Visa issues could stop authors attending Edinburgh Book Festival, warns director

Visa issues could stop authors attending Edinburgh Book Festival, warns director

Problems obtaining visas to enter the UK could put off authors from attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival, its director has warned.

Nick Barley said there had already been a knock-on effect after 12 authors due to appear at last year’s event faced huge problems gaining entry to the UK.

He told The Bookseller there had been “considerable reputational damage” from the issues, with some performers having to provide three years’ worth of bank statements or biometric data to appear in 2018. Others said they were treated with "disrespect" on arriving at airports in London or Edinburgh.

This year’s event, which runs from 10th to 26th August includes appearances from a host of authors including Salman Rushdie, Colson Whitehead and Arundhati Roy with participants from 65 different countries.

But Barley warned organisers of other events in countries like Canada and India could take advantage of Edinburgh’s issues and lure authors to their own festivals instead.

He said: “My particular concern is the message is getting out there to authors, artists and musicians about these problems.

“Over the last 12 months I’ve has a number of writers who are concerned. I can’t say for certain anyone has refused to come but I know there are concerns and I fear that the situation will only get worse if we have more visa problems this year.”

Barley said last year’s issues affected writers from outside Europe, from regions like the Middle East and Africa. But he warned that, after Brexit, the complications could also hit European authors.

Director of Festivals Edinburgh and chair Sarah Carey met Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes this week to raise their concerns.

One solution raised by the organisers is a “cultural passport” made available to performers at high-reputation organisations as a badge of trust. But he said a way forward needed to be found for all UK festivals, not just the ones with the biggest budgets.

He said: “It doesn’t matter what your position on Brexit is. This is something which is about British culture. If we want to have a position on the world stage we have to have cultural communication and dialogue.”

The Bookseller has approached the Home Office for a comment.

This year’s programme has now been launched with the first appearance at the festival by Roy, in conversation with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Joining her in making their debuts are leading Australian novelists Thomas Keneally and YA writer Markus Zusak.  From Indonesia the poet, essayist and playwright Goenawan Mohamad comes to discuss his life and work and from France come two writers shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize - Annie Ernaux and Mathias Énard.

Major book launches at the festival include new novels from Salman Rushdie, Cressida Cowell, Tracy Chevalier, Ann Cleeves, Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, James Meek and Deborah Levy.  Composer James MacMillan launches his memoir and Branko Milanovic is interviewed by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Eddie Izzard speaks about his audio recording of Dickens’ Great Expectations and there is fiction from Kate Atkinson, Harry Hill, Clare Balding, Tim Winton, David Nicholls, Joanne Harris, Mark Haddon and Roddy Doyle.