Richard Holloway pictured at the Edinburgh Book Festival by Bill Heaney

Festivals are about people, and Edinburgh Book Festival is no different from any other.

A stroll through the courtyard of the Art College in Lauriston Place, where this popular festival it is currently taking place, is a joy for people watchers.

And for book lovers, of course, who can watch the events on a big screen. That’s FREE of charge.

The book festival used to be held across the city on the doorstep of the First Minister’s official residence, Bute House in Charlotte Square, but it has settled in  comfortably next door to the old fire station and across the road from the city’s dental hospital.

It is an oasis for people like me who live in such places as West Dunbartonshire, which sadly hasn’t a bookshop to its name. Deprivation doesn’t cut it.

Perhaps the new Labour-controlled council will provide an incentive for one to be set up in the desert of shops that stand grimly empty in Dumbarton and Alexandria town centres?

The cultured voice of book festival big beast Richard Holloway, who was born and brought up in a slum tenement in Random Street in Alexandria, a Valeman to the toes of his rather large shoes, purred out from the big screen.

The impressed audience listened attentively as the former Scottish Episcopal Church bishop interviewed Jonathan Freedland, pictured right, a Guardian newspaper journalist, about his new book – The Escape Artist

It is a fascinating story of a teenager, Rudolph Vrba, who hid for three days while 3,000 SS “and their bloodhounds” searched for him.

Vrba’s report on the atrocity of Auschwitz reached Roosevelt, Churchill and the Pope, saving hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.

Critics such as Richard Holloway, who is a nationally recognised broadcaster and controversial commentator on cultural and religious affairs, has himself written a number of books set in West Dunbartonshire.

He described Freedland’s book as an”unforgettable account of Vrba’s heroic mission”.

Later I spoke with Richard Holloway who keeps in touch regularly with relatives in the Vale. He said he very much regretted not being able to attend the closing service at St Mungo’s, his old church in the Main Street.

And that he was shocked that across the street Alexandria Old Parish Church had recently been burned to the ground.

Janey Godley may not be everyone’s cup of tea and many of you will challenge the Festival programme description of her as “one of Scotland’s most beloved comedians”.

She has though changed tack into crime fiction which will receive more serious attention during the festival by the likes of Val McDermid and Sir Ian Rankin, pictured left.

With her debut novel Nothing Left Unsaid, Godley takes readers to 1970s Glasgow via the diary of a dying mother – “In the tenements of Shettleston, strong women in touch circumstances learn when to keep their secrets – and when to reveal the truth.”

Janey was joined on Monday for “a warm hilarious and affecting hour” with veteran journalist Ruth Wishart, one of the women behind the Cove and Kilcreggan book festival, which is held annually in the burgh hall on the Rosneath Peninsula near Helensburgh, where she lives.

A Woman’s A Woman, for a’ That is Val McDermid’s latest book in “a major new series of connected thrillers”. I bought a copy of 1979, which was the first of these at last year’s festival and even got Val to sign it for me, but I have to report that it was deeply disappointing and that I abandoned it after – or maybe even before – a few chapters.

Despite this 1979 is described in this year’s programme as having been “a stellar success” and Val will be  discussing it and the follow up 1989  this Thursday at 6.30pm in the Central Hall venue with Book Festival chairman, the distinguished journalist and broadcaster Allan Little.

In 1989 Allie Burns is older, wiser and a senior journalist on a Scottish tabloid – “Against a volatile backdrop, Burns uncovers a story about HIV/AIDS that changes everything. 1989 confirms McDermid as an essential chronicler of modern Scotland.”

Let’s hope it all works out for Val and I am sure it will since like her colleague in crime writing the recently knighted  Sir Ian Rankin she has a large following of adoring fans.

Last summer – Val McDermid launched her then new book 1979, first of a series of thrillers.

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