Nicola Sturgeon & Kenny MacAskill set for Edinburgh book festival

Big-name politicians, actors, musicians and theatre-makers will all rub shoulders with authors, historians and poets at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer.

Nicola Sturgeon, left, and Kenny MacAskill will be appearing at the event. Pictures: Getty Images

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, new Scots Makar Jackie Kay, Hollywood actor Alan Cumming, singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, Rab C Nesbitt star Gregor Fisher and former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner are all in the line-up.

Poetry and rapping star Kate Tempest, stage and screen favourite Simon Callow, comic Sue Perkins and survival expert Ray Mears will join the last Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and ex-Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill in Charlotte Square Gardens.

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Festival director Nick Barley said his seventh event - which will be staged under a banner of Imagine Better - was on a mission “to try to make the world a better place through literature.”

Events will tackle the impact of the EU referendum vote, the refugee crisis, the future of the NHS and mounting international tensions will all take centre stage at the event, which Mr Barley said would be set within an intellectual framework “unique” in literary festivals.

Among the events exploring the “seemingly unending” refugee crisis will be a revival of Scottish playwright David Greig’s piece Europe, created in response to the civil wars in the Balkans, which will be performed by a nine-strong cast 22 years on from its premiere.

Military experts in the programme include General Sir Richard Shirreff, recently-retired deputy commander of NATO’s forces, war reporter Max Hastings and historian Trevor Royle.

MacAskill to discuss Lockerbie book

Former Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill will also be discussing his controversial new book on the Lockerbie bombing, while the former BBC director general Mark Thompson will discuss the impact of the internet and 24-hour news media on democracy.

Guests from 55 countries will be appearing at the festival, including South Korean author Han Kang, the reigning Man Booker International Prize winner, American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, one of China’s leading contemporary writers, Can Xue, Kenyan-born historical fiction favourite Philippa Gregory and Jean-Christophe Rufin, co-founder of the international charity Médecins sans Frontières.

Mr Barley has pledged to provide an antidote to the “negative, reductive, political discourse” he believes has dismayed many people during recent elections and referendum campaigns.

He said: “People are sick to death of it. I think it’s the opposite of what the public want. They want to hear about the kind of ideas that will make the human race progress. Writers are a key part of how to try to make the world a better place.

“If we’re not going to engage in positive, utopian and ambitious thinking, who is? It’s not happening anywhere else as far as I can see. I see the festival playing a really significant role, not just in terms of entertaining, but also helping people think and imagine harder.

“It’s a very serious mission we’re setting out on. It’s a worldwide conversation. Don’t think for a minute think what we talk about in Edinburgh remains here. Writers, publishers, agents and editors are all listening.

“Novelists, journalists, scientists and poets – writers are the people we always turn to at a time when we need to imagine better.”

Roald Dahl and Harry Potter celebrations planned

Jackie Kay, who was unveiled as the new Makar in March by Nicola Sturgeon, has agreed to be interviewed by the First Minister and will also appear alongside the UK’s poet laureate, Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy, in a separate event.

Celebrations of the work of Joni Mitchell, Edwin Morgan, William Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte are all planned, along with special events dedicated to Harry Potter, Roald Dahl, Oor Wullie and The Broons.


Alan Cumming: The Perthshire actor will take time out of his late-night festival cabaret show to discuss his new memoir.

Pilgrimer: Novelist James Robertson and singer Karine Polwart cast Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” album in a new light following rave reviews for a gala concert at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow earlier this year.

Jackie Kay and Carol Ann Duffy: The two Glasgow writers, Scotland’s new Makar and UK poet laureate, appear together for the first time at the festival.

Michel Faber: The author of Under the Skin reads from his new poetry collection, which he penned following the loss of his wife to cancer in 2014.

Susan Calman: One of Scotland’s most popular comics, the former lawyer recalls her long-time attempts to overcome depression.

Kenny MacAskill: The former Scottish justice secretary’s book on Lockerbie has reignited controversy over the release of the convicted bomber.

James Kelman: Scotland’s only winner of the Booker Prize returns with new novel “A Road Trip Through America.”

Billy Bragg: The “bard of Barking” is interviewed by broadcaster Vic Galloway about his best-loved songs and his political activism.

Joyce McMillan: The Scotsman critic looks back on 30 years of Scottish theatre.

• Tickets for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, which will run from 13-29 August, go on sale on 21 June.