Yet another Wigtown Book Festival has come and gone in lovely weather. I noticed this interesting car (see pic below) outside one of our bookshops, perfect for the sunshine we had over the whole week of our festival. Who says Scotland isn’t warm and sunny? And there wasn’t a midge to be seen. I love the way Wigtown comes alive at this time. Suddenly it’s harder to find a convenient parking spot, the little supermarket runs out of milk (both unheard of at other times) and the streets are full of people who are clearly not local, walking purposefully in all directions.
The Book Festival gets better, larger and more interesting, with ticket sales rising, each year. There was more variety in subject matter this year I thought and a chance to enjoy a number of less well known writers (at least to me) as well being able to get excited about the big names There was more poetry this year, too, which was great to see. I hope that continues in subsequent years. There are always a couple of workshops, and this year they were organised by staff at Moniak Mhor (www.moniakmhor.org.uk)
Every year huge tents spring up in the centre of Wigtown, to contain books, speakers and audiences as well as stalls selling artwork, handicrafts and local foods, but there are also quirky things that pop up in and around the tents. My favourite this year was ‘The Message Board’ with photographs of our visiting celebs holding chalkboards on which they had written a message. Some messages were admonitions: “Stop making excuses and just go!”, some gave food for thought: “Is a thing lost if you know where it is?” And there were also quotations like this one, a favourite of mine from Emily Dickinson:
I went to hear the poet Liz Lochead reading her poems, which was very entertaining because she has the same wonderful sense of humour when she speaks as when she writes. I managed to get a quick snap of her signing books in the Festival Bookshop after the talk.
I’m rather embarrassed to say that although I’m familiar with many of her poems, I hadn’t realised she had worked with theatrical groups for years and written a few plays. She read us an extract from the beginning of ‘Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off’ and it was funny and spooky and completely riveting. I’ll have to read more of that.
On October 1st I went to hear Thomas Pakenham reading from the latest book in his ‘tree-logy,’ ‘The Company of Trees’. This was also my son’s birthday and as he is head arborist at RHS Wisley I thought it would a great birthday present if I attended the talk, bought the book, got it signed by the great man himself and sent it off to Wisley. (As Thomas Pakenham signed the book for me and we exchanged a few words, he told me he was going to Wisley that weekend. I would love to have asked if he would deliver it for me by hand – but decided that would be way too cheeky)
Anyway, just before I left to catch the bus I checked my timetable, only to realise this bus didn’t stop at Wigtown. I doubted if I could walk there in time, I didn’t feel I could ask a friend to take me and the next bus wasn’t until half way through the talk. So, I did something I haven’t done since I was a teenager: I stuck out my thumb! Eventually someone stopped, a couple who, coincidentally, were going to the same talk. I got to Wigtown with a little time to spare so I dropped into a cafe to recover, from what felt like a close shave, and saw this sign.
I must say the coffee worked a treat.
For me, the highlight of the festival was meeting the artist-in-residence this year, Gill White, and hearing about her art project, the ‘Pop-Up Story’, designed for people to be able to share and swap stories both during the Book Festival and when she returns to Wigtown for next year’s Spring Fling. Her work is designed with the intention that “people will interact, either by walking through it, adding to it, or taking parts away” Find out more on her website and blog at http://www.gillwhite.com.
You don’t really get an opportunity to speak to the writers, other than a brief exchange when they are signing a book for you, but you can learn so much from the artists, always enthusiastic and welcoming and happy to answer questions. I love this because it makes me feel included; really part of the festival, rather than listening to an elevated speaker from a chair at the back of a tent. Though that can be good too.
My next post will cover the workshop on Challenging Reality that I mentioned above and then it will be time to return to my Writers Repair Kit posts, which, after all, is the point of this blog. I realize it’s been quite a while since I did any and I am hoping there will be quieter periods over the winter, with fewer demands on my time, to be able to create a series of helpful posts.