Missed out on book festival tickets? Here’s the next best thing

This YouTube playlist features some of the hottest tickets at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Jenni Fagan, Richard Holloway, AL Kennedy and Irvine Welsh.

The authors were all visiting Edinburgh Libraries as part of our “Edinburgh Reads” series of free author events. View our calendar to see what we’ve got planned for the weeks and months ahead

Ajay Close

Thanks to Ajay Close who popped in last week to tell us about her new novel Trust.

DSC_2932Ajay’s readings tantalized but didn’t give away the plot, and our Edinburgh Reads audience were impressed by the authors’ humour as well as her knowledge of the banking world and the miner’s strike.

Thanks Ajay!

Stuart Kelly on “Waverley” at 200

It has lent its name to a railway station, a fountain pen, a type of sock and even an ice-cream cone!

But when it was first published, Walter Scott’s Waverley came out of nowhere.

There was no named author, it didn’t fit into any recognizable genre, and even the quotation at the beginning of the book was ambiguous.

So how did it (and its author) come to have such a huge influence on our country and its literature, and why has it fallen so completely out of fashion?

The answers to those questions were revealed by critic, author and former Booker Prize judge Stuart Kelly at our latest Edinburgh Reads event last Monday.

Stuart argued that rather than viewing Scott as a harbinger for Dickens and the other great nineteenth century novelists we would do better to see him as the heir eighteenth century novelists such as Sterne and Smollett, especially if we consider the self-aware, self-conscious nature of his work.

There’s also a humorous aspect to Scott’s writing, a characteristic which is often overlooked, remarkably so given the passages Stuart read to us over the course of the hour (especially the start of chapter 24 of Waverley).

In terms of story Stuart agreed with Allan Massie that Scott ignores almost all the historical set-pieces you might suppose would be included in a novel on the Jacobite uprising.

And this is typical of Scott. He tiptoes round Scottish history, neglecting figures such as Knox and Wallace, and events like Bannockburn.

He is more interested in illuminating the margins of Scottish history, and echoes Shakespeare (who he quotes throughout his works) in the way he covers the entire social strata. In this sense he is more of a pluralist than those who followed him, and for this reason critics from across the ideological spectrum have been able to claim him as their own.

Before we closed there was time for questions from the floor, giving Stuart the opportunity to enlighten us on how Scott got into so much debt, the nature of the ‘historical’ novel and how to reignite interest in Scott’s work. (Doctor Who is the man  for the job!)

A witty, knowledgeable and engaging speaker, Stuart could I think have happily talked Scott for another hour, and his audience would have been more than happy to listen. At the start of the talk there was a show of hands as to who of us had actually read Waverley, and I’ll wager that those who hadn’t took up Stuart’s challenge to at least give the first chapter a bash, so infectious was his enthusiasm for his subject.

Let’s hope we can get him back for one of the other Scott bicentenaries we’ll be celebrating all the way up to 2032!

Mapping (more) Edinburgh fiction

People keep writing books set in Edinburgh, so we keep adding them to our Edinburgh Reads map.

Here are three recent additions, which apart from their setting, don’t have too much in common at all!

The Democrat by Olly Wyatt is a globe-spanning historical thriller made all the more exciting by the fact that it’s based on the real life adventures of political reformer Thomas Muir.

Ghost MoonRon Butlin’s Ghost Moon is inspired by the experiences of the former Edinburgh Makar’s mother. The novel tells the story of a pregnant young woman thrown out of her home in the 1950s – a secret she only reveals to her son Tom many years later, when she is suffering from dementia.

Our map also features many books written for a much younger audience. Olivia’s Enchanted Summer by Lyn Gardner’s is one of these. Olivia and her stage school chums are in town for the festival, but a mysterious thief threatens to ruin their stay.

Which books are right up your street? Explore the map to find out – and if you think there’s one we’ve missed be sure to let us know.

Edinburgh Reads: “Trust” by Ajay Close

“Your friends or your principles: which would you betray?”

Our next Edinburgh Reads event features Ajay Close, who’ll be talking to us about her latest novel Trust, tracing the lives of three friends from the miners’ strike of 1984 through to the 2006 banking crisis.

A novel about  love, money, friendship and ideals, Trust asks some searching questions about how people adapt over time, and how they stay the same.

“intelligent and uncompromising” The Herald

“‘a serious book for grown-ups who want the world taken not with a pinch of salt but with something a little stronger … a boon to those who want to be made to think, both about men and women and the relations between them, and about the values we so often assume are shared ones.’ 
The Scotsman

Ajay will be at Edinburgh Central Library from 7pm on Thursday 3rd July. Reserve your free place now.


Edinburgh Reads: Val McDermid

“I would not be a writer if it wasn’t for the public library system” Val McDermid

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Val McDermid (r) with Christine Hamilton (courtesy Andrew Ansell)

Val McDermid  kept us entertained at last week’s Edinburgh Reads event. In a packed and wide-ranging hour Val covered everything from re-imagining Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey to memories of going to Oxford as a 16-year-old. Between times there was a hilarious anecdote about how she inadvertently upset a television scriptwriter.

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Look out for video of the event appearing on the Edinburgh Reads playlist very soon – where you’ll be able to find out which book Val described as having ‘everything’, and why we’ll probably never see her doing a children’s story time.

In the meantime you can see more snaps from the night on Flickr.

“a joy to listen to”

“always good value”


Just some of the audience feedback from the night. We couldn’t put it any better ourselves. Thanks a million Val!

Buckfast, libraries and Margaret Thatcher: Damian Barr at Central Library

An engaging and witty Damian Barr popped in to Central Reference Library last month to discuss his memoir Maggie and Me.

Our video shows Damian talking openly to Richard Holloway about the devastating abuse he suffered as a child, his relationship with his parents and teachers, and how he found refuge in libraries.

Check out our playlist for film from other Edinburgh Reads  events.




Referendum reading and writing

Don’t worry if you weren’t one of the lucky people who managed to snap up a ticket for last night’s Independence Debate at Central Library.

We’ll be posting video of the event on our YouTube channel very soon.

You might also be interested in Write around our referendum, a free six week course exploring articles, poems, stories and media coverage relating to the referendum and independence debate.

Or if you can’t commit the time we’re hosting a half day session considering the background issues, hard facts and statistics surrounding the independence question.

Other useful links:

BBC Scottish Independence referendum library

Scotland’s Future (white paper)

What Scotland thinks

Referendum reading from the library

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland

In our latest Edinburgh Reads video Annette Carruthers talks to Hil Williamson about her book The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland.

Annette discusses the history of the arts and crafts movement in Scotland from its early appearance in the 1860s to its heyday from 1890 to 1914, a time when Scotland’s art schools promoted new design and the Scottish Home Industries Association campaigned to revive rural crafts, shaping the look of domestic and ecclesiastical buildings, stained glass, furnishings, metalwork, and textiles.

In this interesting discussion Annette talks about her research and conception of the book, the social and political aspects of the movement in Scotland and the influence of art schools.

Read what The Scotsman had to say about the book and reserve a copy from the library.

Top authors head up “Edinburgh Reads” spring programme

cross and burnCrime fiction superstar Val McDermid, “Maggie and Me” author Damian Barr and a debate on the independence referendum are among the highlights of the Edinburgh Reads spring programme.

McDermid, who has sold over 10 million copies of her books, will be in town to discuss her latest, Cross and Burn.

Damian Barr’s Maggie and Me is a funny, tender and heartbreaking memoir of deprivation and survival in 1980s Lanarkshire. Damian will discuss his book, and the issues it raises, with Richard Holloway.

maggie and meKaren Campbell, author of “This is where I am” appears alongside Korean writers Kim Insuk and Han Kang for a special event in partnership with the British Council as part of the Korea Market Focus Cultural Programme at the London Book Fair 2014. Kim is rare among Korean writers in that her works often centre on Koreans who live outside Korea. Han Kang’s writing explores how individuals and relationships respond to Korea’s rapidly developing modern society.

Before that Craig Smith, author of The Mile, Andrew Ferguson (Scots who enlightened the world) former Labour MP Maria Fyfe and Scottish Poetry Library founder Tessa Ransford make up the panel for what should be a fascinating discussion on the question of Scottish independence. In the chair will be Alistair McCleery, Professor of Literature at Edinburgh Napier University.

As ever, all our events are free. See the calendar below for times, dates and booking information.

Look who’s coming to libraries

Graeme Simsion, author of “The Rosie Project” is among the authors we’re looking forward to a visit from this month.

Herald literary editor Rosemary Goring will also join us to discuss her historical novel “After Flodden” and winner of the Dundee International Book Prize Nicola White will be in town to talk about her crime thriller “In the Rosary Garden“.

Caro Ramsay, Bethany Ruth Anderson, Robert Glancy and Ryan Van Winkle are among the other writers you’ll have a chance to meet during a very busy February.

As ever, all these events are free but you’ll have to be quick to reserve your place – view the calendar below for locations, times and booking details.

Kirsty Gunn on “The Big Music”

The Big Music, Kirsty Gunn’s stunning work of fiction, has been deservedly hailed by critics as a masterpiece.

In this extended film Kirsty talks eloquently on the process and thinking behind her writing, and why “novel” is an inadequate description of her work.

Kirsty was speaking at an Edinburgh Reads event at Central Library.

Look out for some exciting news about this year’s programme of author events – coming very soon!

Kirsty Gunn and The Big Music

We’re not going to tell you how good a book Kirsty Gunn’s “The Big Music” is. We’ll leave that to the pros.

One of the finest novels of the past decade“. That’s the verdict of the Times Literary Supplement.

The Independent goes further. “I cannot think of a more entirely original, enchanting and enchanted book. The result is a masterpiece.

What we will tell you, and we’re delighted to do so, is that Kirsty will be joining us for a special Book Week Scotland event at Central Library on the evening of Thursday 28th  November.

Reserve your ticket right now to see a rising literary star in action. Free. As ever.

Inside Edinburgh Reads

AlexanderMcCallSmithOver the last few years Edinburgh Libraries have played host to a number of great author events under the banner of Edinburgh Reads.  We caught up with Edinburgh Reads supremo Annie Bell to find out more:

Could you describe Edinburgh Reads?
Put simply Edinburgh Reads is our brand name for author events in Edinburgh Libraries.  They take place in Central Library and in community libraries across the city. We attract well-known authors and debut writers.  Our events have been well attended with crowds of up to 150 on some occasions.

What would someone expect from an Edinburgh Reads event?
It’s a great way to meet like-minded people, to get together as a group and listen to great authors read and talk about their work.  People can ask their own questions and it’s a very sociable occasion too giving people a chance to enjoy a glass of wine and generally share their love of books and reading.  It also has a great impact on the library in terms of getting more people through the door and as a way to remind people of the important role libraries play in their community.

Does Edinburgh Reads have an online presence?
We have filmed most of our events and also have an in-house photographer to take photos and the resulting media can be accessed through our social media channels. We’ve built up an amazing collection of authors that have visited over the last few years. As well as providing a great archive it also helps us reach a much wider audience. Who knew someone from Venezuela would be interested in our videos?

What have been the highlights so far?
There’s been so many highlights. It’s the best part of my job, I love hosting these events, meeting authors and hearing what they have to say.  Particular favourites have been Jane Harris who was here recently, she wrote Gillespie and I which is a favourite among our book-groups.  She was a marvellous speaker. She’d studied drama previously so she was able to put on different voices as she read and really brought her novels alive.  She was funny, lively and great at answering the audiences questions.

Another author who was excellent was John Cairney.  We had him last year as part of our Previously history festival.  John talked about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson and he had the audience in the palm of his hand. They were spellbound.

Which author, alive or dead, would you most like to invite to an Edinburgh Reads event and why?
I’d love to get Hilary Mantell. She wrote Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies both of which were awarded The Man Booker Prize.  She’s a marvellous writer and does fantastic research. She’s quite hard to get hold of as well so that’s another reason. I think it’d create quite a stir among our reading community in Edinburgh.

Up coming events include Christopher Brookmyre (tonight!) and then again at South Queensferry on Mon Nov 11th. Then we have Donald Smith and Kirsty Gunn in November with Edinburgh’s Makar Ron Butlin following in December. Damien Barr, Andrew O’Hagan and Val McDiarmid are due to appear in the new year.

Tickets and a list of forthcoming events in libraries are available by visiting our Eventbrite page.  Videos from previous events can be viewed on our You Tube channel.

“Gillespie and I” and The Glasgow Boys

Gillespie and IJane Harris will be talking about her novel `Gillespie and I’ at a sold-out Edinburgh Reads event on Thursday 12 September.  

For those who like their art history fictionalized `Gillespie and I’ provides a well researched and accurate representation of Glasgow’s artistic revolution during the late 1880s.

Although the main character Ned Gillespie is a feature of author Jane Harris’s imagination the setting of novel is firmly rooted in Glasgow’s art history, portraying a loosely affiliated group of young artists, later to become known as The Glasgow Boys, who sought to represent the world in new ways, experimenting with technique, painting outside, and portraying  the contemporary world around.

A number of real artists are mentioned in the book.  Take the Irish artist Sir John Lavery who trained in Glasgow and competes alongside our character Ned to win a commission to paint the portrait of Queen Victoria for the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition.  Guess who wins? Other artists referred to in the novel include Joseph Crawhall, James Guthrie and WM MacGregor.

Here’s a selection of books on The Glasgow Boys and other subjects mentioned in the book including the Kelvingrove art collection and the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888, all available from the Fine Art Library.

Find more information on the Glasgow Boys from Oxford Art Online (use your library card number to access the site for free)

We love Persian Poets

Our recent Persian Poets evening was a real crowd pleaser, as these comments from audience members show:

“Sad that we couldn’t spend longer and hear them again”

“The whole evening was just magical. I would gladly sit through the same event again and again!”

Well now you can! Our short film shows acclaimed Persian poets Shakila Azizzada, Azita Ghahreman and Reza Mohammadi, together with their translators, the contemporary English poets Mimi Khalvati, Maura Dooley and Nick Laird.

Thanks to our friends at the Poetry Translation Centre for their help with this event.

Library news: artists, authors and athletes

Let the ticket booking frenzy begin! The programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival is out, and as ever it’s looking good. The ‘Stripped’ strand on comics and graphic novels looks particularly exciting.

Remember though, we’ve got our own author visits programme in libraries which

a) runs all year long and

b) is free

Pru Irvine and Mary ContiniOur latest Edinburgh Reads event featured Volvona and Crolla director Mary Contini and food writer Pru Irvine. As the above picture proves both ladies – and our audience – had an absolute blast. Take a look at our events programme to see what else we’ve got lined up.

Moredun runnersMore happy ladies here. Moredun Library staff and Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre joined forces to put together this team of girls who bravely completed the Race for Life in Holyrood Park, raising lots of money for charity in the process. Not content with this, the group are now planning their next big challenge which will be the Twilight walk round Dalkeith country Estate on 31st August. Good luck girls!

Returning to the Book Festival, as usual we’ll be there to entertain the younger troops with our Bookbug sessions and the ever popular Dr Book – and we’re delighted to say that some of the authors will be leaving their Charlotte Square base to visit children in libraries across the city.

John Fardell for instance. John is author of some terrific books including The Seven Professors of the Far North, The flight of the silver turtle and the wonderful Manfred the Baddie.

Mums and dads might also be familiar with John’s work for The List, The Independent and Viz (The Modern Parents and The Critics) but John’s visit to Central Library on 24th July is most definitely one for his younger fans.

John will show us his picture books and adventure novels, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at his notebooks, rough drafts, artwork and models. He’ll be giving us tips and answering any questions, and there will be an opportunity to join in and draw our own characters, inventions and stories.

We recommend you book online asap.

Finally, anyone coming to Central Library for this event – or any other reason – over the next couple of months is in for an extra bonus treat as the building is currently hosting the Central Inspiration art exhibition.

Central Library is not only the venue for the exhibition, the building and its collections are in fact the inspiration for artworks created by students from Edinburgh College of Art. And believe us these are well worth seeing.

We’ll be blogging more about this over the coming weeks, but in the meantime do try and get along – and see the library in a whole new light.

How libraries help learners

This week is Adult Learners’ Week. What’s it all about?

Adult Learners’ Week is a national celebration of the benefits of lifelong learning. We’re getting involved with writing workshops, singing, cooking, and facebook sessions – for details see our events calendar.

But why are libraries getting involved?

Public libraries have always been a source of information, knowledge and culture for all. They are spaces where anyone can go without feeling pressure to buy anything, and without feeling judged for what items they want to read.

Library services are crucial to adults who wish learn at whatever level, be it to improve their literacy or embark on a research project, through formal schemes or simply for the pleasure of learning something new.

Any individual can borrow any item they need, at no (or very little) immediate cost – especially relevant at a time when many people have less disposable income.

Also, for many adult learners, schools are associated with negative learning experiences whereas libraries are often viewed as more neutral spaces and therefore perhaps more conducive to adults wanting to learn.

So what do libraries do to support adult learners?

Lots! Here are just a few examples:

Our fantastic  Edinburgh Reads programme of events offers opportunities for adults to interact with authors and topics in an informal and stimulating way.

Some authors have engaged specifically with adults discovering reading for the first time. For example, crime writer Lin Anderson’s short novel Blood Red Roses, published specifically with emergent readers in mind, was read by several adult literacy groups in central Edinburgh who met the author for a chat over coffee and cake. This provided a real opportunity for personal growth in confidence and enjoyment of reading.

The annual ‘Six Book Challenge’ provides another way of supporting and encouraging emergent readers to discover the joy and satisfaction of reading for pleasure.

Since doing the  Challenge I have seen my reading get better. I am on my fourth book and did not read much before.’ (Sue)

I like to read to my children now, we help each other.‘(Chris)

Perhaps one of  the most popular ways Edinburgh  Libraries support adult learners is through our LearnIT Project. For complete beginners, we provide free informal and very supportive support in using computers. Adults can attend classes, pop into a drop- in LearnIT Lab, or meet with a volunteer IT Buddy for one to one tuition.

I was thrilled to be able to buy a washing machine online for nearly  £70 less than in the shops!’ Joan, LearnIT student.

And of course, our growing library of online learning resources provide support to adults learning at home or on the move.

Happy Adult Learners’ Week!

‘Surviving’ by Allan Massie

A group of British expatriates meet for their weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Rome. At first the drama is low-key, little more than the nervous chatter of dry-drunks and their less disciplined colleagues. Literary spirits weigh heavily on the characters’ sodden efforts to hold together lives that have cracked like old plates. Kate, a former bestselling author, invites a young Englishman wrongly acquitted of murder to stay with her so that she can write a book about him. Her recklessness ends in a fresh killing that the AA members must collude in covering up. But the lurid plot is mostly just a balance for much softer, sadder apprehensions of common disappointment and ageing. Alcoholism, like writing, is a lonely business.

Author Allan Massie is truly a man of letters in a way few others are. Primarily noted for his historical fiction he is an equally accomplished biographer, anthologist, book reviewer and columnist, and has written on everything from rugby to health care.

So we’re delighted that he will be joining us for an Edinburgh Reads event in Central Library on Thursday 30th May, where he will be discussing “Surviving” with “Redlegs” author Chris Dolan. As ever, you can book a free ticket online but you will have to be quick!

In pictures: Louise Welsh and Regi Claire

Huge thanks to Louise Welsh and Regi Claire for entertaining another bumper Edinburgh Reads audience at Central Library last week.

Our pictures show two authors clearly enjoying themselves as they discussed their novels “The girls on the stairs” and “The waiting” as well as their other work.

Having two authors with such a good rapport, combined with chair Jackie McGlone’s thoughtful questions, made for an excellent evening.

As Louise herself said “”Great chair and fab audience”, while Regi also described the evening as “fab”. Thanks again to both!

You can view more images from this and other Edinburgh Reads events on flickr