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Worlds of wisdom and fairy forests;Arts;Edinburgh Book Festival;Preview

Gillian Macdonald previews this year's Edinburgh Book Festival, which strikes up new relationships between children and authors

Children's author Pat Moon received a letter from a young boy whose parents split up. He had turned to her novel Nathan's Switch, about a boy's failed attempt to get his mum and dad back together. It made her think. "What is the point of stories? To travel, to be entertained, to escape, to see through different eyes - the list is endless. They also help us to make sense of our lives. And tell us we are not alone."

This anecdote is from The Edinburgh Book Festival Book of Books and Writers, sponsored by The TES Scotland and sent to every primary school in the Central Belt this week. In it some of the top children's authors write about how they got into writing and their relationship with their readers.

The publication illustrates the value of dialogue between writers and readers, and of an event like the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, which brings children and authors together.

Yes, it's fun to meet famous authors. But equally important is the opportunity to exchange ideas, get insights into how authors work and find out how to get into publishing.

"If it works, it can actually change children's lives throughout the rest of the year," says Faith Liddell, the new director of the book festival. "It's as if they almost own the writer."

She is particularly keen to attract schools, because they can bring the uncommitted readers, the ones whose parents might not bring them.

The children's programme for the festival will include old favourites like Michael Rosen and newcomers like J K Rowling, author of the award-winning Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Gillian Rubinstein will be there too. She's "filling football stadiums in Australia" with her Space Demons trilogy about the struggle for supremacy inside a computer game.

Be adventurous, is the message from Faith Liddell: "Take the opportunity to discover new writers. Last year Jo Rowling was virtually unheard of, this year her sessions will be inundated."

New book launches this year include Roger McGough and Brian Patten's Utterly Brilliant Poetry, Jo Rowling's sequel to Harry Potter, two new stories from Joan Lingard, and Lesley Howarth and Mark Oliver's Epix, action stories for 10 to 14-year-old boys with sophisticated graphic cartoons for reluctant readers.

There will be sneak previews too. Lynne Reid Banks, for instance, will read from the next in The Indian in the Cupboard series, due out in 1999. And Jeremy Strong, of The One Hundred Mile-An-Hour Dog, will read from his forthcoming book.

If you're looking for something on the curriculum, there's Richard Dargie on the Vikings and Romans or Jamila Gavin on India. Marcia Williams, author of the comic strip Mr William Shakespeare's Plays, will be "bringing the Globe Theatre to Edinburgh" for ages eight to 11. Anyone wanting suggestions for children's reading can attend daily lunchtime sessions with experts. But if you like the hands-on approach, there are creative writing workshops, and sessions on how writers do their research, making pop-up books and how to write popular fiction.

This year schools can choose from 120 events over nine days. A new mid-morning slot has been added to help those who can't get there for 10am.

The Edinburgh Book Festival runs from August 15-31. For last-minute bookings for the schools programme or copies of the free book or children's programme, ring 0131 228 5444

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