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What’s on at the Book Fest: 19-23 August

ByLene Korseberg

Aug 18, 2015
Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014


Busy gardens and blue sky at the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Photo: Edinburgh International Book Festival – Press Gallery


The 2015 Edinburgh International Book Fest is well on its way, and yet four days into the two-week long festival we are still keen for more. However, with so many available events we understand that it can be hard to make the decision as to what to see, especially on an already stretched student Fringe budget. The Student, whose everlasting aim it is to enlighten, inform, and entertain its readers, has therefore taking it upon itself to give you all a bit of a taster as to what’s going on at the Book Fest this week.

Before we go on, it is important to mention some of the events that run throughout the duration of the Book Fest. To the delight of the ever-so-broke student, the festival does have some rather great free events. The most notable of these are the daily ‘Ten at Ten’, a free reading session given by one of the writers appearing on stage later that day. Perhaps appropriately, the last event of the day, ‘Jury Unbound’, is also free for everyone to attend. Every night The Spiegeltent opens for a bit of word-play, music, poetry, a drink or two and more, to the delight of everyone present. You can find the full line-up in The Skinny and on the festival website.

Finally, mention must be made of Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series. With a new topic every day, these free events deal with everything from social media users in Tunisia to the killing of journalist all around the world. A range of distinguished names has travelled to Charlotte Square Gardens to read out the words of these brave individuals, and to give us an insight into the atrocities committed against writers all around the world on a daily basis.

Now, let’s return to the aforementioned overview. Remember, the festival consists of more than 700 events, and it would make for rather boring cultural journalism if we were to list them all (also, we wouldn’t want to steal the job of the rather excellent Book Fest Programme, now would we?)

The following overview therefore includes the events that we (somewhat objectively) have judged to be the highlights of this year’s Book Fest, with particular focus on what the students of Edinburgh might like to see. Enjoy!


19th August: Wednesday

Whether deliberate or not, this particular day at the Book Fest certainly has a political undertone to it. Starting off with Professor Danny Dorling’s reflections on what he calls ‘Britain’s Inequality Crisis’ at 10.30, we are well prepared to welcome Sir Michael Barber at 12.15 to talk about how we can keep governments to their word, before Shami Chakrabarti takes to the stage to give a passionate defence for human rights. Having been nicknamed ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in Britain’, she joins author Kate Mosse at 15.15 in the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre to discuss her new book, On Liberty. This ties well in with one of the last events of the day, namely a discussion on ‘Security v Human Rights’ in the Garden Theatre at 19.30.

Another event well worth noticing is the last of a series of three on Mexican Writing. Having dealt with fiction and essays earlier in the week, acclaimed Mexican Writer Gabriel Orozco now turns his attention to poetry and welcomes three of the country’s most talented poets for a chat about the future of their writing and, more importantly, the future of Mexico. Pop along to the Garden Theatre at 14.15 for a truly memorable experience.

Other events worth catching include:

– 14.00: Edward Mendelson with Alexander McCall Smith: Why W.H. Auden Still matters
– 16.00: Ghada Karmi: How Does it Feel When you Can’t Go Home?
– 17.00: Kate Mosse: The Master of Time-Slip Fiction
– 17.30: Nick Davies: Investigative Reporting at its Most Potent
– 17.45: Iain Overton: Keeping Gun Crime in Your Sights
– 20.45: Ragnar Jónasson & Malcolm Mackay: The International Language of Murder


20th August: Thursday

Every day at the Book Fest there are Reading Workshops of various works and, if you’re up for a real treat, today is the time to go. Robyn Marsack, Today Director of the Scottish Poetry Library introduces us all to the novel Eugene Onegin by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. If you feel that 11 o´clock in the morning is a bit too early for Russian poetry (indeed, some would argue that it is always too early for Russian poetry) then just chill out in the garden a couple of hours and wait for Sergio Fajardo and Amina Shah’s chat on the Literacy Revolution and spaces for literacy. At 17.30, Hermione Lee takes us through the art of writing biographies, before Alexander McCall Smith returns to give us an insight into his heart-warming fictional characters. However, the highlight of the evening doesn’t start until 20.15, when Nick Robinson, Political Editor of the BBC, takes to the stage to reflect upon the recent General Election.

Other events worth catching include:

– 10.15: Simon Mawer & Iain Pears: Cold War, Hot Fiction
– 11.45: Janice Galloway: Sex and Life and Parenthood
– 15.15: Tam Dalywell: How Devolution Will Break Up the UK
– 19.30: The Crisis in Ukraine: Heralding a New Cold Front
– 20.45: Richard Havers with Ian Rankin: Words and Music: Setting the New Jazz Standards


21st August: Friday

For those of you interested in the problems faced by the Middle East, three events might be of interest today. First we welcome Professor Emeritus Avi Shlaim to talk about why Israel’s problems remain real in relation to the Palestinian occupation, before turning to the problems faced by Syria with John McHugo. Finally, Raja Shehadeh returns to the Book Fest to launch a new book, Shifting Sands, which is based on intense discussions about the Middle East that took place during last year’s festival.

Also, don’t miss out on George the Poet, a 24 year old student-turned-poet who mixes verse with rhythm and music to explore the state of his own generation.

Other events worth catching include:

– 10.30: Museums and Libraries: Spaces for Literacy
– 15.15: John Kay: Money People in the Dock
– 18.45: Alan Johnson: Memories of 1970s Britain
– 20.45: Ben Aaronovitch: A Serial Writer in Full Flow


22nd August: Saturday

To the joy of many readers, Howard Jacobson, the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Price, returns this weekend to the Book Fest to chat about his many books and recent acclaim. At 14.00, Guardian correspondent Jason Burke reflects upon the rise of militant groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, before four of Britain’s best spoken word poets get together for a bit of comic banter. At 20.15, civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson visits Charlotte Square Gardens for what can only be described as a truly unique event; Jackson will offer his reflections upon the fight for black rights and his life as a champion of human understanding.

On a completely unrelated note, don’t forget that Limmi , aka Brian Limond, makes his first visit to the Book Fest this weekend. Uniquely Scottish, his first book Daft Wee Stories turned out to be the start of a rather impressive career.

Other events include:

– 14.15: Prolong the Talk: Reimagining Philip Larkin 1985-2015
– 15.15: A.C. Grayling: The Challenge of Things
– 17.00: Paul Kingsnorth, Mark Rylance & Martin Shaw: Lost Gods
– 17.45: Varun Uberoi: New Directions for Multicultural Britain
– 20.45: Voices in the Dark: Spoken Word Distillery


23rd August: Sunday

Perhaps best known for her best-selling debut novel, The Island, Victoria Hislop enters the Gardens to chat about her latest novel, The Sunrise. For those of you who aren’t quite done with talks on the Scottish Referendum, Lesley Riddoch, author of Blossom, still argues passionately for an independent Scotland, and she meets up with Alan Little to show us why. If you’re interested in the political reality a little further from home, journalist Abdel Bari Atwan shows us how the Islamic State conquered cyberspace, and what consequences this can have for the world at large. At 20.15, Ian Rankin invites Viv Albertine, the leading lady of the reggae-punk band The Slits, to a chat about music, family life and parenthood.

Other events include:

– 10.00: David Lodge: The Evolution of a Writer
– 14.15: The Poems of Iain Banks: Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod
– 17.00: James Robertson: The World in 365 words
– 19.30: J.O. Morgan: Poetry Performance


Finally, remember to check out The Student website for up-to-date reviews and coverage of the events taking place at the Book Fest.


By Lene Korseberg

Lene is former Culture Editor and Editor-in-Chief of The Student. She writes for Features and Culture.

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