The lighter side of dark

Art historian Elizabeth Cumming held center stage in the County Buildings on Tuesday morning talking about the Scottish arts and crafts movement.'GG 0210012 12
Art historian Elizabeth Cumming held center stage in the County Buildings on Tuesday morning talking about the Scottish arts and crafts movement.'GG 0210012 12

Linda McDonald Brown 
and Jayne Baldwin

There may be a dark theme to this year’s Wigtown Book Festival but, as everyone knows, where there is dark there is usually light, and festival-goers didn’t have too long to wait for an hour of laughter and amusement.

What do you say when someone asks you for a children’s book called “Lionel Richie and the Wardrobe”?

That was the predicament young poet Jen Campbell found herself in when she worked in an Edinburgh bookshop. And that wasn’t the only odd question she found herself having to answer. In fact, there were so many that she began to blog about them and share the funniest on Twitter.

Through the magic of social media this led to a book deal and the result is “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops”.

In discussion with critic Stuart Kelly, Jen revealed that when she tweeted for contributions from other bookshop staff, she was relieved to receive a flood of them. “I had begun to wonder if I was some kind of magnet for the oddest inquiries,” she admitted.

The quirky questioners do seem to have followed her, though, from Edinburgh to her new job at London bookshop Ripping Yarns. She told the Wigtown audience how a young child had recently asked if a cupboard in the shop led to Narnia as the wardrobe at home had proved to be useless because it came from Ikea.

There were also quite a few lighter moments in Brooke Magna’s talk on “The Sex Myth: Why everything We’re Told is Wrong”.

Brooke was exposed by the media as the author of the anonymous sex blog Belle de Jour which was later adapted into a tv series starring Billie Piper. The audience sat spellbound as Brooke used her expertise as a PhD research scientist and statistician to argue that almost all of our received ideas about sex make no sense.

The Dark Skies theme got off to a roaring start with a fascinating talk from Lee Graham last Friday. Lee is a project integration manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and his experiences of working for 30 years in the space industry kept the packed audience enthralled. His talk is the first in a year-round series of Wigtown Lectures on the theme of “Small World, Big World: The Individual and the Globalised Society”.

Darkness could be considered to be very much a feature of convicted killer Myra Hindley’s life. Jean Raf­fety, a journalist, talked about her controversial novel Myra, Beyond Saddleworth to Stuart Kelly.

Jean, who keeps in touch with Ian Brady, discussed what Myra’s life might have been like had she not come in contact with Brady, the type of person she was and explored guilt and the power to change.

A packed room was also waiting for art historian Elizabeth Cumming, who was in Wigtown to discuss The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland.

Elizabeth talked about how a close-knit group of artists, designers and industrialists committed themselves to finding a proper place for art in a modern society. Elizabeth explained how through public art, church craft, ceramics, pottery and exhibitions, the arts and craft movement changed the lives of ordinary Scots and brought beauty to everyday life.

A changing Scotland was also very much part of the talk by journalist Trevor Royle on Monday when he discussed Scotland’s role in the Second World War. It was a subject close 
to many of the audience’s hearts with quite a few questions been asked at the end.

The festival continues to October 7.