The Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014 wrapped up its three-week run in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square Gardens on Monday August 25th with a strong finish and scant sign of any slackening off in numbers or enthusiasm among attendees. Ticket sales kept up with last year’s record numbers, according to the Festival press team, and the whole series of events picked up fresh pertinence and energy from a topic seldom far from anyone’s lips on or off the podium: the independence debate and the referendum less than a month away.
“Over the last 17 days, the Book Festival has welcomed over 800 authors from 47 countries taking part in almost 800 events,” stated the Festival’s official wrap communique. “With around 225,000 visits this August Charlotte Square was busy … Ticket sales in 2014 matched last year’s record breaking figures (which were up 6% on the previous year) and book sales also equalled last year’s record high.” Also featured were “47 debut novels and short story collections,” and the conferring of the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and the James Tait Black Prizes. All this activity and enthusiasm took place in the teeth of sometimes appalling weather, with chilling temperatures and ferocious showers. Book lovers struggled gamely through a parade of all Scotland’s worst weather short of blizzards, and covered walkways between marquees never looked more sensible. Without the rains, attendance might have been even higher.
Debates about independence were not usually quite so stormy, but were high profile, well attended, and widely reported. Even discussions about totally different issues tended to veer towards that topic. Nick Barley, Director of the Festival, said: “The atmosphere among audiences has ranged from exuberant to deeply thoughtful, with a real sense that Scotland is on the cusp of an epoch-defining decision. True to the spirit of dialogue that ran through this year’s programme, authors and audiences alike engaged in conversations that were intelligent and often incredibly perceptive. Public democracy is alive and kicking in Charlotte Square Gardens.”
The only thing missing this year was an appearance by Edinburgh’s legendary mystery book sculptor, who stayed unusually silent throughout the Festival. Perhaps she’s saving her birds for launch closer to the referendum. Nature provided a few substitutes, though…