top of page
  • Alistair Braidwood

The Write Stuff: Scots Whay Hae!’s Top 10 Picks Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2023…

This year marks 40 years of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (12–28th August) and you can join in at The Festival Village at Edinburgh College of Art near the University of Edinburgh’s Lauriston Campus, which becomes a literary oasis as Edinburgh rages all around.

Once again it will be a hybrid festival of live and online events, and this year’s programme is arguably more diverse and welcoming than ever before, one which looks to the future while celebrating the past.

There are more than 400 live events, with something for everyone, and you can find all the details of who, what, when, and where at, but, with so many great events to choose from, here is Scots Whay Hae!'s guide to 10 things to see at this year’s festival.

Authors of novels The Tongue She Speaks and Fade Into You, which address the formative young adult years in particular, Catriona Child & Emma Grae will discuss growing up in Scotland, their love of the music of the 90s and early 2000s, and how pop and indie culture moulded both their lives, and their novels. Few writers have managed to capture the highs and lows of growing up as vividly and recognisably as they have, and this is an event which will evoke nostalgia and empathy, touching on themes, and times, with which everyone will be able to identify.

This event will be chaired by Scottish Book Trust’s Nyla Ahmad.

Hannah Lavery and Marjorie Lotfi are among the most acclaimed poets at work today, and their joint award of a Second Life grant from the Edwin Morgan Trust recognises this. The two used the grant to respond to the poetry of Morgan while also exploring their experience as 'mixed-race' women in Scotland through correspondence carried out across the spring of 2023. Lavery and Lotfi continue their excavation and exploration in this special Edinburgh Book Festival performance where they will also launch an accompanying pamphlet.

Every August (Covid aside) Edinburgh and attendees celebrate the city and all things festive, yet the idea, and the reality, of Edinburgh being the Festival City is one which brings its own problems and criticism. For this event, arts writer David Pollock (The Edinburgh Festival: A Biography), sociologist David McCrone (Who Runs Edinburgh?), and the Rector at The University of Edinburgh, Debora Kayembe, promise a serious and insightful discussion on how the festival affects the city and those who live and work there. An important conversation which is likely to challenge received wisdom.

Chaired by Herald Editor Catherine Salmond.

Polaris is the fourth collection from Gaelic and English-language poet Marcas Mac an Tuairneir, one which builds on intersecting notions of 'northness' and linguistic and cultural identities – the title 'Polaris' means 'languages' in the gay cryptolect Polari. Poet, writer and playwright Sam Ó Fearraigh writes in both English and Irish, and has been widely published, including translations of Marcas Mac an Tuairneir’s Gaelic poetry. Join the two in conversation about the importance of supporting minoritised languages which are an integral part of these islands. This promises to be a fascinating discussion about cultures all too rarely represented at literary events and festivals

This event will be chaired by writer and ceramicist Mohamed Tonsy.

Increasingly, dystopian fiction is holding a mirror up to the real world often to an uncanny degree. In Rachelle Atalla’s novel Thirsty Animals the world is running out of water. In a bid to feel safe, Aida returns to the family farm in Scotland but that security doesn’t last long. In Ever Dundas’ novel, HellSans is a government-endorsed typeface which has the effect of mollifying the populace. However, the increasing number of those who are ‘HellSans Allergic’ leads to division and disharmony. An event with two of the most imaginative and experimental writers around is bound to be worth attending.

Chaired by writer and journalist Eilidh Akilade.

Perhaps the perfect event to celebrate the past and future of the EIBF, James Kelman, whose landmark 1994 Booker Prize win for How late it was, how late did much to shape today’s Scottish literature, is in conversation with writer Graeme Armstrong, recently named one of Granta’s ‘Best Young British Novelists’ (see below). They will ostensibly be talking about Kelman’s excellent 2022 novel God's Teeth and Other Phenomena (which ranks among his best work) but an in-depth discussion of Kelman’s incredible career is likely, if not guaranteed.

Leila Aboulela has been widely praised for her beautiful and insightful writing, and bringing together the often clashing cultures of East and West. At this year’s festival she will discuss her new novel, River Spirit. Through the voices of seven men and women whose fates grow inextricably linked, it illuminates a fraught and bloody reckoning with the history of a people caught in the crosshairs of imperialism. The themes include coming of age, faith and devotion, family, and the effects of history. Few writers examine the notion of empire as evenhandedly as Leila Aboulela does, and this is a chance to join that discussion.

Debut novelists are well represented at this year’s festival, and three of the best are brought together for this event. Based on a true story, Heather Parry’s Orpheus Builds a Girl addresses the objectification and ownership of women’s bodies in both life and death. K Patrick’s Mrs S was the Observer best debut novel of the year 2023, rightly praised for its poetic prose and experimental style, and Camila Sosa Villada’s The Queens Of Sarmiento Park examines sex work, gender identity, and the often complex question of family. Three of the most exciting writers working today (in conversation with a fourth) - this is an event not to be missed.

Chaired by writer and performer Harry Josephine Giles.

There are a lots of great non-fiction events at the festival, but this looks like being among the most exciting and informative. Polly Morland’s A Fortunate Woman was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize and it explores how the life and work of a country doctor was affected over the years as rural society changed. Rebecca Smith’s Rural: The Lives of the Working-Class Countryside mixes memoir with research as she examines the shifting socio-politics of the country using her own family’s life and experiences as the starting point. Concentrating on areas of the country regularly visited, but all too rarely discussed, this will be an event to open eyes and educate minds.

Every decade Granta selects 20 authors as the ‘Best of Young British Novelists’, some of whom you may know, and others destined to be known. In the past the list has included writers who would go on to be literary legends, so notice should be taken. This event features four of the current decade’s authors – Graeme Armstrong, author of the acclaimed Young Team, Natasha Brown, whose novel Assembly dissects corporate culture, Derek Owusu who won the Desmond Elliott Prize for That Reminds Me, and Olivia Sudjic, known for the novels Sympathy and Asylum Road. Among all the events at this year’s festival, this one has the potential to be an “I was there” moment as these writers subsequently go on to bigger and better things.

Chaired by writer, editor, broadcaster and journalist Sinéad Gleeson

You can keep up with all the news and events at the EIBF by following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and flickr, and subscribe to the YouTube channel.

A version of this article also appears in the current SNACK magazine


Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page