Opening Edinburgh International Book Festival by Lisa Dempster

The opening weekend of the Edinburgh International Book Festival was big. Located in the elegant Charlotte Square Gardens, the bookfest pops up as an elegant tent city, and on Saturday the festival came to life.

During the weekend there was a full program of debates, discussions and readings – enough to make your head spin with choice! There are two streams of festival events every day, the adult’s and the children’s program. Interestingly, both programs and the festival as a whole were launched by Australians: Christos Tsiolkas talking about The Slap, which is getting a huge reception in the UK, and Garth Nix talking all things The Keys to the Kingdom. Both events were sold out.

Charlotte Square Gardens in summer swing

Charlotte Square Gardens in summer swing

The sun was shining all weekend, and all day on Saturday and Sunday Charlotte Square was packed with people sitting in the sun enjoying a glass of wine, reading books and talking about the panels and discussions they have been enjoying. It is a heartening sight and the festival organisers were gleeful that it didn’t rain on the first day – for the first time since 2004! Another landmark is that this year is the 21st Edinburgh International Book Festival, a statistic that made me excited about the potential future possibilities for the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

Saturday night saw the Spiegeltent crowded and the whiskey flowing for the opening night party, which after formal speeches was a good shin-dig and a chance to meet writers and festival staff.

At the long-running Book Festival Fringe, hosted by Word Power Books, there was a fantastic event with Australia’s Craig Silvey and Christos Tsiolkas. They were in discussion about Silvey’s novel Jasper Jones, and it was a thought-provoking and wide-ranging conversation that kept the crowded shop enthralled for a good hour.

As well as the novel, one of the topics covered was are modern writers making a new Australian voice? Craig replied that he thinks there is less pressure to use ‘British language’ and Christos spoke passionately about how he wants Australian writers to think about what our language is and where it comes from. It was a fantastic event with two talented and intelligent Aussie writers. (And of course, given that it was sunny, we all adjourned to the pub afterwards.) I look forward to seeing many more Fringe events, which are all free and unticketed.

A night of McSex at the Unbound event

A night of McSex at the Unbound event

The weekend ended with the first of the Unbound events – a free festival-within-a-festival where writers are encouraged to try new ways of talking about their work. On Sunday evening the event was hosted by Glasgow-based indie lit journal Gutter, and was called A Night in the Gutter: McSex. It looked at the Scottish tradition of erotic writing and featured a handful of established and emerging writers reading sex scenes from Scottish writers across the ages, from Robert Burns to Irvine Welsh. It was a corker and the packed Spiegeltent went off with laughs and a few uncomfortable moments too.

The full Unbound program is eclectic and exciting, and if last night’s McSex success was any indication, the events will be ones not to miss!

There is still another full two weeks of bookfest to go; it’s an incredibly large and exciting program. The Edinburgh International Book Festival are maintaining a great social media presence so check out @EdBookFest and #edbookfest to keep up with all the action live from the festival.

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