FANTASY writers, comedians, rock stars, broadcasters and actors will rub shoulders with some of the world’s leading authors and thinkers when the Edinburgh International Book Festival is staged this summer.
Festival director Nick Barley has unveiled a hugely eclectic programme which will see events touching on issues as varied as the Battle of Bannockburn, the Darien Disaster and the 1980s miners’ strikes to Spanish football and the Tour de France.
Among the headline acts are Game of Thrones creator George R R Martin and Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, two American fantasy writers whose events are expected to be among the most sought-after in the programme.
They will be making their debuts in Charlotte Square Gardens, along with Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s best-selling authors of all-time, and Martin Amis, one of the great English authors of the 20th century.
Among the other big-name authors in the programme are Will Self, Sarah Waters, Amy Bloom, Jung Chang and Lydia Davis, with the American short-story writer making her first appearance in the UK since winning the Man Booker International Prize last year.
Michael Morpurgo, the writer behind the War Horse phenomenon, philosopher Alain de Botton, playwright and commentator Bonnie Greer and Turner Prize nominee Nathan Coley, along with broadcasters Kirsty Wark and James Naughtie.
The UK’s poet laureate, Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy, will be at the festival, where new collections will be launched by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Tom Pow and Simon Armitage, while former US poet laureate Billy Collins will be among the special guests.
Comedians confirmed at the festival launch included Omid Djalili, Dave Gorman, Mark Thomas and Phill Jupitus, the latter of whom will be one of the special guests at an all-day celebration of the spoken word.
Big names from the music world making an appearance include Julian Cope, the former Teardrop Explodes frontman, and Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys, who will be taking about forays into the world of book-writing.
Actor-turned crime writer John Gordon Sinclair, the star of classic 1980s Scottish comedy film Gregory’s Girl, will be at the festival along with Brenda Blethyn, the award-winning actress, who will be talking about her role in crime drama Vera, along with its creator Ann Cleeves.
Scottish writers in the line-up include Louise Welsh, Denise Mina, Irvine Welsh, Christopher Brookmyre, Alexander McCall Smith and AL Kennedy. The line-up of international guests includes Damon Galgut and Jakes Mda, from South Africa, Brazilian authors Mpho Tutu and Michael Laub.
The festival will be played out against the backdrop of the final stages of the independence campaign but Mr Barley said there had been a conscious effort to resist traditional “debates”.
Instead, guests including political heavyweights like Paddy Ashdown, Jim Sillars and Henry McLeish will be asked to consider the “wider context” of Scotland’s past and future, tying in with other major strands such as the 100th anniversary of the First World War, recent international turmoil and the rise of the far right in Europe, the creation of the creation of the Commonwealth, with the festival due to get underway just days after Glasgow’s sporting extravaganza winds up.
Mr Barley said: “2014 is a big year for Scotland. There are a number of important events taking place, not least among them the independence referendum, but just as important as far as we’re concerned for our programme are the centenary of the outbreak of war in 1914 and the staging of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
They are linked events which make it an important year for Scotland.
“It’s not just about that changing sense of what Britain and Scotland are - regardless of the result of the referendum - but also Europe being under threat, the rise of extreme politics, the loss of trust in politics with the long-term declined in voter turn-out - these are big challenges facing the world.”
Mr Barley said he wanted to avoid the “protracted debates” and “deeply entrenched” arguments of the independence referendum, to prevent the festival being totally dominated by the one topic this year.
The programme includes a host of writers and other cultural figures who have expressed support for independence, including artist Alasdair Gray, playwright David Greig, authors Alan Bissett and William McIlvanney, and poet Liz Lochhead.
However Barley said he had decided against introducing a “quota” system and had not asked every guest for their stance on the referendum.
He added: “Book festivals are the perfect place to avoid entrenched views. After all, they are places for dialogue. They are the ideal places where you can talk and be heard, and listen.
“To encourage that dialogue, we want to look beyond the referendum and not talk about whether it will be yes or no. That’s for other people to decide. We want to ask what we want for Scotland’s future and look at the international and historical context of the independence debate. Dialogue isn’t the theme of this year’s festival but I’d like to think it will be the outcome.
“I’d like to think people will be able to come along, find out and listen to other points of view and not come along with entrenched positions which they badger other people to believe.”