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OUP at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2008

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The Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the UK’s biggest literary festivals, attracting thousands of book-lovers over two weeks packed with every kind of book event you can imagine. This year we had quite a number of OUP authors giving talks at the festival meaning that we publicists have to head up to Edinburgh to meet them. What a hardship. My colleague and friend Juliet Evans – one of OUP UK’s Publicity Managers – kindly agreed to write a blog for me about her stint up at the EIBF.

‘Take your UMBRELLA, and your RAINCOAT. And don’t take your SANDALS, take your BOOTS. Whatever you do, wear your BOOTS.’

This was the advice given to me by a colleague returning from a week at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and just before I was venturing up north for the following week. And it was very sound advice indeed.

Edinburgh, along with the rest of Britain, has been suffering more than its fair share of rain this summer. It is expected to be confirmed as the gloomiest August here since records began – and that’s 150 years ago…

But ‘Awful August’ – as we’ve come to call it – didn’t deter the huge numbers of fans (nearly 200,000) attending the Festival. For those of you who haven’t been, the Festival is a real gem. It takes place in Scotland’s beautiful capital city, alongside the famous Edinburgh International Festival (theatre, music, dance, opera) and the infamous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as other Edinburgh Festivals over the summer.

The Book Festival was celebrating its 25th birthday, and this year it attracted over 800 authors from 45 different countries, and these included our prime minister, Gordon Brown, ex-James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery, popular scientist Simon Singh, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’s Louis de Bernières, and Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Launderette, The Buddha of Suburbia and Venus), so I certainly had fun people-watching from the comfort of the authors’ yurt in between talks!

And, of course, I should mention a few of the OUP authors who were giving talks – to packed, appreciative and informed audiences! It was fascinating to go to the discussion with Dorothy Crawford, author of Deadly Companions and Mary Dobson who looked at how and why infections spread, the impact of European explorers on various countries and what diseases they imported – and exported back to Europe, and they also debated whether we have brought more disease on ourselves by lifestyle changes. You know, I’m sure that when they got round to discussing the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the audience was beginning to sniff and snuffle a little more audibly than they had done before… but that may just have been the result of the damp conditions, of course…

And as the rain thundered on to the marquee roofs, I went to a great talk on personality by Daniel Nettle and Rita Carter followed (Do we have multiple personalities? Are we actually different people in different contexts? What are the implications of this? Mind-boggling stuff (or is that… minds-boggling?).

Then, dodging the yellow plastic ducks which someone had placed in the many puddles now forming in the Festival gardens, I caught Deborah Cameron’s talk on The Myth of Mars and Venus, debunking all those assumptions we have about how the sexes communicate.

And after the talks, armed with my trusty umbrella, it was off to explore the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. There were loads of street performers along the Royal Mile, many advertising their theatre events and trying to entice the masses to come along.

The one advert that particularly caught my eye was Plague – The Musical: ‘A musical comedy about the plague, with characters including giant rats, the pied piper, a mad alchemist and Death herself’.

Somehow, after a day of talks on disease, split personalities and the battle of the sexes, I thought I might ‘catch’ this performance another time maybe…

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