Sir Sean takes on star role at book festival

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SIR Sean Connery will be returning to Edinburgh to unveil his long-awaited autobiography on his 78th birthday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was announced yesterday.

Launching the festival programme, the director, Catherine Lockerbie, said with a record 800 authors participating, the world’s biggest book festival was also the most international. Authors from 45 countries are taking part, 200 of them Scots.

Among those she singled out are Salman Rushdie, John Prescott, Kate Adie and Jonathan Dimbleby, but the programme has a width that encompasses writers as diverse as Margaret Atwood and Francis Firebrace, an aboriginal elder from Australia’s Yorta Yorta tribe.

Although some of the bigger literary names are absent this year – Doris Lessing will again be missed – that extra width makes up for it. This is, after all, a festival at which you can find Tony Benn and the Duchess of Devonshire, Richard Dawkins and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Esther Rantzen and Tariq Ali, Gen Sir Mike Jackson and Irvine Welsh. You’ll find Rose Tremain, who last week won the Orange Prize – but also Chuck Palahniuk, whose novel about a porn marathon is guaranteed to shock.

Among those writers trailing freshly-written memoirs is a similarly diverse group. From Halima Bashir, a young doctor in Darfur who experienced appalling horrors before she escaped, to Rick Wakeman, ex-prog rock star and now Grumpy Old Man, almost all human life is here. Somewhere between those extremes are Carol Thatcher, Katherine Whitehorn, Bill Paterson, Blur’s ex-bassist Alex James, Libby Purves and veteran editor Diana Athill.

The festival opens on 9 August with a promised “surprise” guest, hinted to be “a major public figure”. All we can safely say is that it isn’t Alex Salmond (piquantly giving the Donald Dewar Memorial Lecture), Tony Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell, Senator John McCain’s foreign policy adviser Robert Kagan, David Owen, or Menzies Campbell – because they’re already on the programme.

Sean Connery’s long-awaited Being A Scot – co-written with his film-maker friend Murray Grigor – is far from the only new title being launched at this year’s festival. Janice Galloway’s childhood memoir This Is Not About Me is eagerly awaited, but so too is the latest by Richard Holloway, who will be chairing her event, and talking about Between the Monster and the Saint, a philosophical reflection on morality on an endangered earth, later on.

Although the festival is full of familiar literary names – last year’s Man Booker winner Anne Enright, Hanif Kureishi, Terry Pratchett, Tony Parsons and George Steiner among them – it is also full of ones which, though unfamiliar to Britons, are fted abroad including the brilliant Chinese short story writer Yiyun Li, who is making her first visit to the festival.

Ms Lockerbie said: I am overjoyed that so many authors have accepted our invitation.”

If the best Bond of all is the star of the adult programme, Charlie Higson’s Young Bond is one of the highlights of the children’s event.

This year it is 25 years since the book festival began. On the evidence of the 2008 programme, it’s an anniversary it’s going to celebrate in style.

Love, death, history - and even some ‘slam poetry’

IT IS a quarter of a century since the book festival tents were erected for the first time.

As the trees in Charlotte Square Gardens have grown, so has the scale of this event, which has become an international draw for some of the world’s greatest and best-known artists.

Writers from more than 40 countries as well as nearly 200 from Scotland are expected.

Here David Robinson presents his personal selection of the ten best book festival events this year.

&#149 Sean Connery, 25 August. Shay no more ... but will you get a ticket?

&#149 Yiyun Li, 11 August. This superlative Chinese short-story writer is making her first visit to the festival.

&#149 Julian Barnes, 10 August. A depressive subject – the fear of death – scintillatingly analysed.

&#149 Janice Galloway, 23 August. Launching her childhood memoir.

&#149 Jonathan Fenby, John Keay & John Man, 12 August. This year’s Reith lecturer leading a panel on Chinese history.

&#149 Simon Sebag Montefiore, 13 August. Brilliant last year talking about Stalin, now back with his first novel.

&#149 Margaret Atwood, 23 August. Canada’s greatest writer – and driest wit.

&#149 Shane Koyczan, 22 August. Tried slam poetry yet? Start off with the world’s best.

&#149 Jonathan Dimbleby, 13 August. Russia through the eyes of an effortless communicator.

&#149 Tony Benn, below, 14 August. Whatever your politics, the man’s a national treasure.


Box office opens on 20 June. For first three days, only four tickets per event per booking. There are four ways to book.

BY PHONE: 0845 373 5888

BY POST: PO Box 23835, Edinburgh EH2 4WS


IN PERSON: From 20-22 June, Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Morrison Street, 10am-5pm. From 23 June-8 August, Waterstone’s, 83 George Street, 10am-5pm.