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 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. (Continues below image...)
In 2017 nearly 1,000 writers, illustrators, poets, politicians and philosophers from 49 countries took part in a packed programme of passionate ideas, engaged debates and pure entertainment. With over 250,000 visits, Charlotte Square Gardens and the Book Festival's two new venues in George Street, plus King's Theatre, Usher Hall and St Mary's Cathedral, played host to the equivalent of around half the population of Edinburgh, browsing the Bookshops and relaxing in the cafes and Gardens. Ticket sales numbered 138,681 for 910 events, and book sales were up by 6% - the highest ever sales in the Book Festival's 34-year history – selling more than 67,000 books in 17 days.
Audiences enjoyed sessions with authors from every genre, welcomed exclusive previews of upcoming new books, as well as enjoying first sightings of new writing. Trump, Brexit and fake news were hot topics in 2017 and the Age of Political Earthquakes strand offered commentators, politicians and audiences the chance to have their say, resulting in a series of important and insightful discussions. The Playing with Books strand saw authors and performers do just that – re-interpreting new and much-loved texts using music and drama. Whilst 30% of authors were from Scotland, visiting authors included those from Argentina, Zimbabwe, Chile, Nepal, Pakistan and South Korea.
How To Train Your Dragon creator Cressida Cowell chose to launch her much-anticipated new series The Wizards of Once at the Festival, to the great delight of the hundreds of children and adults who came from far and wide to see her. Woven through the programme were events on extraordinary women. This Woman Can encompassed the worlds of sport, politics and business. Tennis coach Judy Murray, Labour MP Harriet Harman and endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring were just three of the many inspirational authors who shared their stories.
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.
Two 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 both 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.