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  • Alistair Braidwood

Scots Whay Hae’s 2012 Edinburgh Book Festival Preview…

It’s nearly that time of year again when the world of books squeezes into a small square at one end of George St in Edinburgh, and as usual the diversity of what’s on offer is something to behold. Where else would Pat Nevin, Alain De Botton, Joan Bakewell and Kirsty Wark get to rub shoulders outside of the Newsnight Review Studio. Actually, that is a point. There are not too many surprises or controversial bookings this year, but there is still enough quality on show to please those of us wrapped up in books.

As well as the varied readers, there are some key themed events in Charlotte Square between the 11th and 27th of August, including those on political literature, censorship, the future of the novel (which seems so last year), and the question of National Literature. To try and make some sense of it all, this is Scots Whay Hae’s annual guide to the best of the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012.

This has been one hell of a year for Scottish writing, with the promise of more to come, and this is reflected in the programme. Iain Banks’ Stonemouth, Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys and Alan Warner’s The Deadman’s Pedal have seen those three close to their very best, and they all make an appearance at the festival to read from their latest novels on the 22nd, 18th and 23rd respectively. All of them will be entertaining, and will give an audience so much more than a simple reading, but if I had to choose to see only one I think it would be Warner as there are so many questions I’d like to ask about The Deadman’s Pedal, a book which is more complex than an initial reading may suggest. Hopefully I won’t have to choose though. To whet appetites, here’s someone called David Tennant reading from Banks’ Stonemouth:

From an earlier generation, lifelong friends James Kelman and Liz Lochhead are appearing together on the 19th, and that is worth considering. This is arguably Scotland’s most influential modern writer and Scotland’s most successful living poet. Sometimes I think we can take these things for granted, but imagine a fantasy festival where Robert Louis Stevenson appears alongside Robert Burns and you’re not far away from the importance of these two. You’d buy tickets for that, right? I’m particularly looking forward to this as they will be talking about Kelman’s latest novel Mo Said She Was Quirky, which for the first time has a female Kelman protagonist. For an obsessive like me, that makes it of huge importance. I’m excited just typing about it.

Another couple of Scottish legends are making their way through from the West. Alasdair Gray is finally having all of of his short stories, including 12 new ones, collected in one place by Canongate, and he will be on at the RBS Theatre on Sunday the 12th. Here he is reading ‘Pillow Talk’ from his 2003 short story collection, The Ends of Our Tethers:

William McIlvanney is appearing as part of the launch of Elsewhere, which is going to be one of the highlights of the festival. It is an amazing collection of short stories from some of the greatest writers’ from all corners of the globe (can a globe have corners?), and is a collaboration between the Book Festival, Cargo Publishing, and McSweeneys. Not only have I been lucky enough to have read some of it, but I’ve seen it, or should I say them. Elsewhere is a actually a four book boxset, and you’ll be able to buy the books individually as well as all together. You’ll have to take my word for it for now, but you won’t pick up a better looking object at this year’s festival. The event is on at the Scottish Power Studio Theatre at 7pm on the 16th.

I was lucky enough to introduce Mr McIlvanney at the Margins Festival, and I can confirm that not only is he a master storyteller and raconteur, he is a true gent and the consummate performer. For some reason he seems to be overlooked when people talk of the best of Scottish writing of the late 20th century, but not round our way. Here he is talking about his classic character Laidlaw:

The friends of Scots Whay Hae! are out in force this year. Alan Bissett, who is going to be a busy man this August (more of which in our Edinburgh Fringe preview which will be with you shortly), is appearing as part of a panel, which also includes David Lammy, to discuss the possible cultural future for an independent Scotland. It promises to be one of the most interesting debates of the festival.

Louise Welsh has her new novel The Girl on the Stairs out on August 2nd, and she’ll be reading from it on the 12th. The wonderful Kapka Kassabova will be talking of her love affair with tango on the 17th, and recent podcast guests Ewan Morrison and Rodge Glass will be reading from Tales From the Mall and Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs respectively on the 11th and 20th, but both will be taking part in other events as well. Also in the square this year will be Doug Johnstone who is reading from his novel Hit & Run alongside Swedish crime writer Jens Lapidus on the 17th, and another writer sharing a stage, on the 20th, is recent Scottish Book of the Year nominee Allan Wilson, who will be in the RBS Corner Theatre reading from Wasted in Love with fellow short story writer Lucy Wood. You can find all of the above talking books and so much more on the Scots Whay Hae! podcasts. Here is a trailer for Mr Johnstone’s Hit & Run:

Lot’s of fantastic poetry is also in evidence with appearances from Billy Letford (24th), Don Patterson (19th), Ryan Van Winkle (13th), Aonghas MacNeacail (21st), Edinburgh’s Makar, and lovely man, Ron Butlin (18th) and Seamus Heaney (18th). And that’s just the boys. I’ve already mentioned Liz Lochhead, but she’s also doing her own event on the 22nd, reading from her recent collection The Choosing. Carol Ann Duffy is involved in three events, including one for children, but on the 25th she will be reading from her fabulous collection The Bees. I must also mention Jackie Kay as she will be reading from her new collection of short stories Reality, Reality which is without doubt one of the books of the year, and which will be reviewed on these pages soon. Here she is reading from, and talking about, Reality, Reality at this year’s Aye Write Book Festival:

Other events which I am drawn to include ‘Gregory’ himself, John Gordon Sinclair, who will be reading from his debut crime novel Seventy Times Seven on the 26th, and one of my favourite cultural commentators and theorists Stuart Sim(14th) who will be talking about the dangerous fetishisation of Western economic growth. If you are a fan of John Gray then this is for you. Other great Scottish writers appearing include Ali Smith (19th), Andrew O’Hagan (18th), Toni Davidson (12th) and Denise Mina (17th). I must also flag up the debate on National Literature on the 19th which will be chaired by Ian Rankin and which features Irvine Welsh.

But my treat to myself is going to be Nile Rodgers on the night of the 19th. Rodgers is one of my favourite musicians, playing on, and also producing, some of the great albums, but he will always be most loved by me for doing things such as this:

The boy on bass isn’t bad either, mind. If you ever want to be bored rigid then ask me to tell you my theories as to what made Chic so great. It’ll do it every time. In the meantime, you can make up your own programme and see what else is on in Charlotte Square by going to, and I’ll maybe see you there. I’ll be the one in the satin shirt.


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