The Edinburgh International Book Festival launched it’s programme yesterday, with a whole host of excitement, as they celebrate seventy years of Edinburgh being a festival city, moving out into the city, as well as keeping their usual spot at Charlotte Square Gardens.
Associate Director, Roland Gulliver and Children & Education Programme Director, Janet Smyth, spoke to The Fountain about their plans for 2017’s EIBF and the theme of this year’s festival, Brave New Words.
TF: Firstly, I have been to Edinburgh several years now, and it’s a great festival. What is it you think Edinburgh has to offer that a lot of the other book festivals in the UK don’t?
RG: Edinburgh is very special because it is a festival city, and because of that, the book festival itself can run all day every day for the duration. We can programme from ten in the morning for very small events to big events late at night so in that sense for me it is the strength and depth of the programme in terms of the range of authors that we can bring. We can celebrate local Scottish authors but also we can bring international authors over from across the world.
TF: This year you have had a focus on Cumbernauld with the Reimagination weekend. What pre-empted that?
RG: That was the starting point for this year’s programme. So, this year is celebrating seventy years of Edinburgh being the festival city and one of the big themes this year in August is the role of the festival and the role that culture plays on people’s lives but also Visions of the Future.
This has parallels between moments of hope and utopian thinking about future, so we are doing projects across all of the new towns in Scotland. We explored about what it is like to live in Cumbernauld now. The town of Cumbernauld was always quite space age, in terms of its design and architecture. So it’s got a reputation and we wanted to explore what that meant for the people, what their stories were and find their stories, as it is very important that as well as finding authors that write stories about other people that people’s stories are told in the bigger historical narrative. We are also programming events called Writing the City, which will be four or five events exploring Cumbernauld in a fictional way.
TF: There has been much speculation about the venue this year. Are you able to disclose what is happening with Charlotte Square, and the spill-out onto George Street?
RG: Charlotte Square Gardens will stay the same; it will still have that magical feel from the Writers Retreat to the Spiegeltent. This will stay the same but for the 70th anniversary celebrations we will be moving out into the city, where we will have a space in George Street just across from Charlotte Square Gardens. The Bosco, which is a small intimate Spiegeltent style venue will have lots of different events around Edinburgh in terms of history and poetry and writing and also events that are performance and spoken word. There will be a little seated area, a little café and little bookshop. A space called The Greenhouse will have stuff about our new town project, stuff about our Outriders where we sent writers out across the Americas with a suitcase of maps and mementos. We will have a different weekend of events and interactive workshops. We have a project in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust which is all about breath, about breathing. We have live poets, writing poetry inspired by the city. It’s all about others going out into the city and having a new engagement with the festival.
On top of that we will have one of our biggest events, Paul Auster, who will be part of Spirit of ‘47. He encapsulates the inventive feel of the festival. Towards the end of the festival we will also have a special performance in St Mary’s Cathedral with writer, David Mitchell, with David Greilsammer, where he will read un-read stories inspired by the music.
TF: What is the theme of this year’s festivals?
RG: There are different themes this year that are in the programme, partly as we responded to the festival city, but are overarching headline is Brave New Words. In 2017 people are questioning what is happening. We are recovering from a General Election result which we didn’t expect. We used to know and understood what was fiction, what was non-fiction and what was story but they have now become jumbled up. At the book festival we turn to writers to provide us with the questions but also with the answers, exploring the complexities of the issues I think we kind of feel that the way we have programmed the writers is that we should get different perspectives and stories. The more we know about the context of something the more we can make our own judgements and understandings around the world, understand our place, understand our identity and express our own identity.
TF: What is the theme for the children’s festival this year?
JS: We are effectively the same as the adult programme so the theme is Brave New Words. We will be looking at what children’s books explore, which is very different from seventy years ago, such as diversity, freedoms for young people, margins of young adult fiction in particular. The other thing we will be looking at is the different forms that young people’s storytelling takes from stuff like Julia Donaldson and her cast of seven with this all-singing, all-dancing way of performing picture books to theatre companies coming with a specifically developed pieces of story-telling, which will be attractive for young audiences and families. The way in which books are written and then presented has changed dramatically. Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan co-wrote a book in free verse, but they wrote it using WhatsApp. They would write their own bits on WhatsApp so the other could see and respond to it. Cathy MacPhail had used chat room forums to create her story so that whole way in which young people engage with words, and communication, is very much now being reflected in the books that are being written specifically for them.
TF: What is new with the Children’s and Schools programme this year that celebrates the seventy year anniversary?
JS: We are looking at some anniversaries which are older than seventy years. The Carnegie Medal which is the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize for young people’s writing is eighty so that celebrating of children’s literature has been going on for almost a century, and the Greenaway Medal which celebrates illustration in children’s literature is sixty years. They sit either side of this seventy year celebration. We are marking that by bringing people that have won the medal in the past, people like David Almond, Helen Oxenbury who did the illustrations for We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and Philip Reeve. They will not only be talking about their latest books but also their current work sits within a wider world of children’s writing.
Alex Wheattle, who is originally from Brixton, will talk about how he found books and writing when he was sent to prison, during the Brixton Riots when he was a young man. When he came out, he not only wanted to write about what it was like to be disaffected and young, but disaffected and young and black in Britain, so building one writer from another writer’s book, adding layers upon that with each new generation, comes with reading.
TF: What are your personal highlights from the Children’s Programme this year that you are looking forward to Janet?
JS: Cressida Cowell is coming to launch The Wizards of Once, which is the new series after the How to Train a Dragon series but she is also coming to deliver our Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, which is looking at how you write for young people in a way that will hook them in to being long-term readers. It’s a big topic and a big challenge and the only person that can deliver that lecture and tell anyone how to do it is Cressida Cowell. She has such an energy and an utter belief in the importance of books and reading. I think this will be a lecture that will be delivered with integrity and honesty.
And the other book, which I am really pleased about is Debi Gliori’s. Two years ago she was our illustrator in residence and she showed us just some drawings that she had done for a book created with kindness. This was a graphic novel detailing the story of her own depression. We told her it was beautiful and that she should do something with it and she was really nervous about it but she subsequently did. She will be talking about Night Shift. We are quite excited to have been a little part of that journey she has been on with this publication.
For more on the programme and events of the Edinburgh International Book Festival visit the site.