Edinburgh International Book Festival: Night and Day

Submitted by Al Innes on Tue, 24 Aug '10 9.36pm

With over a week of the Edinburgh International Book Festival behind us I feel like it’s time to reflect. I've been soaking up the atmosphere every day at Charlotte Square. I've seen the sun come and go, and the rain set it. This year we have so far been treated to a festival that has been marked by some fantastic debate throughout the day and the appearance of a new festival hot-spot after dark.


The debates themes this year have so far included; The End of the American Dream, Climate Change, The Future of the Novel, e-books and After the Wars? They have taken place across a variety of the venues and take a great deal of effort to keep totally up to date on. What has distinguished them though is the often hostile reactions they have produced from the usually quite placid Book Festival devotees. It seems oddly satisfying that listening to Eli Horowitz discuss changing trends in publishing; or Adam Roberts championing the future of Science Fiction against realist fiction; or even simple discussion of Labours financial legacy has produced hostile audience members, author arguments and walk-outs.

There is a rejuvenated feel to the Book Festival programme this year and you can feel it from the early morning coffee-house discussions at the Speigeltent to the packed-out Main Theatre in the evening, to late-night conspiracies on the decking after dark.


Laterally, I am of course referring to the Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square which has been playing host to the Unbound series of events. So far this festival we have had Christopher Brookmyre showing off his musical prowess, erotic stories from the Gutter folk, Discombobulate coming all the way from sunny Glasgow and AL Kennedy (Whom I also glimpsed at the Forest Café’s Golden Hour last week) took to the stage last night in front of a crowd that had defied torrential rain.

The feedback I’ve heard from people has ranged from complaints about the venue being packed out; (jealousy at those of us sensible to come early will get you nowhere), awe at the free samples of Highland Park on offer at 8.15pm every night (It always helps to have a whisky sponsor for these things), and general surprise that the thing is free. I suppose if it carries on being this successful they might have to charge for tickets, or even just begin ticketing it, but in general the best element has been the drop-in drop out nature of the shows.

With Charlotte square being only a stone’s throw from Assembly on both George Street and Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, it seems to have balanced out the pre-festival fear that having McEwan Hall play host to comedians, the New Town would be a festival grave-yard. That kind of nay-saying crops up every festival, but what has marked the Book Fest’s Spiegel from last year's late night jazz (splendid as it was) is the kind of audience that the Unbound attracts.

It’s been pretty eclectic, I’ve met old friends there, but I’ve certainly made a good few more and in a strangely formal/informal kind of way. You can watch a show, but still nip out for a fag…

Over the days many people who have never stayed out after dark (presumably thinking the gardens close after Alistair Darling has finished talking) have been staying later and later. Is Unbound attracting a new audience at the Book Festival?

Be sure to check out Golden Hour (twice in a month!) tomorrow night, and the Writer’s Pen event on Thursday looks pretty grisly. Just how harsh are they going to be on aspiring writers if they don’t like the novel ideas they are being pitched? The last night is a ticketed affair, so make sure you get hold of one, as it promises to be a blast.

With another exciting week to come, I’ll be back with even more frequent updates as the festival comes to its final weekend. You can follow my daily Twitter updates here. (Make sure to check out the @edbookfest tweets for regular free tickets.)

Not sure if the original "Edinbrgh" in the title was a typo or a poetic reflection of your current state of mind (after all it's a festival of words)... but I changed it. Apologies if it's the latter