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  • Alistair Braidwood

Edinburgh Preview: Book Festival Special…

The 2010 Edinburgh International Book Festival is on from the 14th August to the 30th at Charlotte Square so I think it’s only right to give it its own preview. Every year there is a terrific line-up of names, there is always plenty to try and see, and there is usually at least one ‘controversy’. Last year it was James Kelman’s attack on ‘genre’ fiction (see Kelman v’s Jakey;was that really a year ago?) where he complained that if Scotland had a Nobel prize for literature they:

“would give it to a writer of fucking detective fiction or else some kind of child writer or something that was not even news when Enid Blyton was writing the Faraway Tree because she was writing about some upper middle class young magician or some fucking crap.“

You may or may not agree with the sentiments, but you’ve got to admit the man knows how to get noticed, and I believe that such debates are never a bad thing. As long as no one draws blood, of course.

But that was last year, and there are plenty of big name writers that have the possibility to make the headlines this year. Let’s start with the best of the Scottish writers as it’s quite a list. A.L. Kennedy, Alan Warner, Andrew O’Hagan, Anne Donovan, Denise Mina, Louise Welsh, Alan Bissett, Ali Smith and Alasdair Gray (left) are just a few of the better known Scots writers who are featured, and I would recommend listening to, and reading, any of them.

There are also newer names appearing, and often they are the more interesting people to see and hear as sometimes readers can fall into the trap of sticking with what we know, or who we know. There is nothing finer than discovering a writer at the early stage of their careers, reading them before others discover what they’re missing. It is important to try the new stuff, and a book festival is the best place to do that as you can listen to the readings and, in effect, try before you buy. I would recommend Nora Chassler, Jason Donald and Kirstin Innes as great writers to start with.

There are also plenty of writers based outside Scotland who are appearing, both writers of fiction and non. One who is a must see is Will Self (left) who appears on the 29th and the 30th Aug. Self is one of the great raconteurs and you’re guaranteed more than simply a reading from his latest work. However, sometimes his notoriety overshadows the fact that he is perhaps the best British novelist of the last two decades. If you haven’t read Great Apes then you really should, and grab his book of short stories Grey Area while you’re at it.

Other novelists who are in attendance this year and are always worth catching include Roddy Doyle, Howard Jacobson, A.S. Byatt and JeanneteWinterson, and there are some first time novelists who have made their name in other fields whose stories should be worth listening to. I would particularly point you in the direction of Guardian journalist Laura Barton(appearing with Raphael Selbourne on the 15th) and actress Emily Woof (The Full Monty, Velvet Goldmine and This Year’s Love) whose debut The Whole Wide Beauty has already been well reviewed. She is in Edinburgh on the 16th.

As well as prose there is plenty of poetry on offer. Kathleen Jamie, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Ruth Padel are just a few recommended names, but I’ll draw particular attention to three of my favourite poets. Seamus Heaney appears on the 24th and Don Paterson reads from his latest collection Rain on the 30th, and which I looked at earlier in the year (see Patter Merchant…). Someone who straddles both worlds of poetry and prose is the Edinburgh Makar Ron Butlin who appears alongside his wife and fellow writer Regi Claire on the 15th. For those who don’t know he wrote the novella The Sound of My Voice, which is one of Scottish literature’s best kept secrets.

There are also some non-fiction highlights to mention. On the opening Saturday (14th) Allan Brown will appear with some of the cast of The Wicker Man, a film that he explores in incredible detail in his book Inside the Wicker Man (and which will be reviewed in these pages very soon). Brown’s book is subtitled ‘How Not to Make a Cult Classic’ and he has interviewed many of those involved who often give very different accounts of the circumstances surrounding the film. His task was to sift through the substantial mythology and self aggrandising that surrounds the film to try and uncover something close to the truth. It’s a terrific read, particularly if you’re interested in how the film business works. If you get the chance you may want to ask him about his forthcoming book on The Blue Nile, Nileism: The Strange Course of The Blue Nile, which is something I can’t wait to read.

There are lots of ‘events’ at the festival, and if you want a bit of political debate you should try and get tickets for What Will the Big Society Look Like, which will attempt to predict what a Cameronian Britain will entail. The panel includes David Aaronovitch, Oliver James, Sir Menzies Campbell and will be chaired by Magnus Linklater. If you like a bit of cultural crossover then you should attend the Unbound section of the festival which is billed as being nights of ‘stories, music and literary entertainment’ and is completely free. Held at the Spiegeltent every night, the idea is to try and explore new ways of communicating poetry and prose. You can download the full programme here. If you can only make one of these nights then I suggest you wait until the 30th when Chemikal Underground join with the team who brought us The Year of Open Doors (see The Year of Open Doors…) for the launch of the accompanying audio book, and features performances from Burnt Island, Adrian Crowley, Ryan Van Winkle, Alan Bissett and many more including a secret special guest. It promises to be a great finish to the festival.

This selection only touches what is offer so you should go to the site to check what else is available (all details and dates can be found at, but it is an increasingly popular festival so book as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Here’s the festival director Nick Barley with his five innovations for this year to whet your appetite:


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