Hitlist: Our pick of the 10 best Edinburgh International Book Festival shows

PJ Harvey, rocker turned poet
PJ Harvey, rocker turned poet

The Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) opens today with events ranging from an appearance by the Irish journalist (and scourge of Brexiteers) Fintan O’Toole to a theatrical adaptation of This Is Memorial Device by author, musician and sometime Sunday Herald critic David Keenan. Here is our pick of the rest of what is a packed and wonderfully varied programme.

PJ Harvey

A bona fide British rock icon best known for confessional and confrontational song writing in a career spanning three decades, Dorset-born Polly Jean Harvey turned poet in 2015 when she published a collection of verse in collaboration with photographer and film-maker Seamus Murphy. She followed that this year with Orlam, a long-form poem written in the Dorset dialect which tells the story of nine-year-old Ira-Abel. An adoring and expectant crowd will meet this highly welcome EIBF appearance, and to add to the extra special flavour it’s introduced by award-winning poet and musician Don Paterson.

August 20, Central Hall (8.15pm)

Noam Chomsky

One of the great joys of the EIBF is seeing storied authors up close and in person though when they’re 93 and live in Arizona they can be forgiven for not travelling to the festival city. This event, titled Dissent Across The Decades, will be no less poorer for its main attraction appearing remotely, however. Born into a family of Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia in 1928, Noam Chomsky developed an early taste for anarchism, was penning anti-Fascist articles by the age of 10 and by the late 1960s had published ground-breaking new theories on linguistics and become a fierce critic of the Vietnam War. Today his intellectual ambit encompasses philosophy, history and cognitive science, and his piercing critiques of power systems and vested interests have made him a near God-like figure for many on the left. Just as many others absolutely detest him. For this EIBF appearance he’ll be discussing his career to date as well as new book Chronicles Of Dissent, a series of 16 extended talks with writer and broadcaster David Barsamian.

August 26, Central Hall (5.30pm)

Mick Herron

He’s too prone to black comedy to convincingly take on the John le Carré mantle, perhaps, but with debut spy novel Slow Horses now an acclaimed Apple TV series starring Gary Oldman, Mick Herron can justifiably claim the UK’s spy writer crown. In this EIBF appearance he’ll talk about his route into writing, about grotesque creation Jackson Lamb, spy master in charge of the dregs of the British intelligence corps, and about Bad Actors, the eighth novel in the so-called Slough House series.

August 21, Wee Red Bar (5.30pm)

Hannah Lavery

Edinburgh’s new Makar – how good was that poem she read at the Edinburgh International Festival opener at Murrayfield? – Lavery has already had her plays performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre and under the banner of the National Theatre of Scotland. Hers looks like being a poetic voice which will feature loudly in the national discourse for years to come. Here, in a session chaired by fellow poet Marjorie Lotfi and titled Scotland, You’re No’ Mine, she talks nation and race through the prism of debut collection, Blood Salt Spring.

August 26, Northside Theatre (12.15pm)

Jessie Burton

Eight years after her million-selling blockbuster debut The Miniaturist, set in 17th century Amsterdam and telling the remarkable story of 18-year-old Petronella Oortman, Jessie Burton (pictured below) returns to the same city, the same address, the same family and the same epoch. Almost anyway: the year is now 1705 and in sequel The House Of Fortune the author introduces readers to another 18-year-old, Petronella’s niece Thea Brandt. Published last month it has received rave reviews and may even surpass its predecessor. Expect a second TV adaptation some time soon. In a session titled Return To The Doll’s House (you’ll understand the reference if you’ve read The Miniaturist), the Londoner talks about her decision to dip back into the world of the Brandt family.

August 22, Baillie Gifford West Court (5pm)


Jack Monroe

Always one of the most strident voices raised against inequality and for years now a tireless champion of the left-behinds (to use Theresa May’s infamous phrase), Jack Monroe’s time really has come. With a cost of living crisis which is already bad but set to become worse, her presence on the national stage is a boon as we struggle to find solutions to everything from poor mental health to how you feed your kids on a minimum wage. She has a new book – Good Food For Bad Days is the no-nonsense title – but expect her two sessions to range far and wide beyond ways to put grub on the table. A session chaired by author Kit de Waal is titled On Self-Care And Social Change, and Monroe is also appearing on a panel session the following day with Jeffrey Boakye and Stewart Lansley titled Where Do We Go From Here? Where indeed.

August 24, Central Hall (2.30pm); August 25, Central Hall (2.30pm)

Damon Galgut

Another Booker Prize winner (he took last year’s award for The Promise, a family saga set in his native South Africa), Galgut is also a playwright with four decades of work behind him. In this session he will talk about that extensive ‘back catalogue’ – it includes two more Booker shortlisted novels, and another which has twice been filmed – and dig deep into what EIBF is calling “the complexities of post-Apartheid South Africa”. The event title, South Africa’s Broken Promise, gives an idea of Galgut’s opinions on that front, and he is also appearing in the Passion Projects strand on August 17, in which authors share an unexpected inspiration or passion.

August 16, Baillie Gifford Sculpture Court (7pm); August 17, Albertina’s (10am)

Marlon James

If ever the term ‘shapeshifter’ could be applied to an author it’s Marlon James (pictured below). Kingston born and now living in the US, the Jamaican won the Booker with his 2014 novel about the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976, A Brief History Of Seven Killings. He followed that with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first in a proposed trilogy which blends African mythology with fantastical Afro-futurism. This so-called Dark Star series continues with 2022’s Moon Witch, Spider King. The session is introduced by Edinburgh-based Jess Brough, founder of arts initiative Fringe Of Colour, and is a Pay What You Can event.

August 16, Baillie Gifford West Court (7.30pm)


Ali Smith

Three times shortlisted for the Booker and once described by acclaimed Irish author Sebastian Barry as Scotland’s Nobel Laureate-in-waiting, Ali Smith should also win plaudits for her productivity. The four very contemporary novels in her so-called Seasonal Quartet – Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer – were written between 2016 and 2020, though new work Companion Piece functions as a sort of unofficial fifth member. For this welcome EIBF appearance she’s joined by another literary National Treasure, Val McDermid, for a session titled Hello!, a word whose meaning(s) Smith discusses at length in Companion Piece. And if you want more of McDermid she appears on August 25 (with Allan Little) and August 27 (with Jo Sharp, Geographer Royal for Scotland).

August 13, Central Hall (5.30pm)

Antony Beevor

With Russia on everyone’s minds for unfortunate reasons, military historian Antony Beevor has picked a fortunate time to revisit the revolutionary epoch which established the Soviet Union and in some ways set the tone for what followed. An expert on the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War – Stalingrad, his 1998 account of the siege of that city, has won both historical and literary awards – his latest work is Russia: Revolution And Civil War 1917-1921. In it he sifts through the myths, lies and sheer chaos of the period to paint a picture of an especially brutal period which had ramifications for countries and political movements well beyond Russia’s borders. In this session, Beevor is in conversation with former BBC foreign correspondent Allan Little.

August 24, Central Hall (5.30pm)