Three Decades of Edinburgh International Book Festival

Edinburgh International Book Festival is celebrating its 30 year anniversary and Jura Unbound is getting in on the action. We spoke to the organisers of three events reflecting upon a specific decade and one that encompasses all three

Feature by Ryan Rushton | 02 Jul 2013

The 80s: Alan Bisset

Who are you and what do you do?

An 'Alan Bissett' performance can be unpredictable, and can involve anything from chat about superheroes to left-wing politics to Game of Thrones to a reading from one of my books to an audience sing-a-long to me pretending to be a spider. I like to keep the audience guessing. Maybe I won't even show up! Who knows.

Why the 80s?

Well, the 80s formed the entirety of my childhood, so it's fascinating for me to go back and examine them at some remove. They were a titanic period, politically. The Miners' Strike, for example, was the last stand of the British working-class against Thatcher's capitalist onslaught, and, depressingly, we're now living through the results. We're still in the 80s, basically. Blair, Brown, Cameron: all Thatcherites. That said, there were some great films. Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones films will all live forever. And Scottish literature, perhaps because of Thatcher, was on fire. Hello, James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Alasdair Gray!

What can we expect?

I will be playing the world's angriest ever woman Andrea Dworkin. In the nude. You'll love it. It's going to be like being stung by a giant, radical, lesbian, feminist bee. But in a good way. 

The 90s: Craig Taylor – Five Dials

Who are you and what do you do?

I'm the editor of Five Dials, which is now in its fifth year of production, and currently enjoys an average readership of 100,000, with about 15,000 email subscribers. The magazine promotes work from both emerging and established talents, and over the years has featured a diverse collection of literary fiction and non-fiction from the likes of Zadie Smith, Hari Kunzru, W.G. Sebald, Sam Lipsyte and Noam Chomsky. Our full archive can be accessed here at

Why the 90s?

Nirvana, Fugazi, The Secret History, Saramago's Blindness, Infinite Jest, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Disgrace, The Savage Detectives, Alias Grace, and Ol' Dirty Bastard's 'Got Your Money.'

What can we expect?

The guest list is secret at the moment but we will have at least one prize-winning novelist in attendance. 

The 00s: Reel Iraq – Ryan Van Winkle

Who are you and what do you do?

Reel Iraq is part of Reel Festivals (, a charity which celebrates contemporary culture in regions typically seen in the media as 'conflict laden.' We try to work against mainstream perceptions of these countries. Through translation and performance we are reminded of our common concerns and pursuits across cultures. Reel Festivals has worked with artists and individuals from Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq and, in January, we brought a select group of Scottish poets to the Erbil Literature Festival in Kurdistan to meet their Iraqi contemporaries, work on new translations in English, Kurdish and Arabic and, importantly, made some very close friends while inhabiting and sharing their work. I'm the literature co-ordinator and will be hosting the evening.  

Why the 00s?   

In March Reel Iraq marked the 10 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a week-long festival of film, poetry, music and discussion throughout the entire UK. In some ways, the start of the millennium was defined by the post-9/11 wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. While bearing in mind the political context and the humanitarian situations which they created, the message of Reel Festivals is simple: there are people, art, and culture in Iraq which continues and flourishes behind the headlines. We think our friendship, camaraderie, and sense of play will come out in this performance and hope that this connection will be imparted to the audience, something that will hopefully be at the forefront of their minds when they leave the Guardian Spiegeltent.   

What can we expect?

We're very proud to be bringing Sabreen Kadhim to Edinburgh as she was denied her visa for participating in our March tour. She's an excellent young poet and journalist from Baghdad who is a strong and inspiring figure. She'll be joined by the poet Ghareeb Iskander from Baghdad as well as our Scottish translators Krystelle Bamford, John Glenday, Jen Hadfield and William Letford. In addition, we'll have an excerpt from Dina Mousawi's theatre piece Return which showcases the humour and strength of Iraqi women. Despite rave reviews in the international press, this piece has never been seen in Edinburgh and we're pleased to be premiering a bit of it here. And, if that wasn't enough, we've got oud and choobi music lined up so there will be some clapping, stomping and dancing in fine Iraqi style. I really want to stress that while the background of the event is deadly serious, we'll be highlighting the joys of the culture rather than focusing on the destruction of the past decade. 

30 Years: The Bookshop Band – Ben Please

Who are you and what do you do?

The Bookshop Band are myself (Ben Please), Poppy Pitt and Beth Porter. We're the in-house band for our local independent bookshop, Mr Bs Emporium of Reading Delights, in Bath. When they get an author in for an event, we read the book before hand, and write a couple of songs inspired by it to play at the start. We did that for a year, wrote four albums of songs, and then thought it'd be quite nice to go and play them in some other bookshops around the UK too. And it's kind of gone from there. The source of all the songs is still the Mr Bs author evenings, but we've been all around the UK, and this year to Paris and Ireland too.

Why the last 30 years?

On the night we're going to dip into our musical reserves and choose songs that were inspired by books set in those three decades. Books will include Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk by Ben Fountain, Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Maggie and Me by Damian Barr, and many many more. We'll intersperse them with a few other songs inspired by other authors who will also be at the festival. 

What can we expect?

We're going to be joined on stage by Jack Wolf, author of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, for which we wrote a song last year, and we'll also have another very special secret guest author, for whom we're busy writing a song for at the moment, which we will debut on the night. 

Alan Bisset/80s is on Sat 17 Aug
Five Dials Unwind to the 90s is on Wed 21 Aug
Reel Iraq: The Golden Hour is on Mon 19 Aug
Back to the Future with The Bookshop Band is on Tue 20 Aug

All events are start at 9pm in the Guardian Spiegletent and are free