Northern Lights at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Northern Lights is a collaborative project between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Bradford Literature Festival designed to bring together Northern and Scottish publishers. Supported by Creative Scotland and Arts Council England, this two-part gathering started at Bradford Literature Festival on Friday 28 June and will culminate at the Edinburgh International Book Festival over the weekend of the 24 and 25 August. Both gatherings offer publishers and those involved with publishing the chance to discuss key issues in the industry and share expertise around developing inclusive practice and diversifying readership.            

This major event is free and open to all in the publishing industry at any level including booksellers, literary agents, editors, publicists, publishers, libraries, and authors. Taking place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, (a short distance from the Book Festival site), each event will offer opportunities for delegates to contribute their views and ask questions.

Members of the Society of Young Publishers will be live tweeting from the event – join the conversation using #edbookfest.

The Northern Lights project incorporates a small discretionary fund, intended to support the participation of independent publishers – find full details at the bottom of this page.

Venue: Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), Platform 5, The Exchange, Edinburgh, EH3 8EE, Scotland.

For details on how to find the venue, please visit:

To book your place at the Edinburgh edition of Northern Lights, please email:   

Download the Northern Lights at Edinburgh International Book Festival programme (PDF)

DAY 1 - Saturday 24 August


14:00 – 14:15 | Welcome to Northern Lights

Following the opening chapter of the Northern Lights initiative in Bradford, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival Nick Barley and Director of the Bradford Literature Festival, Syima Aslam will reflect on the many issues raised and debated at the Bradford Literature Festival in June. Together with Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley, they will highlight the expectations for the Scottish chapter of this two-part gathering.


14:15 – 15:30 | The Centre of the World is Where You Are

What does it mean to be publishing further away from the literary centres of gravity? This session will explore the freedoms and challenges of operating outside of the UK’s capital. It will focus on successful models and initiatives used in the North, featuring case studies from the publishing sector and other creative industries. This event will offer delegates the chance to get an insight from industry professionals as well as practical tips and strategies.

Chair: Hannah McGill (Writer and Former Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival) Event Participants: Francis Bickmore (Publishing Director, Canongate), Ray Black (Manager of Scottish band Mogwai – which founded Glasgow-based indie record label Rock Action Records), Kevin Duffy (Co-founder, Bluemoose Books), Catherine Simpson, (Novelist and memoir-writer, When I Had a Little Sister, Fourth Estate, Truestory, Sandstone Press).


15:30 – 16:00                                *COFFEE BREAK WITH REFRESHMENTS*


16:00 – 17:00 | Practice Sharing for Industry Professionals

This session will break out in three directions, with smaller groups of delegates exploring the following subjects. Each mini-session will be facilitated by moderators who will begin the conversation talking about their experiences and then lead a discussion with the group.


Surviving as an Independent Publisher

How do you source the finance? How do you approach business planning, recruitment as well as nurturing talent? This session will explore these issues and involve brainstorming the early phase of setting up as an independent publisher.

Moderators: Stefan Tobler (Publisher, And Other Stories) and Laura Jones (Co-founder and publisher, 404 ink)


A Global Perspective: What opportunities exist to increase the visibility of publishers and writers abroad?

Are there opportunities awaiting northern publishers outside of the UK? How do we increase visibility of writers and publishers abroad? What are the potential revenue streams and how can publishers make connections in markets across the world? 

Moderators: Sasha de Buyl (Manager, Scottish Books International) in conversation with Fiona Brownlee (International Rights Agent) and Andrea Joyce (Rights Director, Canongate)

Getting Noticed: Marketing Strategies & Sales

What does it take to get noticed in today’s modern publishing industry? Without the massive budgets of the Big 5, how do northern publishers get their work seen by a wider audience? Exploring areas such as the power of digital marketing and access to bookshops both online and on the high street, this discussion will aim to give northern publishers ideas on how to make themselves visible.

Moderators: Catherine Taylor (Editor, writer, critic and PR and marketing consultant) and Sophie O’Neill (Managing Director, Inpress Books)


17:00 – 18:30 | Bound by Books: Networking Drinks

Sponsored by Gardners

Publishing is an industry driven by personal connections. Delegates are invited to enjoy drinks whilst mingling with representatives from across the book world. From booksellers, publicists, editors and literary agents to libraries and arts funding bodies, delegates will be able to book one-to-one appointments with key contacts in the industry. Full details of the appointment schedule will be announced soon and can be booked prior to the event.


21:00 – 23:00 | Unbound with Edinburgh Gin at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square Gardens

Delegates are welcome to join Unbound with Edinburgh Gin, the Book Festival’s literary cabaret in our atmospheric Spiegeltent. The bar is open all night – drop in at any time, grab a drink and enjoy some fine literary entertainment.

Neu! Reekie! Indonesia                                               

On the back of their 2016 tour of Indonesia, Edinburgh’s original cultural noise-makers present some of the most exciting artists from the archipelago. Yoshi Fe, a poet and stand-up tragedian, joins video artist Sinar Ayu Massie, whose 2007 road movie 3 Hari Untuk Selamanya (Three Days for Forever) has become a cult classic, and Benk Riyadi, a poet and activist involved in the Sebumi community. The trio are introduced with the usual panache of hosts and poets Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson.

Supported by Ministry of Education and Culture, Republic of Indonesia and Creative Economy Agency of Indonesia (BEKRAF).


DAY 2 - Sunday 25 August


10:00 – 11:15 | Many Words, Many Voices: Re-thinking Diversity in Publishing.

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will facilitate a conversation with guests around the subject of finding and publishing new diverse voices. Aberdeen-born author Kerry Hudson, author of Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns; Ellah Wakatama Allfrey OBE, Chair of the Caine Prize for African Writing and editor at large of Canongate; Northern-based publisher of Caribbean and Black British writing, Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press, and Professor Claire Squires, Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication, will talk about the value of promoting diversity, the challenges and opportunities as well as ways to better reach readers from these backgrounds.


11:15 – 11:45                                      *COFFEE BREAK*


11:45 – 13:00 | Power Up North: A Manifesto Debate

The UK parliament recently called for new recommendations and policies to address the persistent under-representation of Northern voices in the twenty-first century literary and publishing industries. This unique event will consider new collaborative ways of approaching the challenge of increasing visibility, opportunity and promotion of publishing in the North of England and Scotland. Chaired by Katy Shaw (Professor of Contemporary Writings at Northumbria University) the session will hear from speakers who will each deliver their own manifesto pledge for changes to the future of publishing, providing provocations to be discussed by the panel and the floor alike. In addition, there will be a brainstorming board in situ throughout the Northern Lights weekend, for delegates to express their one big idea on how to expand the influence and prosperity of publishing across borders in the North. Delegate comments will feed into this ideas-sharing event.  

Chair: Katy Shaw (Professor of Contemporary Writings, Northumbria University) Event Participants Claire Malcolm (Chief Executive, New Writing North) Heather McDaid (Co-founder and publisher, 404 Ink) Nathan Connolly (Publishing Director, Dead Ink), James Robertson (Poet, novelist, editor and publisher)

To book your place at the Edinburgh edition of Northern Lights, please email:

The Northern Lights project incorporates a small, discretionary fund, intended to support the participation of independent publishers.

To request financial support towards your attendance at Edinburgh, please email with:

  • Your full name
  • The name of your organisation
  • A short explanation of why you are requesting financial aid
  • The amount you would like to request

Please note that this is a small, finite fund intended to support participation, not to cover all costs; as such the maximum amount awarded will be £100 per delegate, and awards may be less than this amount. Priority will be given to publishers seeking to cross the border in either direction. Otherwise funds will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.