Edinburgh International Book Festival Partners with Scottish Prisons Service

& Fife College to Create Author Events in Scotland’s Prisons

Organisers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival announced a series of author events in Scotland’s prisons in a partnership with the Scottish Prison Service and Fife College.  Ten authors including Scottish model Eunice Olumide, thriller writer Matt Wesolowski, YA writer William Sutcliffe and children’s author Gary Northfield will be visiting nine prisons including HMP Cornton Vale, HMP Barlinnie, HMP Polmont and HMP Perth this month.

The authors will be meeting and working with male and female groups as well as young people in a series of lively and interactive events giving those in custody the opportunity to share their own stories through creative writing exercises and group activities.   A number of the participating authors have had challenging life experiences themselves and use writing as a way of navigating and reflecting on these experiences. Kerry Hudson’s book Lowborn explores her own upbringing in some of Britain’s poorest towns and her own life trajectory away from these circumstances.    There will also be family events for all ages, giving parents a chance to spend time with their children in a positive and encouraging environment. 

Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said “Our prisons programme is extremely important both to the Book Festival and the participating authors.  Our partnership with SPS and Fife College gives us the chance to engage with those in custody than ever before, offering them the opportunity to meet and talk to authors who may surprise and challenge their view of the world.”

James King, Head of Learning & Skills at the Scottish Prison Service, said “The Scottish Prison Service is grateful for the efforts of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and our core learning education service providers Fife College for facilitating an exciting programme of author visits across the prison estate. These events will help support our national Learning and Skills Strategy that seeks to ensure: ‘that everyone in our care has the opportunity to engage in creative and flexible learning that unlocks potential, inspires change and builds individual strength.’

“Opportunities to engage directly with creative writers not only helps inspire those in our care to engage in educational opportunities, it also provides a range of subject matter to inform and challenge individuals stimulating debate and self-reflection for personal development.”

Audrey Mitchell, Head of Prison Contract at Fife College, said “Through Fife College’s partnership with SPS and the Edinburgh International Book Festival to facilitate the delivery of a series of author events, we hope to inspire a wide audience of learners and their families across a number of prison learning centres.

The author visits have been designed to inspire all who experience them.  They have huge potential not only for the development of communication skills and self-reflection, but also in building the confidence of learners, improving their skills set and employment opportunities after release.

Improving literacy in prison through partnerships with the Edinburgh International Book Festival has a hugely positive impact on the reading habits of learners with participants more likely to engage in follow-up activities.  Strong literacy skills remain a key factor in reducing reoffending risks.”

The prison programme of events is supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery and an anonymous benefactor, and the Book Festival is also able to gift several copies of the visiting author's books to each prison library - giving inmates the chance to borrow and read the book following the event. Libraries in prisons are crucial resources, and many inmates are looking for new books and ideas to stimulate them and help them keep in touch with the outside world. 

In previous years, the Book Festival’s prison programme has been described as making those in custody “feel human for a while” and helping them to “feel like a family again”. These events can be genuinely life-altering and have “been found to be one of the main ways to reduce reoffending when a prisoner is released” (Pam Simpson, HMP Grampian). In 2018, 90% of attenders said they felt these prison sessions were ‘important’ or very important’, with 75% saying they were more likely to make use of their prison library service as a result, showing a simple yet powerful positive impact on the day-to-day lives of offenders.