With a number of longer established and larger festivals such as the Fringe and the International Festival competing for your attention, it is too easy to overlook the joys of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, held in a series of marquees in the city's Charlotte Square and beyond in the second half of August each year.
The Book Festival started life as a biennial festival in 1983, becoming an annual event in 1997. Now the world's biggest book festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival sees capacity audiences, not just for world-renowned writers and thinkers, but also for new and international authors little known in the UK.
In 2019 over 900 writers, illustrators, poets, politicians and philosophers from 65 countries took part in a packed programme of passionate ideas, engaged debates and pure entertainment. With over 265,000 visits, Charlotte Square Gardens and the Book Festival's new venues in George Street and elsewhere, played host to the equivalent of around half the population of Edinburgh, browsing the bookshops and relaxing in the cafes and Gardens. (Continues below image...)
Audiences enjoyed sessions with authors from every genre, welcomed exclusive previews of upcoming new books, as well as enjoying first sightings of new writing. With a debut Palestinian author topping the best-selling books list, and with eight of the top ten best-selling books having been written by women, 2019 saw the Edinburgh International Book Festival's most diverse public programme so far.
The overarching theme of the 2019 festival was 'We Need New Stories', with discussions ranging from climate change, the fashion industry, racism, homelessness and Brexit to classical music, indigenous languages and food. Whilst 30% of authors were from Scotland, visiting authors came from across the world to participate in the 17 days of debate, discussion and public engagement. 2019 also saw the Festival offer more BSL interpreted and screen captioned events than ever before, and there was a team of dedicated staff to assist visitors with access needs. A number of events were designated Pay What You Can.
Families and children had a choice of over 200 events across the Baillie Gifford Children's programme including appearances from Francesca Simon, Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown, Harry Hill, Patrice Lawrence and Laura Bates. The Baillie Gifford Schools programme welcomed 11,742 pupils and teachers from across Scotland and was rounded off with a special Space themed Schools Gala Day, attended by over 2,800 primary school pupils.
The Book Festival is the largest public celebration of books and ideas in the world. Since the success and international prominence of the 2004 Book Festival, there has been rapid progress in developing Edinburgh's status as a major year-round literary centre. This resulted, in October 2004, in UNESCO's declaration of Edinburgh as the world's first ever City of Literature. Work has now begun on establishing an international network of such cities, based on the Edinburgh model.
The core of the festival are the events that bring together authors and their readers. These include a series of book signings throughout the festival, as well as talks, interviews, discussions and more, all held in a series of venues around the square. Refreshments are also on offer at several locations around the festival.
Three bookshops also operate (one for children's books) as part of the festival and a wide range of books are on offer. Coverage is comprehensive, but books from and about Scotland are especially well represented. You can browse to your heart's content. And because the bookshops are owned and operated by the festival, all profits made from the books you buy go straight back into making the festival better, for readers and writers alike.
Or you can simply sit back and relax, taking in the unique atmosphere generated by a gathering of like-minded people interested in understanding more about the world of books. Space is made available just to sit and talk or read, both inside the marquees and outside on the grass where you can also enjoy the wider delights of Charlotte Square and the (hopefully) blue skies of Edinburgh in August.