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  • Alistair Braidwood

We Have Lift-Off: A Preview Of The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2015…

For the past decade or so, I’ve been counting down my years in Edinburgh Book Festivals rather than birthdays. It’s a much less painful system, it means over two weeks of celebration, and the real birthday is in there somewhere for traditionalists.

While the Fringe rages all around it, this festival is an oasis of bookish bonhomie populated by like-minded folk, all obsessed with the written word. The festival team know they have a formula which works, so don’t overly tinker with it. The secret of that success? Invite the best writers available and get them to talk about their books all in the one place. What could be better?

This year it all happens between the 15th – 31st August, and, as usual, there’s far too much of the good stuff to mention it all here. I suggest reading the whole programme at, but not before you’ve read Scots Whay Hae’s preview of this year’s festival.

Scotland’s greatest writers are out in force, with  Ali Smith and John Burnside leading the way on the opening weekend. If you have to beg, borrow and steal to see those two (and you may have to) then no jury in the land would convict you. Janice Galloway has a new collection of short stories, Jellyfish, which I highly recommend and she is always worth listening to.  Others include previous SWH! podcast guests Louise Welsh, James Robertson, and Karen Campbell whose latest novel Rise is one of the best of the year so far. Michel Faber appears on the 29th, the author of Under the Skin and last year’s unforgettable The Book of Strange New Things.  The day before, the equally charismatic Andrew O’Hagan will be talking about the inspiration behind his latest novel The Illuminations.

Another sign of a great festival is how well they put their panels together, and one of this year’s best promises to be Kirsty Logan & Marina Warner in conversation with Charlotte Higgins, who asks the question, “What are the modern myths?”. If you’re after guaranteed entertainment and ribaldry, then John Niven, on the 31st, and Irvine Welsh are never going to disappoint. A. L. Kennedy is bound to garner a new readership with her latest novel, The Drosten’s Curse, which is her take on a Dr Who story, and she is in discussion with Stuart Kelly on the 18th. However, if what you really want is suffragettes, trapeze and tigers, you should book a ticket for Lucy Ribchester’s event on 26th where she will be talking about her novel The Hourglass Factory. As a taste, here she is in discussion with Ryan van Winkle (more of whom later) on Book Talk, the Scottish Book Trust’s must listen podcast:

For those who love their poetry, there is plenty of choice. Another podcast interviewee  Ron Butlin appears alongside fellow ex-Edinburgh Makar Valerie Gillies, to talk about their most recent collections and previous work, and I struggle to think of two more charming people with which to spend time. Speaking of Makars, Liz Lochhead is in town to explain her obsession with ‘Thon Man Moliere’, which is also the name of her latest play. Robin Robertson will be reading from his latest collection Sailing The Forest on 30th, and on the 19th David Kinloch discusses Some Women, his fascinating collection of poems concerning women from the Bible. Anyone interested in the forms of poetry should book for Don Paterson, whose latest publication is a collection of 40 Sonnets, and if you are a nature lover then Jim Crumley and Adam Thorpe’s event on 20th is surely a must attend. In the meantime, here’s Robin Robertson reading his poem ‘At Roane Head’:

As befits Edinburgh, at least in a literary sense, you cannot avoid crime at this year’s festival.  A man who wears the title of ‘Godfather of Tartan Noir’ well, even when he protests against it, is William McIlvanney, and it should never be forgotten that this is a man who changed Scottish writing with his style and content. Highly recommended. As is Val McDermid who is talking, to someone called Nicola Sturgeon, about her life and work as a writer. Doug Johnstone has a new novel coming soon, The Jump, and he appears with Norwegian Gunnar Staalesen on 26th. Christopher Brookmyre brings back his most beloved creation, Jack Parlabane, in his latest novel Dead Girl Walking, and this is another event which is sure to entertain.

Someone else with a new novel to discuss is Helen Fitzgerald, whose The Exit is out now, and if it lives up to The Cry, her last novel, then it’ll be as gripping as it is chilling. We’ll let you know more about it soon as it is nearing the top of the SWH! review pile. I’m not sure what it is about those who deal with the darker-side of life in their writing, but it strikes me that something which unites all of the above, aside from where you’ll find their work in a bookstore, is that you would happily go for a drink with each and every one of them, and you can’t say that about every writer. Proving my point, here is one of the most engaging writers at this year’s festival,  Denise Mina (Sat, 29th) talking about women in crime fiction, from a couple of years ago:

There have been some raised voices stating that there hasn’t been enough political engagement at the last couple of Edinburgh Book Festivals. This is a charge which cannot be made about this year. Iain MacWhirter has just published his latest book Tsunami: Scotland’s Democratic Revolution, and I would argue that he has been the primary chronicler on recent historic events in Scottish politics. If you have an interest, try to get your hands on a ticket to hear him on the 17th, somehow. Gordon Brown raises his head above the parapet, and it will be interesting to see the reception he gets on the 30th. Another well-respected political journalist, even if you don’t agree with him, is David Torrance, and he’ll have plenty to talk about as he has published no less than four books in the last year.

Two political heavyweights meet on the 31st in the shape of Paul Mason & Alex Salmond, and the BBC’s Nick Robinson will appear on 20th to talk about his day job as Auntie’s Political Editor. Now, you’ll soon discover that all of these events are sold out, and you’ll have to check for returns if you hope to attend (which will be well worth it). But what this once again proves is that Scotland is a country hungry for political debate and discussion, and this is hugely heartening.  The same applies to Lesley Riddoch’s event on the 23rd ‘Why Scotland Will Flourish’. Here she is from last year as part of the National Collective Presents series:

There are many music based events at this year’s festival, enough to satisfy the most diverse tastes.  Another recent podcast guest is appearing on the 16th, ‘That Guy Fae The Corries’, Ronnie Browne. As you’ll know if you heard our interview, Ronnie is a raconteur par excellence, and he’ll have you laughing, crying, and possibly singing in the aisles. Other musicians who are proven story-tellers are Tracey Thorn (28th) and ex-Communard turned reverend and darling of Radio 4, Richard Coles. For anyone who grew up with pop music central to their lives in the 1980s these will be a nostalgic delight, but both have become important cultural commentators in their own right, and will have plenty to say about the here and now.

Last year I was lucky enough to interview Viv Albertine for Product Magazine, and she’s back in Edinburgh to talk to Ian Rankin about her life as a Punk legend, and, more interestingly, what comes after that. Talking musical legends, Edwyn Collins & his wife Grace Maxwell visit the Square on 25th, an event that should be right up SWH! readers’ streets. They are also in conversation with Ian Rankin, who has landed a dream job this year as he also gets to talk to actor Alan Cumming, as well as ex-Belle and Sebastian and current Looper Stuart David. Rankin and David have a literary link, and you can find out what that is by listening to the recent Scots Whay Hae! podcast (below) which saw Stuart and Karn David join us for a chat:

That’s quite a bit to be getting on with, but before you go there are other highlights which have to be mentioned or I wouldn’t feel right. As a younger man I devoured everything Louis de Bernieres wrote, and it’s great to see him at this year’s festival. The same goes for Magnus Mills on both counts. There are a few comedians visiting as well, including fellow Whose Line Is It Anyway? alumni, Paul Merton and, on the 26th, Greg Proops. Also sold out, I’m afraid, but worth checking for returns, is the festival appearance of the legendary Limmy, which is all the excuse I need to post this:

And let’s not forget Unbound, the after hours series of events which this year includes nights hosted by Neu Reekie, The Skinny, Stripped, Rally & Broad and yet another SWH! podcast guest Vic Galloway, all in Charlotte Square’s famous Spiegeltent. And on the 19th August, there’s an evening hosted by this charming man, know as Ryan Van Winkle, seen here with fellow poet and righteous dude, William Letford:

p.s. Since I started writing this preview, many of the events featured have sold out, which is great for the festival, maybe not for those of you still looking to attend. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here’s 10 more fantastic book festival events which still have tickets on sale (info correct at time of posting):

  1. Philip Miller – 23rd

  2. Kevin MacNeil – 31st

  3. Kirstin Innes – 15th

  4. Nick Davies – 19th

  5. Toni Davidson – 15th

  6. Robyn Marsack (on Eugene Onegin) – 20th

  7. Christine De Luca – 29th

  8. John Gray (whose The Soul of The Marionette is a great book)- 27th

  9. Robert Crawford – 26th

  10. David Lodge – 23rd

What ever you do, and whom ever you see, you are guaranteed a great time. See you there…

Here is the audio version if you prefer it that way…


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