University of Edinburgh: Winter literary festival aglow with tales of belief

Illuminating stories of belief and spirituality are to be celebrated at Scotland’s first religious literary festival, organised by the world-renowned School of Divinity at the University.

The hidden history of Christmas carols and explorations into belief in crime fiction and comedy are among the highlights of Winter Tales Book Festival, billed as a festival of literature, religion and the imagination.

Winter Tales
The festival – part of celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of New College, the home of the School Divinity – runs from Friday 3 December to Sunday 5 December.

More than 25 events with acclaimed writers and speakers are taking place in front of in-person audiences at New College. The indoor festival also offers a café, bookshop and book signings from many of the authors.

Most events are free but ticketed. Information on how to book is available on the Winter Tales Festival website.

Acclaimed authors
Award-winning author James Robertson will discuss the shifting role of religion in Scotland and beyond as part of a presentation on his latest novel, News of the Dead.

Guests will be taken on a light-hearted and informative exploration of Christmas carols at an event led by The Revd Professor Ian Bradley, the author of more than forty books.

Scottish author Val McDermid – who has sold over 17 million books and been translated into more than 40 languages – will be talking about the complex relationship between religion and crime writing.

Best-selling author Robert Harris will discuss portrayals of power, religion and politics in his work, including Fatherland, Enigma and the Cicero trilogy.

Elsewhere acclaimed author and scholar Charles Foster will talk about his recent publications – including Being a Human and Being a Beast – and how his experiences as an explorer, lawyer, and vet have enriched his writing.

Broadcaster and author Sally Magnusson will discuss her recent best-selling books, The Ninth Child, The Sealwoman’s Gift, Where Memories Go and how they illuminate elements of family life and faith.

Comedy and literature
Actor, comedian and writer, Miles Jupp will explore the complex and surprising relationship between religion, comedy and literature, as well as his new novel History.

Francis Spufford will discuss his approach to crafting stories, including his recent book Light Perpetual, which was recognised in this year’s Booker prize long list.

Mara Menzies, a Kenyan Scottish storyteller and writer whose novel Blood and Gold originated from the stage show of the same name, will explore the legacy of colonialism and slavery through myth, legend and fantasy.

The appeal of theological colleges and faculties of divinity as literary settings will be discussed by three acclaimed authors, Catherine Fox; Rachel Mann and James Robertson, who all have written novels linked to places of religious study.

Award-winning poet Marjorie Lotfi Gill and children’s author Victoria Williamson will join University scholars for a panel discussion about migration and the role that literature can have in making societies more welcoming.

Elsewhere acclaimed authors Sara Maitland and Kate McCouglin will discuss their recent books and research, including their work on the power of silence.

Christmas themes
Jan Sutch Pickard and Sally Foster-Fulton will share poetry and prayers in an event reflecting on the mystery of Advent and Christmas and the theme of hope, from the context of the Iona Community.

The use of science and religion in literature will be the focus of a panel event that brings together three authors, Christopher Southgate, Richard Holloway and Jaime Wright. The discussion will be led by Michael Fuller of the School of Divinity.

Elsewhere BBC broadcaster Cathy MacDonald will interview Edinburgh scholar Mona Siddiqui about her career, the inspiration behind her writing, and how her beliefs have shaped her work.

Jewish tales from Scotland will be brought to life by a panel of experts. The event includes of a tour of the ‘Jewish quarter’ of Edinburgh and of the Gorbals in Glasgow, where guests will listen to the sounds of the streets, the tenements and synagogue music of the early twentieth century.

The work of George Mackay Brown – one of Scotland’s finest poets and short story writers – will be celebrated in a panel discussion led by the School of Divinity’s Dr Linden Bicket. She will be joined by the novelist Malachy Tallack and the poet Gerry Cambridge to discuss the spiritual dimensions of Brown’s fictional universe, which the writer called ‘the small green world’ of Orkney.

Poet Christine De Luca – who was Edinburgh’s Makar from 2014-2017 – will discuss her writing along with authors Lizzie Poole and Ed Newell in an event called The Secrets of the Sea.

Elsewhere Judith Buchanan of the University of Oxford will explore the significance of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a ‘tale about tales’.

Top creative writing tips will be shared at an event with authors Judith Stevenson, Rachel Mann and Catherine Fox.

Other presentations include two children’s events featuring writers Francesca T Barbini and Michelle Sloan.

The festival also features a service of readings, carols and music at which the Rt Hon Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will preach.

The world of religion, belief and spirituality has not only provided authors with some of their most memorable plots but the literature also confronts some of the ethical, cultural and historical questions shaping our world. We are delighted to able to launch this festival to celebrate and explore that influence, alongside some Christmas themed events and celebrations for adults and children to enjoy.

Alison Jack, Senior Lecturer in Bible and Literature and Assistant Principal of New College
School of Divinity
The festival is being presented with support from The Centre for Theology and Public Issues, SPCK Publishing, the Drummond Trust, the Scottish Network for Religion and Literature and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH).