Inside the Bookcase Conference by Lisa Demptser

Will climate change lead to the next major global war? How can book festivals around the world work together to create and deliver dynamic programs? Is swearing on stage a bad thing? These were just a few of the questions that delegates were pondering at the British Council Bookcase Conference, a four-day event that brought fifty literary professionals from around the world together in Edinburgh on the weekend.

The Conference involved attending many events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, to meet and discover new and established British writers. It was a joy to be able to see literary giants like AS Byatt, Ian Rankin and DBC Pierre, and they were as intelligent and entertaining as you would imagine. But it was the writers who I had not previously known that really captivated me, particularly Janice Galloway, Denise Mina, Russell Celyn Jones, Doug Johnson and Gwynn Dyer – great writers, do check them out!

The topics covered in panel sessions were as diverse as British extremism, global literature, wealth and misery, and new Scottish voices in literature – to name just a few. In addition to the debates and discussions we attended the James Tait Black Memorial Prize ceremony. Evenings were more informal, spent at Unbound, where the entertainment ranged from a Canongate books party to a McSweeney’s shindig. Moving from the serious to the light-hearted, it was a very thought-provoking, entertaining and inspiring weekend of events.

Luckily for the delegates, there were also plenty of networking and socialising opportunities. Each day we visited a different literary venue in Edinburgh for lunch and to chat with festival guests and local writers. Through these visits we were able to explore the National Library of Scotland and the exceptional Scottish Poetry Library, and to meet many of Edinburgh’s writers and literary professionals, including Scotland’s Storytelling Centre, the Scottish Book Trust and City of Literature Trust. For a city of half a million people, Edinburgh has an incredibly diverse and vibrant literary scene, with plenty of events and lots of people engaged with books and reading.

We also enjoyed a breakfast with Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and heard him speak about the machinations of programming the fest. And of course, no conference would be complete without a party, which was a lively event enjoyed by delegates and other bookish movers and shakers on Saturday night.

The Bookcase delegates were truly international, with representatives from all over the world. All delegates run festivals or cultural institutions in their own countries, and there was a lot of chatter between us about what we do and how we might be able to work together in the future. It was inspiring to spend time with so many talented and dedicated literary leaders, including fellow Aussies Susan Hayes (Australia Council), Katherine Dorrington (Perth Writers’ Festival) and Chip Rolley (Sydney Writers’ Festival).

The four-day conference was jam-packed with thoughtful discussion, creative conversation and learning. Less tangible but equally important were the small moments: enjoying a late night acoustic set by a local songwriter and drinking beer together afterwards; chatting to a Welsh novellist about his surfing youth; and swapping web addresses with Scottish and Ukranian lit bloggers. Without Bookcase, these connections would not have been possible, and it was these personal interactions that made the conference enjoyable as well as enriching.

The British Council Bookcase initiative is truly inspiring, and I was very honoured to take part. There is no doubt in my mind that I will still be thinking about the issues raised, and talking to the people I met, for many years to come. I can’t wait to get home and put what I have learned into action at the Emerging Writers’ Festival!

Lisa Dempster is the Director of the Emerging Writers' Festival. She’s in Edinburgh attending the British Council’s Book Case Conference and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.