Full guest list revealed for Boswell Book Festival

The world’s only book festival dedicated to biography and memoir returns live to Dumfries House from 13-15 May 2022.

Named in honour of the great biographer James Boswell, the first festival was in 2011. Following the success of last year’s online festival with guests and audiences from around the globe many of this year’s events will also be live streamed.

Kicking off the festival on Friday 13 will be The Accidental Footballer, Pat Nevin, who despite having 28 caps for Scotland had never intended making chasing a ball as his career.

Following him on the inaugural evening will be the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen and then Scottish superstar singer-actress Barbara Dickson.

While rounding off on Sunday 15, Frank Skinner and Denise Mina will discuss their adventures in the footsteps of Boswell and Johnson. Skinner will also be talking about his renowned poetry book and podcast along with his Comedian’s Prayer Book.

Other thespians treading the boards will be Martin Jarvis the unique voice of Just William and Jeeves who will also be talking about acting with his wife actress Rosalind Ayres Another star appearance will be Graham McTavish of Outlander and The Witcher.

Aptly in Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, the venue of the festival (Dumfries House saved for the nation by HRH The Prince of Wales), will host several events on royal themes including Clare Hunter and Denise Mina talking about their respective books on Mary Queen of Scots (Embroidering Her Truth by Clare Hunter and Rizzio by Denise Mina); biographies on George V by the UK’s first Professor of Biography Jane Ridley and on Louis XlV by Philip Mansel will be under the spotlight as well as Christopher de Bellaigue’s radical take on Suleyman the Magnificent (The Lion House).

Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres

The now legendary witness to Royal history Lady Anne Glenconner who was Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret will also be talking about her latest book, inspired by her Norfolk ancestors.

On a topical note one of The Netherlands’ most successful novelists, Pieter Waterdrinker who lives in St Petersburg will talk about his book The Long Song of Tchaikovsky Street – his history of Russia and his life there ; while best-selling Giles Milton will tell the immersive story of the Cold War Showdown in Berlin.

And as we hear echoes of Churchill in the words of the Ukranian President, it is good to be reminded of the man himself through the eyes of his daughter Mary and presence of his granddaughter Emma Soames. Following last year’s session on his book Blood Legacy, Alex Renton will be chairing Thomas Harding (White Debt on Guyana slave rebellion) and Glasgow based Dr Myrtle Peterkin who was born on a Guyanese sugar plantation.

Traumatic experiences can produce the most extraordinary books. Debora Harding will be making her first Scottish festival appearance to talk about Dancing with the Octopus, recollecting her abduction as a teenager and later meeting the perpetrator. Gulbahar Haitiwaji was born in China and was granted political asylum in France in 2006 when repression against Uighurs was stepped up by the government. When asked to return in 2016 by her previous employers she was arrested and sent to a ‘re-education camp’ for three years – Survivor of the Chinese Gulag is her account of this time.

Artistic creativity comes into play with four events. Presenter of The Great Pottery Throwdown, Keith Brymer Jones will be talking about his love for clay as well as ballet dancing and his days as lead singer of a punk band. Charlotte Rostek, former curator of Dumfries House, talks about her new book Scottish women artists and prize- winning Belgian writer, Charlotte van den Broeck looks at the nature of creative endeavour – through the stories of 13 tragic architects.

Frank Skinner

American born and Glasgow based photographer, Thomas Joshua Cooper, has circumnavigated the globe taking photographs of some of the most extreme points in the world mapping points of climate change. The result was an exhibition and book, The World’s Edge – the Atlas of Emptiness and Extremity featuring these extraordinary images.

On home turf, composer, James MacMillan and writer, Andrew O’Hagan, will discuss the impact that their Ayrshire roots have had on their creativity. They will be in conversation with Ayrshire’s Kirsty Wark. While Alexis Fleming who was brought up in Kilmarnock will tell her inspiring story of the founding of the world’s first animal hospice.

The Schools and Children’s Festival under the curatorship of Janet Smyth will be launched on 9th May. The activities for children and families this year will make the most of the beautiful gardens of Dumfries House with Macastory and their storytelling walks, a search for untold stories with actor Rosalind Sydney, join the Happiness Collectors to gather all that makes us feel uplifted and learn all about carbon capture in water, soil and plants with the Dumfries House Education Team.

In addition Scottish children’s authors Vivian French, Debi Gliori, Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper will delight with talks and workshops exploring everything including moles speaking Scots, history, nature, fairytales and legends, cats, queens and castles.

Dumfries House and Gardens host the Boswell Book Festival

Caroline Knox, director of the Boswell Book Festival says: ‘It’s truly exciting to be back after three years in front of audiences at Dumfries House as well as now being able to offer many events online. As always we present a stimulating, some might say quirky range of life stories which will reveal fascinating personalities, with new takes on the challenges and joys of both the everyday and the world stage.

‘With the needs of younger readers in mind, we are also staging a live and online festival for Schools and Children full of amazing stories and with all ages catered for we can guarantee an immersive weekend of entertainment for everyone.’

Katalina Watt, literature officer at Creative Scotland: ‘It is a pleasure to be able to continue to support the Boswell Book Festival and its bringing together of authors and readers. As the world’s only festival of biography and memoir, it’s wonderful to see this year’s programme take a hybrid format after the success of last year’s digital offering, allowing both local and international audiences to enjoy the events.’

The Boswell Book Festival started in 2011 and named after the Ayrshire writer James Boswell, the inventor of modern biography, the Festival is staged by The Boswell Trust. For the first few years the festival was staged at Auchinleck House, the Boswell family seat, and in 2013 moved to the larger Dumfries House.

Full programme at