Book Festival Programme Launched

Jun 16 2023 | By More

The Joy of Words at 40 years young

by Hugh Simpson

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has announced its usual diverse and enticing programme for 2023, its final year at the College of Art before moving across the road to its new permanent home at the Futures Institute.

The Institute, in the former Royal infirmary, promises state-of-the-art indoor spaces as well as outdoor areas; the move will, of course, be under new direction as Nick Barley is stepping down after 14 years.

Nick Barley, Director at the 2021 Edinburgh International Book Festival. Pic: Robin Mair

For Barley’s last year (and the 40th anniversary), the festival has returned to about three quarters of pre-Covid numbers of authors (450) and events (600). Budgetary considerations mean that there is not as much in the way of actual theatrical performance as in recent years, with the main attraction in this regard being a presentation of Max Porter’s Shy on 26 August in Max Porter: Boyhood. Porter will feature himself, alongside members of Glasgow Citizens’ WAC ensemble – Scotland’s first theatre company for theatre makers with care experience, and who took part in the presentation of Jessie Kesson’s You’ve Never Slept In Mine in 2021 (reviewed here).

Although the Playing with Books collaborations with the Royal Lyceum Theatre have been put on hold for the moment, Nick Barley told Æ that he hoped the strand would return under a future director. Enticingly, he hinted that new productions of work that had its genesis in the strand are also in the pipeline. The Scottish Government’s Festival Expo Fund which allowed the strand to develop has this year been diverted towards bringing new authors and authors from abroad.

The Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig will be putting in an appearance on 16 August to discuss his novel Columba’s Bones (Scottish Legends Retold). As this is the prolific playwright’s first novel, Greig is in the somewhat incongruous position of being on the list of 40 ‘new writers’ that form one of the festival’s main strands. Other themes include Climate Positive (which features the already-announced appearance at the Playhouse of Greta Thunberg: It’s Not Too Late to Change the World).

improved catering

Aside from this, there are no off-site events this year (such as last year’s use of Central Hall), with everything happening at the Art College. Some criticisms of last year’s organisation have been addressed, with the cafe open into the evening and improved catering elsewhere.

Something else that will be welcome is the news that – contrary to previous announcements – there will be livestreaming of events in the largest venue, the Sculpture Court. This certainly expands the festival’s reach, as data suggests that the streams have been accessed from every country in the world bar four. The livestreams can also be accessed by those who cannot afford tickets on a pay-what-you-can basis, or who have neither the time nor the opportunity to spend a morning online to bag those precious in-person tickets for the most sought-after events (issues which the £10 ticket offer for those under 26 also seeks to address).

A drone’s eye view of the Book Festival Village at the Edinburgh College of Art in 2021

Some of those hot tickets will be for the usual selection of big names from many spheres – Irvine Welsh (with John King and Alan Warner: Comedies of No Manners), Sara Pascoe(Why Be Normal When You Can Be Funny?) Deborah Levy (Reflections On Identity), Judy Murray (The Wild Card), Malorie Blackman (Writing My Story), Rob Delaney (An Open Heart), Gordon Brown (In Conversation) and many more, including James Kelman (Class Act) and six other winners of the UK Booker Prize.

Continuing the tradition of First Ministers conducting interviews, Humza Yousaf will interview housing barrister Hashi Mohamed, who arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee (Right to Home). Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will also be appearing, interviewing Eleanor Catton about her new novel Birnam Wood (Green is The Colour of Money), as will Icelandic Prime Minister (and now thriller writer) Katrin Jakobsdottir (Partners in Crime).

40 years

To celebrate 40 years, Bernardine Evaristo,(On Never Giving Up) Jackie Kay (A Life In Protest), Val McDermid (A Life in Writing), Elif Shafak (A Life in the Imagination) and Ali Smith (The Writer’s Art) will be appearing in a series called What Makes A Writer; three writers who appeared in 1983 – Alistair Moffat (In the Footsteps of the Highland Clan), Michael Rosen (How We Recover) and A.N. Wilson (Coming to Terms) will also return.

A series of Festival Late Nights will take place in the Wee Red Bar, including a performance by the Hungry Beat Group (We Oppose All Rock ‘n’ Roll) just yards from the fabled Keir St flat that provided the impetus for Edinburgh’s post-punk scene.

The festival bookshop will be run with Waterstones, in the first year of an ongoing partnership. The ever-popular Bailie Gifford Children’s Programme will of course be back – thanks to Bailie Gifford, not only will free tickets be provided but attendees will receive free books.

The 2023 Edinburgh Book Festival runs from 12 – 28 August.

Tickets go on sale on Thursday 29 June.

Click on links in the above text for further details of the individual events mentioned.
The full programme is live online at:


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