Edinburgh is a literary city. Maybe it’s the winters: we were here for a week in February 2012 and I’ll attest that the weather then was perfect for broody author types (and reader types too). It’s no wonder “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” originated in this place. In any case Edinburgh is associated with great writing and accordingly was named the first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004.
There’s often something book-related going on. And everywhere you turn, there’s a plaque or a monument commemorating some literary association. Suits me fine.
Other notable Edinburgh writers have included J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), and more recently, Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series) and Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).
Ian Rankin, originator of the tartan noir genre of hardboiled Scottish mysteries (of which I am a tremendous fan), lives here and uses the city as the main setting for his Rebus detective series. You can take a guided tour of Rebus sites or go with the self-guided phone app “Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh.”
The National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge houses a collection that focuses on Scottish history. The librarians assemble excellent exhibitions which you can visit in the display rooms. I wasn’t able to fit a library tour in on this trip but no matter, I like having another reason to come back. The National Library also has a great outreach team; if you are a bookish person with an interest in Scotland, I recommend “like”ing the library on Facebook for some entertaining and interesting additions to your newsfeed. These posters on sale in the library gift shop were to advertise a 2012 exhibition about the movies in Scotland.
Taking a break from the Fringe one morning, I went on a guided walking tour of some of the city’s famous literary locations.
One of the things I learned on the tour was that J.K. Rowling didn’t write Harry Potter at the Elephant House like everyone thinks, but at an upstairs coffee house that her brother-in-law owned called Nicolson’s Cafe. It’s under different ownership and has been renamed Spoon. There’s a small plaque on the wall about it.
The annual International Book Festival is one of the largest in the world. It runs concurrently with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, but prices were too high and lines too long to see my favorite authors so Alekka and I just strolled around the grounds to soak up the rarified atmosphere.
At the Fringe this year there were plenty of shows for literary-minded people. One of my favorites was Austentatious, offering a completely new (and completely hilarious) Jane Austen novel in every performance.
And Edinburgh might have the only train station in the world named after a novel: Walter Scott’s Waverly.