What to see at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Written by Tanya Boughtflower

edinburgh-international-book-festival-2014-header-300x146It’s 8:33am and I am number 2254 in the on-line queue for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The queue opened three minutes ago. I’m calling this the George R.R. Martin effect. He is the big headliner at this year’s festival, which runs 9-25 August, and his fan base is anxious to bag as many tickets as possible for his events. Judging by the conversation on Twitter, Haruki Murakami is the other big name at this year’s festival. I would have expected writers like Richard Dawkins, Diana Gabaldon and Martin Amis to attract crowds as well, but so far Twitter is proving me wrong. For myself, the only tickets I’m really worried about getting are for Herman Koch and Sarah Waters.

The Edinburgh Book Festival is a big festival even though it tends to get over shadowed by Edinburgh’s Fringe, which runs on similar dates. It boasts 800 events with over 750 authors for kids, teens and adults. The program covers fiction, non-fiction, comics and graphic novels, spoken word and kids books. Ticket prices remain in the affordable range at £7-15, and there are a number of free events daily.

Perhaps the one component that makes the Edinburgh Book Festival different from other literary festivals I’ve attended is its emphasis on dialogue and discussion. This is what also makes it the most intellectually rigorous literary festival I’ve been to. Not content to just have readings and general interviews, the Edinburgh Book Festival regularly moves into areas of keen discussion and debate. Though they present themselves as a neutral forum, issues concerning war and peace in the 20th century, the state of the Middle East and Scotland’s Independence referendum are sure to court some lively discussions. For many of these discussions the festival brings together scholars, journalists and writers for varied and wide ranging perspectives.

By 10 o’clock I’m 1151 in the queue and the rumour circulating around Twitter is that the George R.R. Martin events are sold out. Also Ann Cleeves in conversation with Brenda Blethyn is sold out. I had overlooked that one as a hot ticket, but it makes sense considering that they will be talking about adapting Cleeves’ books for the series Vera, in which Blethyn stars. There still appears to be tickets for Murakami at this point, and I’m surprised.

This year’s festival program is also continuing to grow with the inclusion of some new elements. First is the promenade theatre production Letters Home. For this the Edinburgh Book Festival commissioned four writers, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, Kai Miller, Kamila Shamsie and Christos Tsiolkas, to produce new short stories in the form of letters. These will be adapted for stage by the Scottish theatre group Grid Iron. I am quite excited to see how they translate these stories into a drama that moves throughout the Book Festival grounds at Charlotte Square.

The second innovation, a series of Reading Workshops, was piloted at last year’s Book Festival. These take place in one of the festival’s smaller venues and are highly sought after. For each, a noted writer offers a close reading of a favourite classic, novel, poem or genre. I predict that this year’s sell outs will include Naomi Wood’s study of The Sun Also Rises, Samantha Ellis on The Hunger Games, and Rebecca Mead on Middlemarch.

It is 11am and I am starting to fly down the queue. By now Murakami is completely sold out, as are BBC journalists Frank Gardner and Kate Adie and children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler. A number of the Reading Workshops including Karen Campbell on Sunset Song, The Hunger Games and Middlemarch are also taken off the board, suggesting that the Reading Workshops will be here to stay in future years.  And there are a number of children’s events selling out in the days leading up to students’ return to classes.

By 11:15 my basket is ready. I have selected to see Naomi Wood, Emma Healey, Christos Tsiolkas, Nina Stibbe and Sarah Waters. I am lucky; none of those events have sold out yet. This is just my preliminary, must-have list. I have about 16 other events at the festival that I’d like to go to, but are unlikely to sell out. Those tickets I will pick up at the box office during the festival. In the meantime, I have a fair bit of reading to do before the festivities begin!

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Tanya Boughtflower blogs at 52 Books or Bust and tweets @SeeTanyaRead.

Explore the Edinburgh Book Festival website for more information.

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