Scotland

Future of Edinburgh's festivals brought to book

  • 22 August 2011
  • From the section Scotland
Nick Barley was one of the festival directors discussing the future
Image caption Nick Barley was one of the festival directors discussing the future

The great joy of festival season in Edinburgh is how very diverse things can happen just a few feet away from each other.

Nowhere was that more true than at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the weekend where fantasy writers, politicians, festival directors and children's book illustrators all mixed in the same muddy quagmire.

I spotted Irish author Darren Shan - beloved of Goth teenagers - at the front gate being presented with a large cake.

Shortly afterwards, Neil Gaiman arrived, closely followed by a group of similarly dressed friends in velvet and ruffles and tinted glasses.

The festival directors, politicians and venue managers were inside the Spiegeltent for a debate on the future of the festivals - which I was chairing.

It was such a high-profile gathering, one wondered who was running the shows while they were all away.

Impact study

Over coffee and croissants, the panel of experts which included Faith Liddell of Festivals Edinburgh, Councillor Steve Cardownie of Edinburgh City Council and Book Festival director Nick Barley were keen to stress the positives.

Not least the recent impact study which suggested the 12 main festivals were worth £250m to the Scottish economy.

But there were concerns from the audience about the possible squeeze on public funding, and the likely competition for resources and audiences from the 2012 Olympics.

Anthony Alderson, director of the Pleasance, was particularly worried about technical staff.

The "black T-shirted army" you see behind the scenes at venues across the city in August, will be much in demand for Olympic activity next year.

And, as the London Olympics overlap with the Fringe for at least one week, there were legitimate concerns about availability.

Infrastructure was also a concern and, particularly for some members of the audience, the availability of temporary toilet spaces.

Another was concerned about whether the festivals did enough to promote their work abroad.

One of the main findings of the impact report was that those surveyed liked the convergence of all the summer festivals in August.

Gavin Miller, CEO of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, was asked directly whether he could see the festival - which has been in June for the past two years - return to August.

He said it was a decision the film festival board was currently weighing up, with benefits to both arrangements.

Meanwhile the search for a new director for the film festival continues.

As the directors of Edinburgh's festivals returned to their day jobs, it was the turn of Children's laureate Julia Donaldson and three of her best-known illustrators to take to the Book Festival spotlight.

Children's books

Donaldson was quick to reassure audiences that Drawing Julia was neither a narcissistic comment, nor a life drawing class, but a chance to chat about how some of her best-known books were brought to life through the efforts of Axel Scheffler, Nick Sharratt and David Roberts.

Scheffler, of course, created the image for the much loved Gruffalo - although he admitted his first sketches were deemed so fearsome by the publishing company, they were toned down, and even hidden behind a bush in early American publications.

David Roberts explained how he made the move from designing fashion to designing children's books - and worried the dinosaurs he drew for Donaldson's book Tyrannosaurus Drip had no character without their clothes.

And Nick Sharratt almost got a commission from the front row when young Edinburgh poet Adam Bojelian - who blinks his poetry word by word, asked for some advice on finding an illustrator for his soon to be published book.

Adam is a festival veteran - at the age of 11 - and writes a blog on his experiences so do not be surprised to see him back onstage at next year's book festival, launching his own book.