Issue 205
September/October 2018


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Nov 16, 2018
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Book in to the original Book Town

ANYONE WHO knew Wigtown before 1998, the year it became Scotland's Book Town, remembers the failing businesses, empty streets, boarded-up houses and near-derelict County Building. Twenty years on, Wigtown's transformation into a lively centre is plain for all to see and this year's book festival (September 21-30) celebrates the town's reinvention as a literary mecca.

Pundits will discuss the state of Scotland, how it has changed over the past two decades and speculate on what it'll be like in 2038. Artistic director Adrian Turpin has invited the founders to speak of Africa's first book town at Richmond in South Africa's Karoo desert region. In spite of its remote location, Wigtown was an inspiration for this community.

To attract the crowds, book festivals (on the last count, Scotland has over 45) invite big names: this year Wigtown has prize-winning novelists Louis de Berniè res and Patrick Gale, media celebs, Sally Magnusson, Clare Balding and Susan Calman, who shot to fame as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing.

Richard Holloway, ex-bishop of Edinburgh, gets a look in, as do composer James MacMillan, Dumfries & Galloway sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy and Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the Lib Dems. A nod is given to Muriel Spark's centenary. Young people and children are well provided for and on Tuesday, September 25 at 6pm, yours truly will be speaking about The Moss of Cree, a Scottish childhood, her memoir about being brought up on a dairy farm five miles from Wigtown.

Although professionals are in charge, the Festival at Wigtown has, since its beginnings, relied on volunteers and that's what Janette Walkinshaw, Wigtown author of Scottish historical fiction appreciates:

"I love the buzz in the town during the Festival, which helps make all the hard work worthwhile; also the camaraderie with everyone mucking in together. If people could only see the planning beforehand and the running to catch up with crises during the Festival itself!"

As a volunteer and speaker in the Festival, Janette has seen how it has grown since the early days when "it was all local people finding their way."

Comparing Wigtown to other book festivals like Edinburgh, she feels that the latter is a "closed-in event in Charlotte Square, turning its back on the city. In Wigtown, the town is the host with schools, churches and individuals being involved."

As well as the excitement and successes, Janette remembers setbacks and bizarre events – when a taxi mistakenly drove an author to Wigton in Cumbria and, at the eleventh hour, an author cancelling when she learned how far Wigtown was from 'civilisation' and the time when an author was stuck on a plane at Heathrow when he should have been on stage at Wigtown.

One of Janette's jobs has been to meet authors off the train at Carlisle or Dumfries and drive them to Wigtown.

"You have them all to yourself for a good length of time. Some are chatty and others taciturn but with luck, you have an author whose books you have already read!"

Although the events take place under canvas or in the County Building situated at the end of the town square, the weather in late September can be cold and wet.

"There was the time when it rained and rained and rained and the children's tent was flooded out and the covers of each book in the Book Tent curled up with the damp."

The variety of speakers fascinates Janette. "We have more big names now but theirs aren't necessarily our best events. We have all sorts: speakers who may have written only one book, usually an autobiography or a work of non-fiction, and will never write another, but they are as enthusiastically received as any professional writer.

"Not all are good speakers but audiences are very tolerant so long as the speaker makes an effort. An audience soon susses out a person who is just going through the motions."

The launch of Janette Walkinshaw's third novel, Lochleven, will take place on September 16 at 2 pm at the Old Bank Bookshop, Wigtown.

MARY GLADSTONE


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