“What I’d really like is for this to be the festival that puts the pandemic behind us,” says Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
This is Barley’s last year in the job. He offered to stay on to steer the Festival through Covid.
But he believes this year’s festival, with its theme The Joy of Words, will be a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting celebration of the written word.
Environmental issues will also be at the fore with an event featuring rewilding superstar Isabella Tree and Edinburgh podcaster and writer Mikaela Loach, whose book It’s Not That Radical advocates positive ways to beat climate change.
Greta Thunberg, who was originally on the bill, decided to pull out, saying:” I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry.”
This will be the last year the Book Festival, which runs from August 12 – 28, will be held at the Edinburgh College of Art. Next year it will move to the Edinburgh Futures Institute, an “inside outside” venue next to the Meadows.
The outgoing director has curated a series of events called What Makes a Writer, with Bernardine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Val McDermid and Elif Shafak.
He says: “I’m particularly pleased they all agreed to take part. They are all women, all great writers whose work I adore and they’ve all been important figures in my last 14 years at the Book Festival.”
Three writers who attended the very first Book Festival in 1983 will also be returning to Edinburgh – Alaistair Moffat, Michael Rosen and A.N. Wilson will all be in Edinburgh in August. Poet and children’s author Michael Rosen will be sharing with audiences his near-death experience with covid, which is the subject of his book: How We Recover.
Scottish writers on the programme include Irvine Welsh, Denise Mina, Chris Brookmyre, Jenny Colgan and Alexander McCall Smith.
Politicians taking part include former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf and the Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdóttir, who co-wrote a novel, Reykjavik, during lockdown. Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will also be on the Book Festival stage, in conversation with the author Eleanor Catton – about her new novel Birnam Wood.
Barley said he hoped the political debate would be positive and optimistic. “We really want to enjoy being together and enjoy liberating conversation and good books. Our festival is about being an antidote to the toxicity of Twitter.”
Comedy fans have plenty of events to choose from. Among the comics and former comics bringing their work to the Book Festival are: Cariad Lloyd, Ruby Wax, Sarah Pascoe, Josie Long and Rob Delaney.
The poetry line-up includes Liz Lochhead and Carol Ann Duffy, alongside poets from the US, Ireland and Canada. Performance poet and Neu Reekie founder Michael Pederson will appear alongside visual artist and poet David Shrigley.
As always there are plenty of events for children and young people, with authors including Julia Donaldson, Joseph Coelh o, Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton.
Children’s programme director Rachel Fox said: “As well as our animated courtyard performances and character appearances we have an array of interactive workshops with leading authors, illustrators and comic book creators. Children will have the chance to learn to draw manga, preserve plant specimens, make explosions and write the story of their life so far.”
In Letters of Hope children from north Edinburgh have created a film about their own dreams of the future.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival has also introduced a £10 ticket for everyone under 26 to encourage more young people to take part.
Five thousand Scottish school children will enjoy free visits to the festival and be given a book to take home.
Live streaming of events, which was introduced during the pandemic, will continue on a pay as you can basis. During last year’s hybrid festival readers from almost every country in the world were able to join online.
Barley says: “My team and I aimed to build an uplifting festival that is packed with exceptional thinkers from all over the world. I’m very excited by the prospect of 18 days in August with such a cornucopia of brilliant writers.”