Edinburgh Books Festival, A Prologue

The brazen eclecticism on display in Edinburgh can only undermine the <i>Richard & Judy</i> stranglehold of mediocrity that has come to typify the common literary festival

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Published 04 Aug 2007

In a few days time, Charlotte Square Gardens will swell with tweed-clad tides of the terminally well-read: the International Book festival is coming. At a spritely 24 years of age, the festival is a relatively recent addition to the wider annual festivities, but has nonetheless gone from strength to strength. An initial run of 30 meet-and-greet events has over time mutated into a sprawl of readings and discussions. This year, upwards of 650 authors, poets and journalists will take part in a total of 700 events, all situated within the historic confines of their Newtown Locale.

The line-up for 2007 is more eclectic, more eccentric and more exciting than ever before. In what seems a clear effort to make good on the ‘international’ aspect of the festival title, the assembled names are decidedly varied. Cult figures such as Nury Vitacchi, creator of the Feng-Shui Detective, stand side by side with internationally renowned authors and experts such as environmentalist George Monbiot and Basque-language author Bernardo Atxaga. Catherine Lockerbie, Director of the Book Festival tells us: "We are extremely proud to have created a programme of truly global reach." This sort of span is truly encouraging. Such brazen eclecticism can only undermine the Richard & Judy stranglehold of mediocrity that has come to typify the common literary festival.

Likewise, the organisers have not been afraid to dip their toes into the murky waters of genre fiction. A swathe of Scottish crime writers broadly associated with the tartan noir movement will be attending: Alex Gray, Christopher Brookmyre and Lin Anderson, among others. Elsewhere, a keynote appearance is that of William Gibson, science fiction author of fierce intelligence and creator of the term "cyberspace" a full decade before the internet proper rove into view. It is this willingness to place such figures alongside authors of greater public renown that lies at the heart of the festival’s success. Diversity is all.

In recent years, the festival has also become renowned for chairing a series of debates and panel discussions. These have been a welcome addition to the programme and judging by the number to have instantly sold out, shall remain a popular fixture for years to come. This time around, they reflect the festival’s global concerns: world experts will discuss scientific and environmental issues such as global warming and stem cell research, as well as broader issues like the role of religion in the modern world. Big names like John Gray and Richard Dawkins add a popular edge to these discussions. Attendance figures are always high. Particular emphasis will be given to notions of Chinese, Indian and Scottish identity, all central themes to this year’s events. If you fancy a little intellectual sparring, tickets are fast disappearing. Swoop now to avoid disappointment.

Less well recorded is the Children’s strand of events. A series of talks and workshops will allow younger festival-goers to meet and mingle with big names like Jacqueline Wilson and Darren Shan. A series of debates aimed at teens and young adults round off this section, which Sara Grady, director of the programme, proudly calls ‘an unrivalled celebration of stories, words and ideas’.