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  • Alistair Braidwood

The Write Stuff: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival…

Updated: May 7, 2021

Usually for SWH! August means Edinburgh, and especially the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Of course this year there will be no time spent in and around Charlotte Square Gardens but, proving that even a global pandemic can’t put paid to their plans, the Edinburgh Book Festival still has a full and far-reaching programme for your pleasure.

This year they are, “inviting authors and audiences from around the world to ‘Keep the Conversation Going.’ From 15-31 August, enjoy more than 140 events for adults and children for FREE via our website, including live conversations, discussions, readings, and draw-alongs.”

You can peruse the full programme here, and follow the festival on Twitter & Facebook as well as YouTube & Instagram.

With so many great events to choose from here are Scots Whay Hae!’s Top Ten Picks of what to see at this year’s festival to help you discover something just for you. To find out more about each event, how to book your place and take part, and buy copies of the relevant books, click on the links below…

Following on from his acclaimed trilogy about the American soul music scene in the 1960s, much-loved Scottish broadcaster and writer Stuart Cosgrove returns to the American post-war era with his highly topical new book.

In Cassius X: Six Months That Shaped The Sixties, Cosgrove charts the journey of a young Kentucky boxer named Cassius Clay. Alongside his rise as a fighter, Clay begins to embrace the ideas of the Black Power movement and the teachings of Malcolm X. Thus, Clay changes his name to Cassius X, before eventually changing it again to his Islamic name: Muhammad Ali.

We have all become familiar with living through these strange times but for Ian Rankin 2020 has been unusual in more ways than one.

For starters, even though the number one bestselling writer thought he was taking a year off, he found himself topping the charts with a book he once hoped would ‘never see the light of day again.’ That book is Westwind, first published in 1990 in an edition of just 1000 copies, but strikingly relevant today in its brand-new edition.

Rarely does a novel set the Scottish literary scene abuzz in the way Scabby Queen has, counting amongst its fans figures as wide-ranging as Janice Galloway, Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon.

Rock star, veteran political activist, symbol of a nation in decline — who really was Clio Campbell? In Kirstin Innes’s effervescent follow-up to her Not the Booker Prize-winning Fishnet, she invites you on a whistle-stop tour of the fictional Glasgow chanteuse’s life in the days following her suicide, so that someone might finally be able to answer that question.

As part of the Book Festival’s Outriders programme exploring the shifting landscapes of contemporary Africa, rising star of Scottish poetry Nadine Aisha Jassat embarked on a poignant journey across the south-east of the continent with Zimbabwe-based writer and film-maker Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose 1988 debut Nervous Conditions was included in the BBC’s 2018 list of the 100 books that shaped the world.

‘When we read and write, when we love our fellow creatures, when we walk on the beach, when we just listen and notice, we are not little cogs in the machine, but part of the remedy.’ These luminous words by Kathleen Jamie form part of the introduction to Antlers of Water, an outstanding collection of contemporary Scottish writing about nature and landscape.

In a discussion led by the BBC’s Clare English, Jamie is joined by award-winning journalist Chitra Ramaswamy as well as visual artist and writer Amanda Thomson – both contributors to the anthology – to discuss Scotland, landscape and the more-than-human world around us.

One of Scotland’s most gifted and unpredictable writers, Michel Faber has always defied categorisation. His previous novels including Under the Skin, The Crimson Petal and the White and The Book of Strange New Things have been described as ‘unbelievably clever,’ ‘wildly entertaining’ and ‘impossible to put down.’

Now he returns with D, his most shape-shifting book yet. Like The Wizard of Oz, Faber’s novel is a political adventure that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Its heroine is brave, resourceful Dhikilo who lives in a faded English seaside town. When the letter ‘d’ suddenly disappears from the alphabet and only Dhikilo notices it’s gone, she embarks on a journey to the land of Liminus to get the ‘d’ back.

In the words of the starred Kirkus review: ‘You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.’ This astonishing debut is a powerful and heartbreaking story about the love between a boy and his mother, about poverty and addiction, about Thatcher’s Glasgow, about sexuality, coming of age and finding one’s way. Roaming through public housing, wandering in and out of pubs and neighbourhoods, it asks how we might protect those we love most of all, and at what cost.

Join us for an evening of food and entertainment, hosted by our Citizen Writers in Residence Eleanor Thom and Leyla Josephine. With live readings, audio recordings and a film created by Citizen participants, our community meal will showcase the insightful and thoughtful work of local people from North Edinburgh and Musselburgh. To book a free meal (numbers limited) or receive an ingredients list and recipe card contact us on

This live event is part of Citizen, our long-term creative programme working in partnership with organisations across Edinburgh, offering local people a platform to explore identity, connection, place and everything it means to live in our world right now. Find out more at

‘Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.’ The post-punk protagonists of Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies would probably describe the lyrics of Prince’s hit pop song 1999 as ‘Yankee pish,’ but O’Hagan’s novel catches exactly the mood of the song. The ephemeral nature of life, burning brightly and then so soon extinguished, lies at the heart of this soulful story of two lads from small-town Scotland.

The fine grain of working-class teenagers’s lives; the blether, the binge-drinking and nights on the pull: Mayflies sees Andrew O’Hagan in scintillating, heartbreakingly good form. He talks with fellow Scottish writer, columnist and doyen of the literary salon, Damian Barr.

‘The report that only the poets can make’ wrote James Baldwin in 1962. In 2020’s global climate, what might a report by Scottish writers look like? How can poetry speak back to Scotland’s literary heritage and complex relationships with nature, colonialism, justice and language?

Join Saltire Poetry Book of the Year winner Janette Ayachi, Scottish Voice for 2020 playwright and poet Hannah Lavery, performance poet Courtney Stoddart, and poet and lecturer at the University of Dundee Heather H. Yeung for a special showcase and discussion celebrating the diversity of contemporary Scottish verse. Chaired by Andrés N Ordorica. Supported by the Scottish BAME Writers Network.


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