The Edinburgh International Book Festival – It's A Funny Old Game
How to arrange a world – beating Book Festival? Well, you’ve got to have a great mix of writers on your side. First you want your team to have a core of wily veterans, old hands who’ve experience to burn, with maybe a few awards between them. And so you’ll find Booker Winners galore here: Hilary Mantel of Wolf Hall fame, for example, who cancelled last year but should be fresh and ready for the game this time, appears on 14 August, and her talents will be shored up by the collective experience in John Banville – he won for The Sea – on the 15th, the veteran, but still expressive and outspoken talents of Howard Jacobson – he won for The Finkler Question – on the 24th, and the double winner Ian McEwan, who won for both Amsterdam and Atonement appears on the 24th. That’s a spread of experience all over the field.
Now, you want to mix in some youth, so there are debut appearances from first time writers Lucy Wood and Allan Wilson on the 20th – keep your eye on them. Wonderkids can turn out to be real talents, as happened with Zadie Smith – and you can see her on the 25th. What else do you need? You need some poetry in motion. Which is why poet Andrew Motion – the first living person ever to be a former poet laureate – will arrive on the 11th (note: apologies for the ‘motion’ pun, but c’mon). Current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy will also appear on the 24th, and if you prefer your poets without royal endorsement, Simon Armitage will be talking about his poetic journey down the Pennine Way on the 24th.
You always need great performances. And you’re guaranteed some here. Sticking with poets, Alice Oswald will be performing her reimagining of The Iliad in its entirety on the 14th. If that kind of completeness appeals to you, you’ll like Ian Rankin, who will be looking over all of the Rebus books in an event on the 21st. Rankin will also be chairing Irvine Welsh’s examination of the idea of a national literature on the 19th, sure to be world beating. And there’s also the inspired pairing of Ian McEwan talking with Alex Salmond on the 22nd.
Which should remind you – you gotta have some home grown talent. And there’s lots on display. Janice Galloway on the 12th is followed by AL Kennedy on the 13th, and then there’s Bob Servant’s creator Neil Forsyth on the 15th. But there’s more. Christopher Brookmyre appears on the 16th, Ron Butlin, whose book The Sound of My Voice is consistently receiving new attention, appears on the 18th, followed by Ali Smith on the 19th, Iain Banks on the 22nd, and Alan Warner on the 23rd. (Note: just in writing that out, I thought ‘that is one hell of a list.’ We’re impressive, us Scots). Oh, and there’s the Kenny Dalglish of Scottish literature, Alasdair Gray, appearing on the 12th. (And making that comparison was virtually the entire point of this piece.)
Isn’t that enough? Well, a great side always needs a few wild cards. The science fiction/fantasy/crime/children’s author China Miéville fits the bill – he’ll appear on the 20th, and another sci-fi great, Neal Stephenson, will appear on the 17th. The always fascinating novelist/essayist/Shooting Stars panellist Will Self will appear on the 25th. And then there’s the tactical nous of Seamus Heaney, Karl Miller and Andrew O’Hagan combining for one event on the 18th.
And even in injury time on Monday the 27th there’s great talent in evidence. You’ve got Gwendoline Riley, one of Granta’s picks of best young novelists, and you’ve got James The People’s Act of Love Meek. What do you call all of this talent together? You call that a winning team.