Andrea Mutti talking about adapting Stieg Larsson, the evolution of 2000AD, and lots of interesting workshops and drop-in events. If I had to pick one event, and I have, it is Neil Gaiman talking about his classic series The Sandman (Sunday 25th). I have a lot of books on my shelves, but few are returned to as often as The Sandman books, which give up some thing new every time. Here’s a brief clip of the Gaiman talking Sandman:
The next theme is Making Music, which is about just that and the people who do it. There are talks on, and readings about, most musical genres, from classical to pop with lots of other stops along the way. These include Alfred Brendel, who has written A Pianists A-Z, Peter ‘Hooky’ Hook talking about life in and after Joy Division (of course!), Vic Galloway reading from his book on The Fence Collective, the brilliantly titled Songs in the Key Of Fife, as well as there being the promise of lots of live music in the Spiegeltent in the evenings. I’m even quite intrigued by what ex-Duranie, John Taylor, has to say, but I already have my ticket for Tracey Thorn (Sunday 18th). Thorn sang in two of my favourite bands from the early ’80s, Marine Girls and Everything But The Girl, and she has now written a terrific book about a life in pop; Bedsit Disco Queen, and I think this could be the most entertaining hour of my festival. Here she is singing with Marine Girls on A Place In The Sun:
The third featured theme is Scotland’s Choice which has events where they hope to have a sensible and considered debate about the forthcoming referendum. Good luck with that. Speakers include Iain McLean, Jim Gallagher and Peter Furtado and Keith Robbins, who attempt to put the vote in a historical context. Iain Macwhirter will be reading from his recent book Road to Referendum, but my ‘must attend’ is Alasdair Gray (Wednesday 14th), who upset many people with this recent essay ‘Settlers and Colonists’ which appeared in the Unstated collection, the majority of whom seem not to have read the essay in question. If ever there was evidence that the next 12 months are going to be less than decorous politically it was the rush to condemn a man who has thought more on notions of Scotland than most of us put together. Here he is from the festival a few years ago introducing his adaptation of Goethe’s Faust; Fleck:
While I mention Alasdair Gray, another theme which could applied to the festival is that of ‘Great Scottish Writers’, but happily that applies every year. The recent interest in the work of William McIlvanney is well deserved and long overdue. The Canongate reissues of some of his greatest novels, including Laidlaw, will hopefully introduce one of Scotland’s finest writers to a new readership, and you can hear him in discussion on Friday 16th. Another literary legend, Liz Lochhead, appeared at the first festival 30 years ago, and on Monday 19th she talks about the changes in Scottish culture between then and now. And A.L Kennedy appears on Monday 12th to talk about her recent collection of essays On Writing.
I’m pleased to say plenty of friends of Scots Whay Hae! are also under canvas in August, including recent podcast guests James Robertson (18th & 23rd), Karen Campbell (12th) and Doug Johnstone (15th), as well as recently reviewed writers Rodge Glass (12th), Amy Sackville (13th) and John Burnside (14th). But if I could only see one Scottish writer this year it would have to be Ali Smith, because I love her and everything she has done, and because her book Artful was my book of last year. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a real treat. This is Smith talking to the Edinburgh World Writers Conference at last year’s festival, and it’s the full talk, including the Q&A. If you love writing, and have a spare couple of hours, then this is a must:
I’m going to finish by highlighting two, more personal events. For those of you who I haven’t bored to tears yet, I was lucky enough to edit Robert Newman’s novel The Trade Secret last year, and I’m delighted that the man himself is coming to Edinburgh on Sunday 18th to read from it, and talk about what influenced this historical adventure. If the event is as much fun as working with him then I suggest you get your tickets now.
As I’m sure everyone knows, Iain Banks, one of my favourites writers, passed away recently, and on the evening of Sunday 25th there is a celebration of his work from some of those who knew him best. This should be an inspirational, if emotional, evening and a fitting tribute for someone who gave readers so much, at home and abroad, and probably beyond as well. Here is his recent BBC interview with Kirsty Wark, which is one of the most moving and life-affirming things you will see this year:
That’s concludes the Edinburgh Book Festival preview, but look out for the Fringe equivalent coming soon…