Edinburgh International Book Festival reveals line-up of freedom fighters

Book festival director Nick Barley has revealed that the event has expanded the size of its biggest venues to meet audience demand.
Book festival director Nick Barley has revealed that the event has expanded the size of its biggest venues to meet audience demand.
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American actress Rose McGowan, one of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s first accusers, is to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in a programme which will also feature Jeremy Corbyn, Chelsea Clinton and Nelson Mandela’s daughter and grandchildren.

Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent, rock icons Brian May and Bruce Dickinson, comics David Walliams and Harry Hill will all be speaking at the event as it undergoes its biggest ever expansion.

Actor Douglas Henshall, cycling stars Sir Chris Hoy and Graeme Obree, veteran Scottish football commentator Archie McPherson and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown are also expected to be among its biggest draws.

The presidencies of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, along with the prospect of Brexit, have prompted the major theme of this year’s programme - an exploration of what freedom means around the world.

More than 50 writers - including 13 from Scotland - will be writing new essays exploring what freedom means to them under a £120,000 project funded by the Scottish Government.

Many events in this year’s programme will also be exploring issues surrounding freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of expressions of identity.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and Iranian artist Ehsan Abdollahi - who won a visa battle with the Home Office to attend last year’s event - among the festival’s guest curators.

McGowan, who set out allegations against Weinstein in her memoir, Brave, will discuss the industry’s misogyny and sexism with writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch, who was born in Norway to a British father and Ghanian mother, another guest curator whose new book Brit(ish) tackles race, identity and belonging.

Two grandchildren Mandela, eight year-old Zazi and six-year-old Ziwele, will be quizzing the former South African president’s daughter Zindzi about his time behind bars in events in both Charlotte Square Garden and Shotts Prison, where they will speak to prisoners and their families.

Clinton will be discussing her “She Persisted” books she has written to celebrate women who have shaped history around the world, as well as her work to champion the rights of girls and women

Festival director Nick Barley said: “I believe that book festivals are not simply about reading and literary. They’re about public discourse. What we create is a space for grassroots democracy, for us to think through why the world is the way it is, what is going on and how we are going to deal with it.

“We’ve had an unusual challenge this year of having to think about a programme in the context of big decisions that have already happened, with things like Brexit, where the conversations tend to be happening down in London, or with Donald Trump, where what is going on is largely outside our control.

“We want to look at how ordinary citizens make sense of and try to take back control of the political agenda in this context. We also want to ask our writers and our audiences to look at the things that caused Brexit to happen in the first place, the election of Donald Trump and the sustained success of Vladimir Putin.”

Broadbent, whose boast known films include Little Voice, Iris, Moulin Rouge and Topsy-Turvy, will be unveiling his first graphic novel, Iron Maiden frontman Dickinson will be reading from his memoir and Queen guitarist May will trace the career of Scottish photographic pioneer George Washington Wilson in the festival’s first ever “3D event.”

Big-name authors appearing at the event include Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, English novelist Philip Pullman, former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson and Ann Cleeves, who will be appearing on stage with Henshall, who plays detective Jimmy Perez in the BBC’s adaptation of her Shetland-set novels.

Fellow crime writer Val McDermid will be launching her new novel at the festival, with other Scottish novelists in its line-up including Graeme Macrae Burnett, AL Kennedy, Ali Smith and Ian Rankin, who will offer a sneak preview of the new Inspector Rebus thriller.

Meanwhile the festival has revealed it is to name a venue after the celebrated author Dame Muriel Spark to mark the centenary of her birth in the city under the event’s biggest ever expansion.

The 330-capacity Spark Theatre will be located at the West End of George Street as pat of a new-look “book festival village” aimed at relieving pressure on Charlotte Square Gardens, its long-time home.

The event, which will spill out onto the thoroughfare for the second year in a row, is boosting the capacity of its two biggest venues in the garden after years of resisting audience demand.

As well as launching the new Spark Theatre, the festival will be staging the first performance of the late writer’s only play, Doctors of Philosophy, in the UK since 1962 and has lined up several other events to celebrate her birthday.

The newly-refurbished Principal Hotel on Charlotte Square will become a book festival venue this year when it plays to host to a gathering of more than 40 comic book authors and artists on its opening weekend, while events will also be held in an expanded bookshop on George Street.

The Central Library in the Old Town will also be deployed for a special event, The Hidden, which will encourage audiences to explore its corridors, shelves and collections.

The capacity of the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre will be raised from 600 to 750, while a bigger Spiegeltent will be able to accommodate up to 280 festivalgoers for seated events, 100 more than previously.

Mr Barley said: “Charlotte Square Gardens really feels the spiritual home of the festival, but we also want to be careful to look after it and we’ve been struggling with the numbers of people who want to come to the event. Like the other festivals, we’ve been trying to find ways to cope with the popularity of what we do.

“We’ve reduced the number of theatres in the garden be one and creating the new Spark Theatre on George Street, which will be roughly the same size.

“The capacities of the venues will be larger to cope with the demand that we have, but the footfall in the gardens should be a bit lower. We’re trying to look after the gardens on behalf of the city. It’s a gesture of sustainability.

“We’ve always been aware that some of our most popular writers sell out very quickly and that has led to a perception that it’s impossible to get tickets. We want the festival to be as accessible as possible.

“We’ve decided to increase the size of our main theatre to cope with that to allow people to see the superstars who come here each year, but we didn’t want to increase it by so much to lose the special atmosphere that the book festival creates.

“It is world-renowned among writers for being a fantastic place in which to talk. We’re convinced that the larger main theatre will keep the special quality that the event has.”

The book is festival joining forces with theatre company Visible Fictions to create The Hidden, which will see audiences challenge to solve a mystery by following clues hidden throughout the Central Library.

Mr Barley added: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be able to attract audiences into the library, where they perhaps have not been for a to explore its collections. It’s absolutely vital to the city.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman: The award-winning cime writer and his wife, a a consultant anaesthetist, launch a new historical crime series set in the medical world of Edinburgh in the 1840s and under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry.

Archie McPherson: The long-time BBC football commentator wrestles with why Scotland have failed to qualify for a World Cup for two decades and explores whether the Tartan Army have “given up the fight.”

Vic Galloway: The broadcaster, who has written a new pop on the history of Scottish pop music, which has been written to coincide with a new exhibition in Edinburgh.

Sue Black: The world-leading forensic anthropologist will be in conversation with crime writer Val McDermid.

Brett Anderson: The frontman of indie-rock band Suede will be discussing his memoir and its exploration of the heyday of the Britpop era.

Gina Miller: The anti-Brexit campaigner will recall how she became the figurehead in its landmark High Court legal case.

Ali Smith: The novelist will be interviewed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.