The Blagger's Guide To... Edinburgh Book Festival

All you need to know about the hottest literary topic of the week

Beginning on Saturday in Charlotte Square Gardens and going on until 29 August, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is officially the biggest book festival in the world. It started in 1983 with just 30 "meet the author" events, and is now an annual celebration of literature with more than 700 events and visitor numbers exceeding 200,000. This year, the festival boasts five Man Booker longlisters (Alan Hollinghurst, Sebastian Barry, Carol Birch, Stephen Kelman and A D Miller) along with Alasdair Gray, Alexander McCall Smith, Alexei Sayle, Ali Smith ... and they're just the As from the first weekend.

The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, admires the festival because it never resorts to roping in pop stars to boost its audience, and as such "has got total integrity", she says. "That's what makes it so special. It's a shining light for language."

When Duffy (inset) was asked to write a poem for the outgoing festival director, Catherine Lockerbie, in 2009, she focused on the famous green room in Charlotte Square, better known as the authors' yurt. She wrote: "Inside the yurt was a pond where goldfish swam and the poets fished for haiku ... the politicians took off their masks at the door and lay down with the truth ... a scientist checked his notes on the next tsunami. A polemicist helped himself to a large red wine and salami ...." Last year, the former hostage Brian Keenan spoke at the festival about his childhood memoir, I'll Tell Me Ma. He wrote in the yurt's visitors' book: "Second time in the yurt. Why didn't they kidnap and keep me here?"

A festival is not a festival unless it has a fringe, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival has two: the Edinburgh Book Fringe, based at the Word Power bookshop, and the West Port Book Festival, at various second-hand bookshops in the Old Town.

Edinburgh was made the first Unesco City of Literature in 2004.

Among the famous residents of Edinburgh's famous Writers' Row have been Ian Rankin, JK Rowling (inset) and Alexander McCall Smith (Sandy, to his friends). Rankin says that they occasionally do pop round to each others' houses for a cup of coffee and a chat about writing. So if you ever find Harry Potter working as a bent cop in Botswana, you'll know why.

McCall Smith says that politicians love appearing at the festival because "it provides an opportunity to harangue an audience that has actually paid to be harangued. It is a very satisfactory arrangement from all points of view."

In 2007, a brewer launched a real ale called Rebus Beer to celebrate 20 years of detective books from Ian Rankin (inset), Norman Mailer tried out Margaret Atwood's LongPen invention, and an early-morning fire alarm at the festival's main hotel saw prominent authors out on the street in their jim-jams. "Ben Okri looked cross but rather handsome in a fluffy hotel dressing gown," revealed the Honey-Dew and Whatever You Love author Louise Doughty.

For further details and to buy tickets to events for adults and children, go to or call the box office on 0845 373 5888.

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