Book a day at Portobello Beach

The Portobello Book Festival is in its sixth year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The Portobello Book Festival is in its sixth year. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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CS Lewis once said that “We read to know we are not alone” – and whether you are eight or 80, reading has always been a doorway into amazing worlds and adventures.

With the rise of digital publishing an e-books, however, there have been concerns that the traditional library will no longer be needed – but one community in the Capital is aiming to turn the tide as it prepares for its annual book festival.

The three-day Portobello Book Festival, now in its sixth year, is packed full of exciting authors and experiences for the whole family.

The festival will kick-off on Friday, October 3, with the opening event, A Sense of Place, being hosted by David Francis at Portobello Library.

It will focus on performance poetry in all shapes and forms, including material written by the general public as well as Michael Pedersen, James Spence, Max Scratchmann and Josie Pizer, of Portobello Poetry Circus, joining in.

Saturday, October 4 has something in store for all ages from the Book Bug – half an hour of fun songs and rhymes for under-fives – to Understanding Dementia, with guests such as Hazel McHaffie, author of Remember Remember, and John Killick, poet and author of Dementia Positive, discussing dementia in a panel event followed by an informal discussion.

Other highlights include the chance to meet award-winning Scottish crime writer Catriona McPherson, and an appearance by Meaghan Delahunt, who will read from her third novel, To The Island.

The Sunday will also offer an event based around the Scottish referendum.

Entitled: Now Look What We’ve Done!, three responses to what will happen next will be offered by journalist, critic and commentator Joyce McMillan, artist Sandy Moffat, co-author with Alan Riach of Arts of Independence, and political scientist James Mitchell, co-editor with Gerry Hassan of After Independence and author of The Scottish Question.

Committee member, writer and Portobello resident 
M Louise Kelly, 48, explained how the festival was started by a group which “just enjoyed books and reading and thought Portobello was a place to have a celebration of that”.

The ten volunteers who make up the committee have worked hard to make sure the event is free for everyone and covers a wide range of interests.

“We try to encourage people to go to the library and read because reading just opens up different worlds,” Ms Kelly said. “People try to say reading is on the wane but there’s a lot of people who still read and it’s a good way to celebrate it.”

This year’s festival is also joined for the first time by Portobello High School, which will be putting on its own fringe festival for pupils from September 29 to October 3.

Organiser and librarian Lauren Thow said more than 450 pupils would be involved in the events. She added that they were really “excited” to have authors such as Sam Best and Cathy MacPhail coming in.

“I hope it’s going to be an event we can run every year to encourage their enthusiasm surrounding books,” she said.

Tickets for the main festival can be picked up from Portobello Library.

The library’s Paul Hudson said the volunteers should be praised for the annual event which takes a whole year to organise.

“It can be difficult in finding authors because it’s a free festival but all the people that run it put their time in themselves,” he said. “I think it’s something that a lot of people look forward to a great deal, and it’s a real credit to the volunteers that put in so much to make it happen.

“It brings people into the library, there’s no doubt about that. The amount of events that are running means we have people that come to these events who haven’t been in for years. It’s a brilliant thing for bringing people into the library.”

This year’s festival has also been dedicated to the memory of Heather Neal, 48, who had been involved with the festival for the last five years and sadly passed away from cancer in July.

“She was just a real stalwart of Portobello and worked in the library and was a real reader – you probably never saw her without a book in her hand,” Ms Kelly said. “She worked tirelessly getting the festival ready each year so it’s a celebration of her love of reading.”

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