Pullman heads Book Fest line-up

Novelists Philip Pullman and Alexander McCall Smith will be among the big names at this year's Edinburgh Book Festival. Writers Fay Weldon, Louis de Bernieres and UK poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy are also set to appear.

Tickets for the 18-day event, which runs from from August 14 to 30, went on sale this weekend. The festival will be host to 750 writers from 50 countries. Pullman opens the festival, with a debate on his book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

Pullman is best-known for his Northern Lights trilogy of novels that was later made into a film, The Golden Compass starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. Two years ago, The Times named Pullman as one of the 50 greatest British novelists writing since 1945.

McCall Smith, a local author, will be discussing his latest book, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold, on August 24 with actor Andrew Sachs. Sachs is best-known for his portrayal of Manuel, the waiter in TV series Fawlty Towers.

Nearly 250,000 gather in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square for the book festival. Even if you don't have a ticket for any of the events, you can still go into the gardens for free and spend a few hours soaking up the atmosphere and spotting famous faces.

The festival has a popular cafe, two bookshops and the Highland Park Spiegeltent, where you can drink beer and rub shoulders with thirsty writers. The programme features daily debates, discussions, and book launches. An array of children's events take place alongside the adult schedule.

A 2010 book festival highlight will be a short story project. Organisers have commissioned 50 writers to compose stories based on the theme of ‘elsewhere’. Writers AL Kennedy, Michel Faber, Eleanor Thom, Allan Radcliffe and Louise Welsh have already posted the first five pieces on the festival website.

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