News. The Boswell Book Festival

22nd of March, 2017

“There’s nothing more interesting than people’s life stories,” says Caroline Knox. And she should know: since 2010, she has been the founder and director of the world’s only festival of biography and memoir. The Boswell Book Festival, which takes place at Dumfries House each May, serves two purposes: first, it’s an opportunity to bring an impressively broad range of authors to Ayrshire. Last year’s programme included former lifer and prison writer Erwin James, 87-year-old supermodel Daphne Selfe and art expert Philip Mould. “We have stories from all walks of life,” says Knox. “You can find somebody in the festival to interest anybody.”

Second, the event is a celebration of the first modern biographer: Auchinleck-born James Boswell, the 18th-century writer who befriended Dr Samuel Johnson and brought us Life Of Johnson – a book that has survived 220 years without going out of print. “He was such an accessible and wonderful writer,” says Knox. And as he was local to Ayrshire, Dumfries House is the perfect spot to hold an event in his name. “Dumfries House is a beautiful Enlightenment house; you could argue that Boswell complements it so brilliantly because he was the Enlightenment writer who was working 
at the same time, with similarly modern ideas.”

Though this year’s programme is still under wraps, a couple of promising snippets have been revealed. Last year’s winner of the Baillie Gifford prize, the UK’s biggest non-fiction award, will be in attendance: Philippe Sands wrote East West Street, a fascinating history of genocide informed by his experience as a human rights lawyer. Architecture buffs will also be keen to see the writer Jeremy Musson, whose new book profiles Robert Adam, one of the great visionaries behind Dumfries House itself.

The venue has influenced the direction of the festival, Knox says. “We’re thrilled to be there and we’re trying to do things that reflect what Dumfries House is doing – so, for instance, the Children’s Festival takes place in the Morphy Richards Engineering Centre, and this year our theme will be sustainability.”

Tickets for the children’s events are only £1, while adults pay an affordable £8. And even if the Scottish springtime brings rain or snow, says Knox, the show will go on: “What is so wonderful about people in Ayrshire is that even in a hurricane, people turn out in their gumboots – and I love them for it.”

The Boswell Book Festival runs from 12 to 14 May. The programme will be announced on 22 March at boswellbookfestival.co.uk

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