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A rush for places, ticket glitches, huge queues - take it as read, this is the new rock 'n' roll

THE early-morning queue snaked around the block and the computers issuing the tickets crashed under the pressure of unprecedented demand.

But this was not a rush for the latest concert by the Rolling Stones or Oasis, but members of the book-loving public desperate to see their favourite authors.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival said demand surged far beyond what was expected on the first day of bookings for the August event, with internet sales up an extraordinary 900 per cent.

The rare appearance by Alan Bennett, the reclusive writer and actor whose work has run from the legendary Beyond the Fringe to The History Boys, was the first event to sell out yesterday.

But a series of computer failures in a new booking system saw the festival's website grind to a halt at 1:30pm yesterday, and remain out of commission for several hours. Staff said it would be online again this morning.

The ticket queue outside the Waterstone's bookshop on George Street saw punters arriving as early as 6:15am, but then waiting for hours as systems progressively failed.

"It was a total shambles," said Des Melville, who arrived at 8:15am to buy tickets for Bennett, and other author events. "We waited and waited, nothing was happening. The queue wasn't moving, it was stretched all the way to Charlotte Square."

Staff handed out paper booking forms which were being processed last night.

Catherine Lockerbie, the book festival's director, said: "I have never seen the queue so long. This is not an embarrassment, it's frustrating.

"There was one lady outside the shop at 6:15am and quite a few by 7:30am. That's normal for rock concerts or festivals, it's unusual for a book festival. People are tenacious and are desperate to get these tickets."

Bennett is making his only festival appearance this year in Edinburgh, launching his book An Uncommon Reader, in which the Queen comically discovers literature.

Andrew Marr, the writer and broadcaster, whose latest project is his televised History of Modern Britain, sold out as fast as it did last year. Marr is appearing in two events, including the Donald Dewar lecture.

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman's event was the next to go. Charlie and Lola, from the popular children's book and television series, was also a sell-out.

A festival spokeswoman said of the Waterstone's queue: "It was managed by the team there, though people waited longer than we would have liked."

Ms Lockerbie said computer problems were exacerbated by the "unprecedented demand".

The biggest stage at the festival seats fewer than 600 people and ticket prices have been frozen for seven years, at 8 maximum. Online booking was vastly increasing with buyers yesterday from Florida and Canada, Ms Lockerbie said.

She added: "This is an opening-day phenomenon. People know our events have limited capacity and will go quickly."

STILL PLENTY OF TICKETS LEFT

JUST four out of 700 events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have sold out so far.

This year's programme has a heavy emphasis on lesser-known talent and writing from China, India and 40 other countries.

The book festival is gambling that the next hot tickets will be the American novelist Norman Mailer, who is to be interviewed on a video link by Andrew O'Hagan, and the Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro, interviewed by Margaret Atwood.

But for those who prefer their authors in the flesh, the ever-popular Clive James is appearing with his latest work, Cultural Amnesia, promising a tour of the seminal figures of 20th-century culture. Alexander McCall Smith, the creator of Scotland Street and the No1 Ladies Detective Agency, is a perennial favourite. There is a rare visit by the US writer Richard Ford, while Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion has become a global best-seller, will be a big draw.

Other notable authors include the successful novelist Sebastian Faulks, the extraordinary Ian McEwan, Doris Lessing and Scotland's only Booker Prize winner, James Kelman.

 
 
 

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