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Six things to look forward to at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Written by
Keith Davidson

Each August, Edinburgh International Book Festival sets up its tented village at Charlotte Square Gardens in the New Town. There are talks, spoken word performances, music, a full children’s programme, a Speigeltent, cafés, a signing tent, a bookshop and even an ice cream tricycle!

The 2016 jamboree involves something like 800 authors from more than 55 countries taking part in over 700 events. Whether you want to hear Chinese novelist Can Xue talk about her work or just sit under a tree having a picnic with the kids; the Book Fest has it all. Below are half a dozen highlights from this year's programme.


Unbound is the Book Fest’s free, drop-in evening event where you can grab a drink from the bar and then anything might happen. Scheduled performances this year include Scotland’s former national poet Liz Lochhead with Dundee indie poppers the Hazey Janes doing “a celebration of the lyric impulse” (16 August), an appearance from alternative Scottish hip-hop ensemble Stanley Odd (24 August) and a great deal besides. Loose, informal and fun, it’s always worth sticking your head round the door to see what’s going on.

Daily 14-29 August, 9pm, Speigeltent, free

Shappi Khorsandi

The accomplished Anglo-Iranian stand-up Shappi Khorsandi has delved deep into her comic talent to produce a shocking but witty debut novel, published this summer: 'Nina Is Not OK'. It deals with a young woman’s struggles with alcohol until she wakes up one Sunday morning with little memory of the night before – just a great deal of shame and dread. Khorsandi talks about the book, the switch from stand-up to novel writing, and will doubtless field a few audience questions too.

Thursday 18 August, 3.45pm, Studio Theatre, £12 (£10 reductions)

Jeanette Winterson

Winterson is one of the big hitters of contemporary literature and she graces the Book Fest to discuss her latest, 'The Gap Of Time'. Described as a cover version of 'The Winter’s Tale', it was published last autumn and stands as a deeply personal reworking of the story of 'Perdita' from Shakespeare’s play, set in contemporary London and America’s deep south. Come along and hear how hard was it to reframe the Bard for the 21st century.

Saturday 20 August, 8.15pm, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, £12 (£10 reductions)

Brix Smith Start 

Being well known just because you married some famous bloke is sexist nonsense, but when your former other half was the curmudgeon laureate himself – Mark E Smith of The Fall – then it’s sadly inevitable. Smith Start hardly shies away from this issue, however, given her new book is titled 'The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise'. There is more to her story than the man and his band though: her American childhood, moving to England after meeting Smith at a gig in Chicago, marrying him, joining The Fall, leaving, divorce, having further adventures in music and then embarking on a fashion career with second husband Philip Start. It’s a compelling tale.

Saturday 20 August, 8.45pm, Studio Theatre, £12 (£10 reductions)

Prue Leith

Nigella has the innuendo, Gordon the swear words, Jamie the estuary vowels and bish-bash-bosh – but Prue Leith beats them all. She's run restaurants and catering companies, founded a cookery school, worked as a broadcaster, written cookery books and novels, and been active in some significant food-related charities. Her career started in 1960, when she was 20 years old, and continues to this day. Her latest work of fiction is 'The Food Of Love' about a young woman who falls for an Italian chef in 1940s England. Together, they run away to London and try to open a restaurant. Even if Leith’s prose style isn’t quite your thing, this event is an opportunity to see a living legend of British cooking on stage.

Monday 22 August, 10am, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, £12 (£10 reductions)

Ray Mears

In his latest book, celebrity woodsman, TV personality and author Ray Mears has turned his sights on the boreal zones of the northern hemisphere and the bushcraft skills needed to survive there. This September, Mears publishes 'Out On The Land', co-written with Lars Fält. It looks at the specific forest biome encompassing Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia, focusing on the clothing you need in that environment, injuries, navigation, food and more. It's a coffee table book rather than a pocket guide but it does transport you to place most people never tread, so it’s quite the taiga feat. On stage, Mears talks about 'Out On The Land and his love of the circumpolar boreal woods.

Monday 29 August, 6,45pm, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, £12 (£10 reductions) 

Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place August 13-29. For tickets and information visit or call 0845 373 5888.

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