A Book Festival Primer

If you fancy going to the <strong>Edinburgh International Book Festival</strong>, but aren't sure where to start, here's a little guide to the festival itself, and what to see when you're there

Feature by Keir Hind | 28 Jul 2010

Let’s start with the basics. The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place from 14 to 30 August, and all events will be in Charlotte Square Gardens, an enclosed square just off Princes Street, and within walking distance of Waverley train station. Even if you’re not going to any events, Charlotte Square Gardens is a nice place to be, since it’s free of the leafleting that takes place everywhere else in the centre of Edinburgh. There’s a bookshop on site for the duration, benches to sit and read on, and various kinds of food and drink available, including ice cream and beer.

If you’re actually planning to go to an event, it’s best to book as soon as you can, since events do sell out quickly. Amongst those which may sell out quickly are the two Skinny Events: Alan Bisset with Lars Husum, and Jah Wobble.

Let’s take a look at the first one first: Alan Bisset and Lars Husum will be appearing on Wednesday 18 August at 8.30pm in the Peppers Theatre. Alan Bissett should be well known by now; he’s the author of Boyracers, The Incredible Adam Spark and most recently, Death of a Ladies’ Man, which he’ll be discussing at this event.He’s known to be good in front of audiences, as a regular act at DiScomBoBuLaTe, and as an actor in his ‘one woman show’ The Moira Monologues – and if you haven’t experienced either, get yourself along to this. He’ll be paired with the less well known Lars Husum. Husum hails from Denmark, where he worked at one stage for Lars Von Triers’ Zentropa studios, and he has recently launched his debut novel, the not-unprovocatively-titled My Friend Jesus Christ. The book, which is about a young Danish boy whose life is changed – but will it be for the better – by the arrival of a somewhat modern Jesus, who’s ditched the standard Israeli hippy look for something akin to biker chic. The book has caused controversy, apprently.

Our other event is the book festival debut of Jah Wobble. Mr Wobble has written a fantastic memoir of his life in and out of the music business from punk through collaborations with artists as diverse as The Edge, Sinead O’Connor, Baaba Maal and Bjork, up to the present, entitled Memoirs of a Geezer: Music, Mayhem, Life, which says it all really. It’s been given five star reviews all over the place, many of which mention that he writes as well as he plays. Book now before the musos get their hands on all the tickets – it’s on Thursday 24 August at 8.30pm, in the Scottish Power Studio Theatre.

Of course, there’s more to the festival than just our events, so once you’ve got your tickets for those, there’s plenty more to see. On Saturday the 14th, James Robertson will be launching his new novel And The Land Lay Still. Given that it was written in this very paper that Mr Robertson’s last novel, The Testament of Gideon Mack, was the best Scottish novel of the 21st Century so far, this could be the launch of something very special. On Monday the 16th, there’s a retrospective feel when Jeanette Winterson appears to talk about her debut novel of 25 years ago, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, while Iain Banks will also be appearing and talking about his 25 years in the business – during which he’s written 24 books!

There are a few good events on Tuesday the 17th, when, for starters, you can catch political comedian and Radio 4 stalwart Jeremy Hardy, who’ll be talking about his adventures in tracing his family history. Booker Prize winner John Banville will appear to talk about his latest novel (the first since his Booker win) The Infinities, and another award winner, Zadie Smith, will appear to talk about her foray into literary criticism in her latest book Changing My Mind. If all this is too wordy for you (but why should it be?) cult artist David Shrigley will also be appearing to talk about his often amusing artwork.

Moving on, on Wednesday the 18th veteran author/artist/playwright Alasdair Gray will be appearing at a no doubt riotous event where he’ll be performing extracts from his play which retells the Faust myth, entitled Fleck. Two talented young writers who shouldn’t be missed on the 19th are John Wray and Chris Killen, while you can catch the similarly named but completely different Chris Mullin on the 20th. A sometime Labour MP, Mullin is also the author of the classic political thriller A Very British Coup, which is being re-released. He’ll be talking about this book, which charts what happens when a Labour Government which actually holds to its principles is elected – fiction, obviously.

Alan Warner is also appearing on the 20th to talk about his latest book, a follow up to The Sopranos (a choir novel, not the TV show) entitled The Stars In the Bright Sky. Or you can catch a couple of cult authors on the next couple of days, as Jim Crace, author of such cult novels as Being Dead and Quarantine appears on the 21st, whilst David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten amongst others, will appear on the 22nd. If you’re looking for something different though, Iranian born comedian Shappi Khorsandi will be talking about her memoir A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English on the same day. On the 23rd Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel will be appearing to talk about that very book – sure to sell out, given that Wolf Hall is officially the best selling Booker winner ever.

On the 24th there are a couple of particularly big names. Firstly, Hanif Kureishi of My Beautiful Laundrette fame (amongst many other fine works) will be talking about his latest collection of short stories, and hopefully reading from some of them. Later, Nobel prize winner, and more importantly excellent writer, Seamus Heaney will appear, reading from his latest collection (which is, naturally, acclaimed). However, fans of great writing can also see new short stories on the 24th, from Anne Donovan, Kirstin Innes and Allan Radcliffe all at one event, which is my tip to be the best event of this particular day, chancing my arm though that may be.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned Unbound – see page 9 for that. As a general rule, book as quickly as possible if you want to see anything mentioned here (or elsewhere). But as more practical advice, when you’re going to an event, it’s best to queue from half an hour before if you want to get anything like a good seat, especially in the bigger theatres. What are the good seats? Well, cool though it may be to sit at the back, legroom gets restricted more and more the further back you sit, unless you’re less than 5ft tall. Also, sitting near the front will mean you’re out more quickly too, which is useful if you want your book signed, but aren’t too fond of queuing. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming it’s advice which you’ll need when you’re at the book festival, which you’re definitely planning on going to. Enjoy! 

Book tickets online at http://www.edbookfest.co.uk

Or by phone: 0845 373 5888 from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.