Edinburgh dispatches

<p><em>Tom Tivnan writes:</em></p>
<p>It has been a tough start for the Edinburgh festivals. Visitor numbers to the world&rsquo;s biggest arts event have dipped slightly across the board, with some organisers blaming the strong pound for keeping some foreign visitors away. The Fringe has been hit particularly hard, with shows said to have an average of 40% capacity.&nbsp; A threatened industrial action by council workers is looming over the Edinburgh International Festival, with its main venue the Usher Hall due to close if the strike goes ahead. The weather has been ropy (ropier than usual, anyway) and the city certainly feels emptier than in recent years.<img height="188" alt="" width="250" align="right" src="/documents/UserContributed/IMG_2649.jpg" /></p>
<p>Given this context, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is in remarkably rude health. Ticket sales are roughly on par with last year, events are averaging about 70% capacity and by festival&rsquo;s end about 220,000 should go through the turnstiles.</p>
<p>That the EIBF has bucked the other festivals&rsquo; downward trend can be put down to a programme that has evolved under director Catherine Lockerbie away from the standard meet-and-greet the author format. This direction might be down to simple necessity&mdash;though not lacking in big names (Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer this year), the EIBF doesn&rsquo;t get the same volume of big hitters as Hay-on-Wye or Cheltenham. The result is a programme with a core of lively debate and panel discussion. This makes for an interesting schedule when you get events like crime writers Ian Rankin and Denise Mina chatting with 2000 A.D. comic writer Alan Grant, or novelists Hari Kunzru and Janne Teller exploring how freedom of expression is actually being curtailed by the internet.</p>
<p>It also helps that the identity of the EIBF remains so resolutely Scottish. Again, this may have more to do with simple necessity; it&rsquo;s easy to fill out a programme with people who happen to be around. It also is a boost that there are a number of Scots writers who are not only popular but keen to appear (Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith are practically ubiquitous). But in a clear-eyed business sense it works, too. It is locals who buy the majority of tickets and they will always turn out to see their own.</p>