In the summer of 1962, when the Edinburgh Festival was just 15 years old, John Calder and a couple of other publisher friends organized a five-day literary conference, inviting the likes of Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, Stephen Spender, Alexander Trocchi and Lawrence Durrell... to discuss five big themes. It proved to be a landmark event with 2,300 people attending each day (imagine!) with heated debates about love, sex, drugs and censorship. There were almost fisticuffs.
Fifty years on last summer and Round 2 took place, formally titled the Edinburgh World Writers Conference. Same themes, different writers - but the big difference is that it's also being presented as part of other international book fests: Berlin, Cape Town, Toronoto, Krasnoyarsk... and now Beijing, co-organized by us and Bookworm, over two sessions.
The themes we've been assigned were The Future of the Novel (tonight) and Style Versus Content (next saturday) and to wax lyrical on the former we had AD Miller from UK and Li Er & Zhu Wen from China. We couldn't match 2,300 in the audience, but it was a sell-out, and it did raise interesting themes about the novel in the age of byte-size tweets and the fotrmat in which they are likely to be consumed. But it was positive. Everyone still likes a story.