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Disciples gather, but some tents stay unfilled

IT is never less than lively in Charlotte Square, and this year there were a handful of events that surpassed previous years for anticipation.

One such event was the double appearance of the Game of Thrones author George R R Martin. Before he materialised, the queue reached all the way around the duckboard square, biting its own tail like the mythical snake.

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Martin's appearance on the programme was like a rabbit pulled from a hat, as was that of Haruki Murakami, whose following feels less like a literary fellowship and more like a discipleship.

For those of more refined tastes in fiction, there were first-class writers such as Martin Amis and Margaret Atwood. It is noticeable, however, that serious literary events are overshadowed by crime novelists, historians, cookery writers and those who attract an audience, like flies to jam, simply because they are known from television or radio.

More worrying still is the shrinking attendance for literary fiction and poetry. Even Graham Swift did not fill a tent, while others, such as Fred D'Aguiar, had such a sparse attendance that some audience members were wondering if they ought to text their friends to come and swell the numbers. It is a trend that threatens to intensify, since if literary authors fail to attract crowds, they are more likely to be left out.

No apathy was apparent, however, in sessions devoted to the referendum. In by far the most politically charged festival of his tenure, director Nick Barley did well by the independence debate, the calibre of discussions and arguments making this the most strongly Scottish-flavoured Edinburgh Book Festival for many years. Long may that emphasis continue.

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