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Leading author in attack on book festival

A best selling author has criticised Edinburgh International Book Festival after more than 20 events involving some of Britain’s best-known writers and artists were cancelled.

Phillipa Gregory, whose historical novels such as The White Queen and The Red Queen are critically acclaimed, pulled out after she refused to bow to the demands of the organisers over the content of a talk she had planned for today.

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The African-born writer told them that she wanted to discuss a book, Gandhi’s Interpreter, by her former Edinburgh University tutor, Professor Geoffrey Carnall, who would also have appeared at the Scottish Power Studio Theatre.

However, organisers were keen for her to stick to the published programme listing, which stated she would discuss her extensive knowledge of the Wars of the Roses.

Gregory, 56, who has now paid to stage the event at another city venue outwith the festival, questioned why so many of the two-week event’s leading names had pulled out, with the likes of White Teeth author Zadie Smith, Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs and the novelist Hilary Mantel among the cancellations.

She said: ““I told them I wasn’t prepared to do this talk at all but that I was prepared to pay to change the listing, which was refused. So I pulled out. In any case, they got the name of my current novel wrong. The book I am publicising is The Red Queen, not The White Queen which appeared in the programme.

“I have worked with many major festivals and have always been able to use the material I wanted to use and I had prepared.

“It seems a lot of events have been affected by cancellations and you have to wonder why.”

A festival spokesman said that only 11 events were cancelled before this year’s opening, but 22 events are now listed as having been hit, a figure higher than last year.

Gregory’s agent Zahra Moussavi said: “Phillippa had been looking forward to going to Edinburgh. It was where she studied, her event involved Edinburgh University and a modern connection to literature. This could have been easily fixed. It is very disappointing.”

Smith’s agent Donald Winchester said the author cancelled a talk on August 17 because of a late change to her work schedule.

Sachs was said to have been disappointed he was unable to attend for personal reasons.

Tom Bingham, Don McCullin, Norman Stone, John Julius Norwich and Joan Lindgard also pulled out.

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Book Festival said: “We developed the event based on the information we had been given.

“Once the book festival brochure had gone to print, we were made aware that Ms Gregory wished to come to the festival with a different style of event, and a different book.

“Unfortunately, given that we print and distribute 125,000 brochures it was not practical to make the change.

“Ms Gregory then decided to cancel her event.”

He said changes to the published programme were inevitable because the event has more than 750 events and these often involved topical subjects, including politics.

“We were delighted this year to be able to add three very special last-minute events -- AS Byatt made her first appearance in Edinburgh last week, Peter Mandelson will be appearing in his first public event on Sunday night and we have just confirmed a tribute event to Scotland’s First National Poet, Edwin Morgan, on Monday night,” added the spokesman.

Gregory and Professor Carnall will give the talk she had planned at St George’s West Church in Shandwick Place on September 14.

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