We take a peek at the lineup as Scotland's National Book Town prepares to celebrate the event's 20th anniversary
Feted far and wide as Scotland's National Book Town, Wigtown was not always so well-known for its literary connections. The spark of change came in 1998, when the closure of the local distillery (happily, now producing whisky again) and the creamery in nearby Bladnoch prompted several key players in the area to champion Wigtown as a Book Town. Now, as it marks its 20th anniversary, the Wigtown Book Festival is celebrating the milestone with a sophisticated programme of almost 300 events spread over ten days.
Artistic director Adrian Turpin says: 'What we've done this year is whittle down the number of themes we cover so we can have a bloody great party for our 20th birthday.' The revelries range from The Making of a Book Town, which brings together some of the key figures in Wigtown's transformation, to panel discussions like Europe's Future and The Future of Technology, which ask what the next 20 years may hold.
Two guests of honour, literature professor Darryl David and Canadian vet Peter Baker, are flying in to discuss how Wigtown inspired them to create a Book Town in the run-down little sheep town of Richmond, South Africa. Closer to home, Shaun Bythell will celebrate the adventures of Diary of a Bookseller, a memoir chronicling life as a grumpy second-hand bookseller in Wigtown, published last year. Elsewhere, big names like Susan Calman, Sally Magnusson, Patrick Gale, Ann Cleeves and Clare Balding will all be making appearances at the festival.
Wigtown itself will be having something of a transformation, as Astrid Jaekel, previously artist in residence for Wigtown Book Festival and Spring Fling 2013/14, returns for a new project, If These Walls Could Talk. She's taken 20 local stories and is producing three to four-metre-high illustrations to be placed on the buildings featured in the tales.
Of course, the area is also home to some stunning natural beauty spots and Turpin says that not only are these reflected and included in the programme through tours and unusual event venues, but that 'one of the things I always say to people coming down here is to take time out to explore, even if that means leaving the book festival!'
There's plenty for young people to enjoy too, especially the 'festival within a festival' WTF. Aimed at (and run by) 13–25 year olds, this strand began in 2012 when it became clear that for the children who'd grown up with the festival as part of their lives, there came a point in their early teens when events aimed at them dried up. Turpin explains: 'WTF was developed as a way to fill that hole. It's peer-programmed by a group that, with a little bit of help and support, follow their own interests and put it together.'
Young people under 26 – locals and visitors alike – can also book free tickets to most events in the main programme, while those younger still can look forward to the freshly redesigned children's strand, Big Wig. Turpin describes it as 'something that will grow in future years and will have a bit of silliness attached in one way or another'.
The big birthday year is a good time to reflect on Wigtown's successful reinvention, especially in two decades that have seen the internet revolution and the rise of online giants like Amazon. 'I think that the people who first set up and championed the Book Town always tried to bring Wigtown with them,' says Turpin. They did this by working with bookshops, venues, accommodation providers and the community (there are now around 100 volunteers who help out during the festival and throughout the year) to try and create an organic change that was always respectful and celebratory of the town's history.
Now more than ever, the town, its stories and its heritage are front and centre in the festival's programme; and of course, in this anniversary year, there are plenty of opportunities for a good knees up – and rightly so.
An established and celebrated feature in the Scottish literary calendar attracting many big names. For ten days Scotland’s National Book Town buzzes with book events as well as theatre, music and site-specific events in quirky venues. A dedicated Children's Garden hosts events for younger readers.