Edinburgh International Book Festival: Susan Mansfield previews this year’s online programme

Best-selling novelists, poets and historians are among the highlights of this month’s events, writes Susan Mansfield

Scots makar Jackie Kay.
Scots makar Jackie Kay.

Charlotte Square sadly remains empty, but the Edinburgh International Book Festival is offering a programme of 140 live and pre-recorded events online, featuring 200 authors and illustrators from all over the world.

Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize twice for her novels about Thomas Cromwell, and the concluding part of the best-selling trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has been longlisted for the prize this year. In this event she discusses how she approached the final novel, knowing it would have to end with Cromwell’s beheading (16 August, 8:30pm).

Writer and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove follows his trilogy about American soul music in the 1960s with a book about one of the most famous black Americans of the period. Cassius X: Six Months That Shaped The Sixties looks at the rise of a young Kentucky boxer who came to embrace the ideas of the Black Power movement, whom we know best by his Islamic name, Muhammad Ali (17 August, 11:30am).

Scots makar Jackie Kay has helped brighten lockdown with her series of Makar to Makar events. In a special 15th episode, she speaks to US poet laureate Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold the post, in an hour of poetry and conversation with music by Suzanne Bonnar (20 August, 7pm).

In late 2019, the European Commission announced a landmark plan to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. Dutch politician and diplomat Frans Timmermans was appointed its lead negotiator. Then the pandemic happened… He joins former prime minister Gordon Brown to discuss the politics of environmental change and the possibility of a “green recovery” from Covid-19 (21 August, 8:30pm).

Among her many abilities, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has proved herself an adept interviewer of writers at the Edinburgh Book Festival. This year, she talks to Booker Prize-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo, whose novel Girl, Woman, Other seems to grow ever more topical as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum (22 August, 8:30pm).


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At just 23, Joshua Wong, pictured below, has become a leading figure in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy. Having formed a student activist group when he was just 14, he went on to become a leader of the Umbrella movement and has announced he will run for the Hong Kong legislature in September. He comes to the Book Festival live from Hong Kong (23 August, 1pm).

Celebrated Scottish poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie is the editor of Antlers of Water, a new collection of contemporary Scottish writing about nature and the landscape, with contributors including Amy Liptrot, Karine Polwart and Malachy Tallack. Two of the writers involved – Chitra Ramaswamy and Amanda Thomson – join her for this launch event (24 August, 4pm).

It’s hard to predict what novelist Michel Faber will do next. Now, the writer of Under The Skin and The Crimson Petal and the White has written a story for all ages. D, which has attracted comparisons to Dickens and Lewis Carroll, is the story of the resourceful Dhikilo, who discovers the letter D has vanished from the alphabet and sets out to find it (25 August, 11:30am).Utopia Avenue, the new novel by David Mitchell, is the fictional biography of a prog-folk band from the 1960s, with occasional walk-on appearances by rock legends such as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. He discusses writing and music with singer-songwriter Sam Amidon (27 August, 4pm).

Always a Book Festival favourite, writer William Dalrymple has illuminated the history of India like few others. His latest book, The Anarchy, is about the rise of the East India Company, a disturbing fusion of imperial ambition and corporate greed. He is in conversation with BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane (29 August, 2:30pm).

All events are free to watch on www.edbookfest.co.uk (you can register to ask questions, and take part in chatrooms and signings) and most are available to watch on demand after their scheduled time.

A message from the Editor:


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