Edinburgh book festival moves venue as it hopes for in-person events

General view of books on a bookshelf at Hay Castle at Hay Festival in Powys, Wales
General view of books on a bookshelf at Hay Castle at Hay Festival in Powys, Wales

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is to move to a new venue this year as it adapts to operating in a pandemic.

The festival will take place in the indoor and outdoor spaces of the Edinburgh College of Art on Lauriston Place from August 14 to 30.

Organisers are planning a range of live online author talks, workshops and readings, and, if circumstances permit, some events for in-person, socially-distanced audiences.

The festival is moving from the usual venue in Charlotte Square as organisers say they do not know how many tickets they will sell for in-person events and therefore cannot justify the costs of tents and other infrastructure they normally put in place.

Book festival tent in Charlotte Square
The Edinburgh International Book Festival normally takes place in Charlotte Square (Robert Perry/PA)

The full programme and event details will be announced at the end of June.

Festival director Nick Barley said: “While we are now experiencing a full lockdown in Scotland which is challenging for so many people on so many levels, we very much hope that the combination of this, together with the ongoing vaccination programme, will bring the virus under control by August.

“Building on the success of our online book festival, we can now announce that we will be entering into a new strategic partnership with the University of Edinburgh that will enable us to inhabit this innovative space in 2021 with facilities to create events for both digital and, if circumstances permit, physical audiences.

“Covid-19 has created a huge tectonic shift in the way that live events, ourselves included, can reach their audiences.”

Mr Barley said it is “highly probable” most events will take place online, and the festival is more likely to need broadcast studios than large venues for an audience.

He said: “In the grassy courtyard of Edinburgh College of Art, we will, if rules allow, recreate the elements of the book festival that our audiences love – bookshops, cafes and open spaces in which to come together safely, offering the ‘oasis of calm’ for which the book festival is renowned.

Bernardine Evaristo and Nicola Sturgeon
Bernardine Evaristo was interviewed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during last year’s festival, which took place entirely online (Robin Mair/EIBF)

“The college offers excellent studio and theatre facilities for both online broadcasting and potential events with a socially-distanced audience.”

The University of Edinburgh will operate catering and bar provisions at the college, if permitted by Covid-19 guidelines, while the book festival is on.

Last year’s book festival was entirely online, with 146 events including conversations with Douglas Stuart, Samantha Power, Matt Haig, Hilary Mantel, Marian Keyes and Bernardine Evaristo – who was interviewed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We were delighted to be asked by the Edinburgh International Book Festival to support future events through this mutually beneficial arrangement.

“Building on our existing partnership, this new deeper relationship will help to ensure that people in Edinburgh, and all over the world, can continue to come together to explore the power of ideas through their love of literature.”

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