Local Lit: Edinburgh

12th May 2015

Local Lit: Edinburgh
Image: By Farwestern Photo by Gregg M. Erickson (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Scotland's capital was the world's first UNESCO city of literature. So unsurprisingly its cup runneth over when it comes to writers both past and present, and literary history, events and attractions.

Literary Legacy

Even if you haven’t read their work, you’ll have heard of Edinburgh’s most famous sons Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle. Dame Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is yet another illustrious Auld Reekie literary legend. Less well known but also worthy of attention are: the poet and suffragette Helen CruikshankSusan Ferrier, author of Marriage, The Inheritance and Destiny; the prolific novelist and social activist Naomi Mitchison, who’s been described as ‘the Virginia Woolf of science fiction’; and Dorothy Dunnett, who was a historical fiction writer and portrait painter.

Contemporary Writers

The Athens of the North has more than its fair share of talented and innovative writers. Residents include: Andrea Gillies, whose debut Keeper won the Wellcome Book Prize in 2009 and the Orwell Prize in 2010; poet and novelist Jenni Fagan, who’s Writer in Residence at The University of Edinburgh; writer and blogger Lynsey May; Kate Atkinson, author of the marvels that are Life After Life and A God In RuinsCat Clarke, a YA fiction author; Lesley Glaister, whose novel Now You See Me was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2002; Ruth Thomas, a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow; and Sara Sheridan, yet another award-winner. And there can’t be many people who don’t know that Edinburgh’s also home to J.K. Rowling, the woman who gave the world the gift of Harry Potter.

Independent Book Shops

Word Power is the antithesis of a certain omnipresent, online bookselling behemoth. Opened in 1994 by James Kelman it’s firmly focused on independent publishers, small presses, new writers and zine producers. Elvis Shakespeare is a purveyor of secondhand books and punk, alternative, indie and post 1980s dance music. Staff at The Edinburgh Bookshop are knowledgeable and passionate, which is probably why it was Scottish Independent Bookshop of the year in 2014 and 2015. Deadhead Comics deals in local, indie and mainstream comics. Looking Glass Books regularly hosts launches, workshops and the chance to chat with Cat Clarke, their writer in residence. Transreal Fiction has the biggest range of imported fantasy and sci-fi titles in Scotland. Golden Hare Books boasts an eclectic selection of new books and a small, hand-picked range of old editions.


Over 800 authors take part in the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival, the mother of all the city’s celebrations of the written word. The likes of Margaret Atwood, Bonnie Greer, Louise Welsh and Ann Donovan have graced its line up. Featuring themes, writers and publishers who don’t always get a look in at mainstream events, Word Power’s Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair is the rabble-rousing alternative to its more genteel town centre counterpart. Word Power also organises The Edinburgh Book Fringe, two weeks of readings and discussions that promote smaller, local publishers and writers. The annual Christian Aid Book Sale has been going since 1974. It’s a browser’s paradise and the charity’s biggest UK fundraising event.

Traverse Theatre

Scotland’s new writing theatre nurtures and supports established playwrights, and those looking to develop their skills. It’s staged productions of plays by Rona Munro (who wrote the last episode of Dr Who before the Russell T Davies revamp) and Edinburgh-born Sue Glover.

Scottish Poetry Centre

Founded by poetry activist Tessa Ransford, the Scottish Poetry Library is a temple of literature in metre form. Its mission is to challenge the perception that poetry is rarified, difficult and dull. As well as being a lending library, the centre runs reading groups and helps local libraries to make poetry more accessible.


This independent publisher had the good fortune to pick up the Booker prizewinner The Life of Pi. It also published Miranda July‘s No One Belongs Here More Than You, Ali Smith‘s Girl Meets Boy and Jeanette Winterson‘s Weight. Canongate TV is its collection of blogs, films, events interviews and channels for each of its authors. And it has a virtual book club too.

Scottish Book Trust

The Trust is a charity with the laudable aims of spreading a love of books and reading, and encouraging people to write. It supports: emerging and renowned writers, teaching and learning professionals and young families through its Bookbug project.

Scottish Storytelling Centre

The world’s first purpose built centre for storytelling has a year round programme of courses and workshops which cater for novice and professional yarn spinners. It also hosts plays, music, exhibitions and festivals.

Live Literature

In rude health’s an accurate diagnosis of the city’s spoken word and performance poetry scene. Highlights include Tricolour, the National Library’s monthly night, and Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay’s Rally and Broad events. They’re politically engaged cabaret extravaganzas in which authors, playwrights, poets, dancers, musicians share the stage. The duo are committed to gender balanced billing. Shore Poets are a collective who give newbies the opportunity to read alongside better known Scottish names. (There’s also a lemon cake raffled off at every show.) Illicit Ink hold monthly events which ‘champion the strange, beautiful and ever-so-slightly-sinister.’

Literary Tours

Edinburgh Book Lovers Tour surveys the significant places in the history and backgrounds of the city’s most prominent authors. The Edinburgh Outlander Experience guides fans round the sites and taverns featured in Diana Gabaldon‘s tales of historical time travel. Leith Walks highlights the landmarks in Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh‘s collection of snapshots of Edinburgh street life. Rebus Tours visits the haunts of, and scenes from the cases from, Ian Rankin‘s mercurial Detective Inspector. The Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour takes lovers of culture and booze on dramatic literary trail across the city.

Have we left out any of Edinburgh’s literary delights? What are your favourites?