Festival putting global on same page as local

Judy Murray is one of the star attractions at the festival. Picture: Marc Atkinsimage
Judy Murray is one of the star attractions at the festival. Picture: Marc Atkinsimage

The 19th annual Wigtown Book Festival promises more than 250 events and welcomes a multitude of authors and famous names.

This year’s festival, from 22 September to 1 October 2017, includes sessions with leading Scottish authors Andrew O’Hagan and Denise Mina; from the world of sport Judy Murray and jockey Declan Murphy; politicians turned writers Roy Hattersley and Alan Johnson; TV presenter Rick Edwards, journalists Martin Bell, Jeremy Bowen, Gavin Esler and Bridget Kendall; and Palme d’Or-winning screenwriter Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake), who grew up in Wigtown and attends the festival for the first time.

Mairi Hedderwick.

Mairi Hedderwick.

The opening evening will see the launch of the Diary of a Bookseller, written by Wigtown bookshop-owner Shaun Bythell. The subject of a bidding war between publishers, the book recounts a year in the life of a secondhand bookshop owner and reads like a cross between George and Weedon Grossmith’s comic classic Diary of Nobody and TV series Black Books. It is one of three books from major publishers to be based in Wigtown and published this year.

At the heart of the 2017 event is a new international strand, World Town, which seeks to bring new voices from abroad to the festival. The programme welcomes overseas writers and commentators to discuss the German elections (24 September) and Catalan referendum (1 October). There are also sessions on the rise of France’s President Macron, the decline of US influence in the world, and how Brexit is seen by our continental neighbours.

As part of this international theme, the Upland/ Spring Fling artists’ residency, now in its 9th year, will welcome Moroccan storyteller Mehdi El Ghaly and photographer Houssain Belabbes to work with their Scottish counterparts Anne Errington and Laura Hudson Mackay.

Together they will be exploring the connection between Moroccan and Celtic storytelling traditions.

Roy Hattersley.

Roy Hattersley.

Artistic director Adrian Turpin comments: “Wigtown welcomes the world. It may be a small town in a remote part of south-west Scotland, but it’s also Scotland’s national book town, visited by an increasing number of book lovers from across the globe, many of whom have chosen to make their homes here.

“You don’t have to live in a city to engage with the wider world, especially now that digital technology allows us all to maintain contacts over large geographical distances. It is possible to be truly global and local.

“We feel that it’s especially important to look outwards at this moment in history. In particular, after the Brexit vote, on both sides of the debate there has been a new urgency to know about our European neighbours.”

Closer to home, the 2017 Wigtown Book Festival also celebrates Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology with Professor Sir Tom Devine.

It also looks at the particular contribution that the south-west of the country has made to Scotland’s national story, from Covenanters and the Galloway Viking Hoard, to the works of historian Thomas Carlyle and engineer Thomas Telford.

Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the 2017 festival will consider technological, social and political revolutions and the forces that drive them, through the works of among others Alec Ryrie (Protestants), Victor Sebestyen (Lenin the Dictator) and Douglas Murray (The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam).

A series of new Walking & Talking events will encourage the exchange of ideas on the hoof, with an aim to refresh the spirit and exercise mind and body.

James Canton will recreate ancient Wigtownshire; author of A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland, leads a silent walk; taking inspiration from poet Harry Giles, writers Robert Twigger and Jessica Fox find new ways to explore the Galloway Forest Park; while author and farmer Rosamund Young will bring to life her cult book The Secret Life of Cows on a local dairy farm.

There’s also plenty to do not centred on books. This year the festival offers film screenings in the County Buildings, a nightly theatre programme at Scotland’s smallest theatre, The Swallow, and a number of visual arts exhibitions. Music includes Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, played by Glasgow’s Auricle Ensemble and the fantastic Commoners Choir, whose songs of revolt and dissent are a central part of this year’s Revolutions theme.

Wine and whisky tastings will be provided by Nikki Welch and Blair Bowman, while the festival also offers a tour of Galloway’s new gin distillery Crafty and ice-cream maker Cream o’ Galloway.

Light relief is provided by comedian turned classicist Natalie Haynes, while the stand-up farmer Jim Smith gives the low-down on rural life. The legendary festival talent competition and ceilidh also return on Saturday 23 September and 30 September respectively.

In a packed children’s programme, Abie Longstaff invites you to check into the Superhero Hotel, Mairi Hedderwick tells us what Katie Morag did next, Tony Bonning reveals folk tales from the region, and spells abound in Sylvia Bishop’s magical bookshop world.

There will be a tea party for tigers and a Mudpuddle Farm drawing session with Shoo Rayner, while Philip Ardagh explores the world of Moominvalley. Popular children’s authors Vivian French and Debi Gliori host a workshop of superheroes and monsters encouraging creative minds to devise a character and story. This year’s programme also introduces for the first time a range of free events on the final Sunday.

A separate young people’s festival, WTF (Wigtown: The Festival) offers more than 25 free events programmed by young people for their peers, aged 13-25. Writers attending will include Cathy Macphail, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Helen Grant and Brian Conaghan, winner of the Costa Children’s Book Award 2016. The young people’s programme also features advice on creating comics from Gary Chudleigh, Alan Grant and John McShane and workshops that include drawing.