The Best Kind of Cliffhanger
The Edinburgh International Book Festival of 2011 was ambitious in its planning and historic in its execution. As is now not unusual, the Festival attracted an impressive number of international authors and ideas-people to make up its nearly 800-strong participants list, including two laureates – one of the Nobel, Gao Xingjian, and one of poetry, Carol Ann Duffy – and five of the thirteen Booker Prize long-listed authors of 2011. The Festival’s contemporary strength was highlighted by the presence of 47 debut authors, who are all now in the running for the Newton First Book Award, to be announced in October.
The Festival’s high standing in the minds of the international literary community was definitely confirmed by the number and calibre of authors who choose it to launch new work. 1992 Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje was one of these, alongside 1996 Booker Prize judge A. L. Kennedy, Scottish historian Thomas Devine and freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke. The Festival closed with a particularly exciting launch: an innovative performed reading of Alasdair Gray’s new play, Fleck, which involved 18 authors and actors on stage in front of a full house. The cast included Ian Rankin as MacDuff, a public prosecutor, A. L. Kennedy as the play’s heroine, Will Self as its hero, and Gray himself as the villain.
Discussion ranged wide during the Festival, from the Arab Spring and London riots to the roles of China and India, and the influence of social media. The importance of cities, the future of Europe and faith, and how we should be teaching our children were all topics dealt with by the participants, who came from 40 different countries and expressed their many viewpoints to an equally diverse audience. The Festival is a founding member of the World Alliance network of international book festivals, and touring authors from this program including Chan Koonchung from China, Shaun Tan from Australia, and Tobias Wolff from the United States.
The Festival saw the announcement of three major literary awards, with Tatjani Soli winning the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction, and theatre critic Hilary Spurling the Biography section; Jane McKie won the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition, and Creative Scotland’s Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award went to Jackie Kay. Nick Barley, the Festival’s Director, has announced that a publishing deal had been signed with Cargo to produce a box set of new work that the Festival has commissioned over the past twelve months; 50 writers from around the world were invited to create a piece of writing on the topic ‘Elsewhere’, and the texts are available to read on the Festival’s website.
Children were highly involved in the Charlotte Square excitement, with 3,000 primary and secondary school students enjoying exclusive access to events for the RBS Schools Gala Day, as part of the RBS Children’s Programme. This events stream saw events sell out and record queues for book signings, as celebrities in the world of children’s literature such as Darren Shan and Cathy Cassidy delighted their young audiences.
Unbound, a series of free evening live literature events, enjoyed a boost in funding from the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund that allowed for filming of performances and an expansion of the popular program. Videos will be available on the Festival’s website in the autumn.
After such a successful year, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is already looking forward to its next installment, when it shall return Charlotte Square Gardens.
The 2012 Festival will run from the 11th to the 27th of August, and the program will be announced next June.