Edinburgh Book Festival boss lets the books talk

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news website

image captionNick Barley said he would be judged on the festival's success

The new boss of the Edinburgh Book Festival has said he is "proud" of the line-up for this year's 16-day event.

Nick Barley, who took over as director less than a year ago, will welcome 10 of the 13 authors on the Booker Prize long list to the festival.

This year's programme features appearances from Philip Pullman and Scots writer James Robertson.

Other big names attending include Nobel-prize winning poet Seamus Heaney and former Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Mr Barley, whose appointment was criticised after his previous project failed, said he would let the programme speak for itself.

The 43-year-old was the director of The Lighthouse, the Scottish centre for architecture and design, which went into administration last summer.

Veteran novelist Margaret Drabble, Edinburgh crime writer Ian Rankin, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, and How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell are also among the big names heading to Edinburgh.

But the festival's director points to the presence of Nobel Prize-winning American economist Joseph Stiglitz as a "big deal".

Mr Stiglitz will take part in two events which discuss the future of global finance.

Mr Barley said such high-profile and serious discussions "underline Edinburgh's status as the world's leading literary festival".

'Particularly strong'

From the extensive line-up, Mr Barley also cites Christos Tsiolkas, the Australian author of The Slap, who opens the festival on Saturday morning with a session called: "What would you do if a bigot hit your child?".

His event, like dozens of others, sold out within hours of the tickets going on sale.

Mr Barley said: "It is controversial, it divides the audience but a lot of people are talking about it.

"So I am thrilled that we managed to persuade Christos to fly over from Australia to be with us."

image captionChristos Tsiolkas is the festival's opening event

Tsiolkas was named on the long list for top fiction award the Man Booker prize a couple of weeks ago.

Nine other nominees - Andrea Levy, Howard Jacobson, Tom McCarthy, David Mitchell, Lisa Moore, Paul Murray, Alan Warner, Emma Donoghue, and Helen Dunmore - are also appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

"Obviously we did not know in advance who would be on the list," Mr Barley said.

"It underlines that Edinburgh is particularly strong on emerging writers."

One of the new director's innovations is a Readers' First Book Award, where the festival audience can choose their favourite of the 45 debut authors appearing and try to pick the Nobel prize-winner of the future.

Another strand introduced by Barley is Unbound.

'Major threat'

It is a free and unticketed session each evening during which there will be more of a performance element.

Mr Barley said that some authors, such as AL Kennedy and Christopher Brookmyre, have a style of presentation which suited the cabaret atmosphere.

The Book Festival has a turnover of about £1.8m, of which about £250,000 comes from public funding.

Edinburgh City Council has already announced a 3% cut in funding for next year and the festival is waiting for news from arts body Creative Scotland.

Mr Barley said that, with more than 80% of its income coming from ticket sales, book sales and sponsorship, the book festival's exposure to public sector cuts was not as great as some others in the arts sector.

He said: "We need to look very carefully at the situation and plan for the possibility of reductions in the future.

"Fortunately with an event such as this we could reduce the number of author events and save costs.

"I am not going to claim it would be easy but I think we are not feeling under major threat at this stage."

Mr Barley said cuts were something that had to be accepted and understood but he argued the book festival's value to Edinburgh far outweighed its subsidy.

"It is definitely money well spent," he said.