This year’s Boswell Book Festival will be a virtual event with some of the most talked about biographers, diarists and writers of memoir appearing at the world’s only festival dedicated to biography and memoir.
Named in honour of Ayrshire’s James Boswell, the inventor of modern biography, the festival has attracted some of the greatest biographers and memoirists from across the globe.
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.
Festival director, Caroline Knox, said: ‘I have never been more grateful for our unique theme of biography and memoir than in planning this exciting first online festival, which we are offering free of charge thanks to the generous support of loyal sponsors and with the help of your much needed donations.
‘Not only will we showcase a rich choice of home-grown talent but the lack of geographical borders has allowed me to search further afield to find speakers and new partnerships from America and Canada to Australia and Italy – even including one with our namesake, the Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee.’
Due to the altered status of the event the organisers have added extra features in order to keep audiences entertained.
Each of the main festival days will have a dedicated Scottish host (Thursday 10 June: James Knox; Friday 11 June: Alan Taylor; Saturday 12 June: Sally Magnusson and Sunday 13 June: James Naughtie) and before each session excerpts from James Boswell’s work will be read by Bill Paterson, whose voice currently can be also heard narrating BBC1’s The Repair Shop.
The festival proper begins on Thursday 10 June with the audience invited to a join an Evening Party of talk, music and art in Edinburgh’s Old Town hosted by William Zachs in the company of Andrew Marr, Bill Paterson, Robert Burns and Ludwig Van Beethoven and raise a glass to Boswell, biography and life stories. Also on Thursday lifelong fan of Boswell, Andrew Marr one of our most incisive broadcasters, journalists and critics will talk about why Boswell matters.
Amongst those talking about their extraordinary lives are Lady Anne Glenconner (participating in her first Scottish book festival), the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, Charlie Gilmour (adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour), Kindertransport evacuee and acclaimed journalist Hella Pick, advocate for LGBT rights Mohsin Zaidi, and comedian Janey Godley whose story about growing up in impoverished Glasgow has won many plaudits. From Canada there is journalist Desmond Cole with The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power which describes the struggle against racism in his country, who will be joined by Lee Lawrence winner of the Costa Biography Prize 2020.
Using the story of his ancestors is Alex Renton’s personal story of his Ayrshire family’s history as slave and plantation owners. Renton will be joined on stage by Sir Geoffrey Palmer OBE, a descendant of slavery in Jamaica, who was aged 15 when he joined his mother who had arrived on the Windrush in 1948, has been appointed to lead the group investigating the street names, monuments and buildings of Edinburgh.
Diaries make for compelling reading and an invaluable source for biographers and travel writers. Reflecting this are historian Simon Heffer, the editor of the unexpurgated diaries of society figure and politician, Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (the second volume to be published in September); Royal biographer Hugo Vickers on photographer Cecil Beaton, acclaimed travellers Rory Stewart and Kapka Kassabova, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Fredrik Logevall, who has spent much of the last decade combing through material unseen or unused by previous biographers taking us as close as we have ever been to the real John F. Kennedy; Alberto Angela (one of Italy’s most revered cultural figures, paleontologist, naturalist, journalist, author, and popular television host) who reconstructs the extraordinary life of the legendary Cleopatra.
From success in social media both Deborah Frances-White (The Guilty Feminist), a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe with 85 million downloads in five years and BBC sports commentator Andrew Cotter (Olive & Mabel) whose first video has been watched 30 million times have gone on to write best-selling books. To reflect the popularity of podcasts for life stories, there will also be a session on how to create one successfully.
Another new segment, made possible by becoming a digital event, are illustrated 10 minute talks on Scottish portraits as biography. James Holloway, former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, James Knox, Director of The Fleming Collection, and David Eustace, internationally acclaimed Scottish photographer, will explore the ability of portraits to convey the personality, physical looks and life of a sitter and how this has changed over time.
Reflecting Boswell’s reputation as a bon viveur there will be wine masterclasses (although participants are not advised to drink the same quantities and he and his friends), as well as two sessions on writing biographies and memoirs from Professor Jane Ridley and Melanie Reid.
The Boswell Book Festival is supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland. An award of £30,000 was made in March 2021.
Harriet MacMillan, Literature Officer, Creative Scotland said: ‘Boswell Book Festival is a unique literary celebration and we are delighted to be able to continue to support this coming together of writers and audiences. As the world’s only festival of biography and memoir, it’s particularly exciting to see that this year’s digital form will allow both local and international audiences to enjoy the programme.’
Creative Scotland is the public body that supports the arts, screen and creative industries across all parts of Scotland on behalf of everyone who lives, works or visits here. We distribute funding provided by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery. Further information at creativescotland.com. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The Children’s Boswell Book Festival will run from 10-16 June 2021 with details on a separate release.
For more details visit www.boswellbookfestival.co.uk