Edinburgh International Book Festival online
Saturday 15 August 2020 to Monday 31 August 2020

The British Council is supporting a specially selected programme of events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival online.

The 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival will be presented online from Saturday 15 to Monday 31 August. The programme, made up of over 140 events for adults, families and children, will offer both live and pre-recorded conversations featuring leading writers, poets and participants from around the world. 

We’re delighted to be supporting a series of events, connecting readers across the globe with inspirational authors:

  • Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin reflecting on his work in times of a pandemic.
  • Roger Robinson discussing his prize-winning poetry collection A Portable Paradise with Kei Miller.
  • Award-winning Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi on her latest novel, The First Woman.
  • Scottish novelist Douglas Stuart whose debut The Making of Shuggie Bain made the longlist for this year’s Booker Prize.
  • Randa Jarrar, Raphael Khouri and Amrou al-Kadhi on queer Arab writing today.
  • Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike and Wanjiru Koinange on companionship, dating, and romance in West Africa.
  • A special evening of poetry and music with Scots Makar Jackie Kay and US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

How to watch

Events will be free to view, and available through the Book Festival’s website. Audiences can register in advance to receive updates (see links to individual events below).

Please see the programme for details of events that are captioned and BSL interpreted.

All times below are UK time (BST / UTC+1)

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has been held since 1983. Every August, Edinburgh brings together writers, thinkers and artists from around the world to discuss current topics and exchange views with readers. Considered one of the largest literary festivals in the world, its offline program usually includes around 900 events.

  • Ian Rankin: A Rebus for the Dark Times

Mon 17 Aug 19:00 - 20:00

BSL interpreted and captioned 

We have all become familiar with living through these strange times but for Ian Rankin, 2020 has been unusual in more ways than one.

Rankin joins leading Scottish journalist Ruth Wishart for a conversation about his novel, A Song for the Dark Times, and the new edition of Westwind released this year.

This is a live event, with an author Q&A.

Register to watch 

  • Roger Robinson: ‘Ordinary Poems Won’t Change the World’ 

Mon 17 August 20:30 - 21.30

Firmly rooted in the dub poetry tradition of his Trinidadian heritage, Robinson’s plain-speaking, fizzy, often joyous verse journeys through our contemporary preoccupations with a seasoned insight few could replicate. 

In this event, he unpacks the cosmos of ideas that make up his collection A Portable Paradise with fellow poet Kei Miller, and shares a special animated film exclusively for the occasion.

This is a pre-recorded event.

Register to watch 

  • Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: Uganda’s First Woman of Fiction

Wed 19 Aug 14:30 - 15:30


Ugandan short story writer and novelist Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi burst onto the scene in 2013 with her first novel Kintu.

Her work is celebrated for its links to oral traditions as well as its incisive critiques of contemporary Ugandan politics. For this event, she discusses her latest novel, The First Woman, with editor and culture columnist of The Economist Fiammetta Rocco.

This is a pre-recorded event.

Register to watch 

  • Suzanne Bonnar, Joy Harjo & Jackie Kay: Makar to Makar - Sonnets from Scotland

Thu 20 August 19:00

Get ready for warmth and wit as well as political and emotional gut-punches, in an evening of winding tales and terrific poetry.

This is a pre-recorded event.

Register to watch

  • Wanjiru Koinange & Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike: Outriders Africa – Sub-Saharan Swiping

Fri 21 Aug 11:30 - 12:30

Donna Obaseki-Ogunnaike and Wanjiru Koinange seek to decode where the future of love lies for women in modern Africa.

They quizzed a vast array of women across the West African region about hook-up culture, how their cities inspire companionship, and whether romance really is dead. Joined by writers Renee Akitelek Mboya and Efua Oyofo, Obaseki-Ogunnaike and Koinange today share their reflections on these surprising, funny and moving conversations.

This is a pre-recorded audio-only event. Part of the Africa: A Balance of Stories series of events.

Register to watch 

  • Writing Wrongs: Voices from the Queer Arab Vanguard

Fri 21 Aug 13:00 - 14:00

Gender non-conforming and sexually diverse people are oppressed, persecuted and erased all over the world. The cultural concepts used to justify this — religious or secular, traditional or imported — are various, as are the histories that got us here. But wherever we live in the world and whatever version of patriarchy we live under, the damage done is universal.  

So in this traumatic global context, how does an LGBTIQA+ Arab end up making public art? What are the specific challenges and priorities for these queer artists with Arab heritage, and how do creativity and activism interweave in their work?

Novelist, memoirist and journalist Randa Jarrar, documentary playwright and theatremaker Raphael Khouri, and drag performer, writer and filmmaker Amrou al-Kadhi all join translator and editor Alice Guthrie to discuss and read from their luminous and potent work. Our panel of vibrant queer Arab writers show how queer lives, queer selves and queer expression continue to blossom, against the odds.

This event is pre-recorded and was conceived and programmed by Alice Guthrie.

Register to watch

  • Douglas Stuart: The Making of Shuggie Bain

Wed 26 Aug 17:30 - 18:30 


Inviting comparisons to the works of Alan Hollinghurst, Frank McCourt, and Hanya Yanagihara, this astonishing debut is a powerful and heart-breaking story about the love between a boy and his mother.

Hugh ‘Shuggie’ Bain and his mother Agnes are two of the great characters of literature and in this event their creator, Douglas Stuart, answers your questions after a conversation with author Damian Barr.

This is a live event, with an author Q&A.

Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize

Register to watch

Our local British Council Ukraine team has selected three live events that the Ukrainian audience may find particularly interesting:

  • Anne Applebaum: Democracy Under Siege

Mon 24 Aug 19:00 - 20:00

The New York Times Main Theatre Online

Free, online

Prize-winning American writer and historian, author of ‘Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine’ bestseller, Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Applebaum will talk about her new book ‘Twilight of Democracy’, which blends deeply-felt memoir with significant political analysis.

Applebaum’s personal approach carries weight because she’s witnessed the rise and fall of democratic sentiment first hand in her adopted Poland. A staff writer for the Atlantic, she is also deeply connected to the US and British political scenes.

From the recently-converted Post-Communist states in Eastern Europe to those bastions of western liberal democracy, Britain and the USA, Applebaum analyses the rise of a nativist, authoritarian leadership style. Join her for this event, as she discusses the fractured present and tenuous future of liberal democracy with BBC special correspondent Allan Little.

This is a live event, with an author Q&A.

Register to watch 

  • Richard Holloway: The Human Need for Stories

Tue 25 Aug 16:00 - 17:00

The New York Times Main Theatre Online

Free, online

Richard Holloway is a Scottish writer, broadcaster, former Bishop of Edinburgh and one of the most prominent public thinkers of our times. He has often given voice to the deep feelings and concerns that so many of us struggle to articulate clearly.

In his new book, ‘Stories We Tell Ourselves’, the Holloway embarks on a personal, philosophical, spiritual and scientific journey in search of answers to some of the biggest human questions of all.

How do we get through the muddling, messy experience of life? How do we make meaning in an apparently meaningless universe when we are one tiny speck in an infinity of galaxies, a flickering moment of life in a billion years of the space-time continuum? Holloway’s new book shows how the stories we tell ourselves are the fundamental building block in our construction of meaning. He joins us to talk with Scottish journalist Ruth Wishart about his personal reckoning with the mysteries of life.

This is a live event, with an author Q&A.

Register to watch

Arundhati Roy: Portal to a New World

Mon 31 Aug 16:00 - 17:00

The New York Times Main Theatre Online

Free, online

Captioned and BSL interpreter viewing options. Use the toggle on the videoplayer page to choose which version to watch.

Arundhati Roy’s own career as a novelist began with the extraordinary success of her novel ‘The God of Small Things’ in 1997, which was translated into Ukrainian and published in 2018. Since then she has also published ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ novel as well as a major collection of essays.

Following her unmissable conversation with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the 2019 Edinburgh International Book Festival, Arundhati Roy once again becomes a festival guest and she will discuss her new book of essays, ‘Azadi’. The slogan of the struggle in Kashmir for what Kashmiris regard as the Indian occupation, ‘Azadi!’ is the Urdu for ‘Freedom!’. It also became a chant on the streets of India against the project of Hindu nationalism.

In the light of the COVID-19 outbreak, freedom has, Roy says, taken on another meaning and in a new book of essays she invites us to see the pandemic as a portal between one world and another. Here, she argues, is our opportunity to imagine a better future. 

In today’s event Roy joins us from India for a wide-ranging discussion with essayist, broadcaster and journalist Bilal Qureshi.

This is a live event, with an author Q&A.

Register to watch 


For information on the full Edinburgh International Book Festival Digital programme see www.edbookfest.co.uk