Each year in August, the tranquil setting of Charlotte Square in the heart of historic Edinburgh, the world's first UNESCO City of Literature, is taken over by the world's largest public book festival. This year, over 650 authors, from 40 countries, took part in over 700 events, with discussions, debates and readings covering topics from politics to poetry, travels in China to Italian food, slavery and the celebration of 60 years since Indian independence, plus hundreds of events allowing festival-goers to encounter the world's best authors in a uniquely comfortable and exhilarating setting.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival welcomed almost 200 home grown authors from Scotland in 2007. Liz Niven read from her Luath collection of poetry and also delighted a capacity audience with a workshop on how to write poetry in Scots and English. Renowned poet and playwright Liz Lochhead paid tribute to one of her favourite authors, Alice Munro, who is descended from the great Scottish writer James Hogg. Janet Paisley spoke about her novel White Rose Rebel, which focuses on Colonel Anne, a heroine of the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Scotland's only Booker Prize winner, James Kelman, entertained his sell-out audience with a look back over his prolific career and a celebration of the re-issue in Scotland of his first published work, a collection of short stories initially released in the US.
Book Festival favourite and Edinburgh author, Ian Rankin, launched the 20th, and final, book in the Rebus series. Teasing his audience before finally announcing the title as Exit Music, Ian admitted that his famous, hard drinking detective, due for retirement, would be thrown off the force early. Ian explained that the title Exit Music resonated with him partly because Rebus was making his exit, partly because there was a murder in the book, and partly because of the echoes of political independence which may see Scotland exiting the United Kingdom. (He also admitted that he had considered the alternative title of Inspector John Rebus and the Deathly Hallows, but thought that had been taken already!).
Two of the headline events of the 2007 festival brought Norman Mailer and Alice Munro to Edinburgh direct from their respective homes in the USA and Canada using the innovative technology of Margaret Atwood's LongPen system. Mailer opened his conversation with Andrew O'Hagan in Edinburgh saying "The best experience I ever had was at the Edinburgh Book Festival – I wish I could be there in person" and went on to discuss Hitler, the Second World War and being Jewish. He used the platform to denounce Blair and Bush, wondering whether Bush could even spell democracy and how Blair could have ever got involved in "such a stupid war", before going on to remotely sign a number of books with the LongPen for members of the audience.
Catherine Lockerbie, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival said "We knew this event would be extraordinary and it lived up to all expectations. This was a high risk, pioneering event, with extremely new technology and a writer who is notoriously technophobic. Not only did the technology work like a dream, Mailer spoke superbly, giving major new insights into his life and work."
In addition to the adult programme, the Book Festival has a wide range of events for children, including a series of events for teenagers. Scots illustrator Cam Kennedy and author Alan Grant, best known for their work on graphic novels such as Judge Dredd and Batman, recently published a graphic novel of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, and are currently working on another Stevenson story, the eagerly-awaited graphic novel version of Jekyll and Hyde. Discussions of the public perception of comic books entranced audiences in three different events, including "Graphic Novels: Literature or Pulp Fiction", in which Ian Rankin and Denise Mina joined Alan Grant to share their personal and professional experiences with the genre.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place each August, and further details can be found on www.edbookfest.co.uk .