South-West Scotland has much to recommend it. First off, it’s part of Scotland which is, itself, no bad thing at all. Second, it has some beautiful countryside, both along the coast (of which there is quite a lot) and inland. Third? Well, there are countless other things I could probably list, but if you’re a bookish sort like me, one of the major highlights is Wigtown.
Situated on the Machars peninsula, around 50 miles west of Dumfries, Wigtown is Scotland’s Book Town. Sort of a Scottish equivalent of Hay-on-Wye, if you will. It has numerous second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, some rather nice bits and bobs of architecture, a long and interesting history and, at this time of year, it becomes a thronging metropolis of authors, publishers, editors, critics and literary bods of every conceivable stripe. For ten days, the Wigtown Book Festival bursts into life and makes the whole town even more bookish than usual (if that is possible). There are talks, tours, workshops, literary pub quizzes, concerts and all manner of entertainments (usually related to books in some fashion, of course). As well as a packed programme of events for adults, there is also a thriving young-adult side to the festival and even stuff for the kiddies. All in all, it’s a wonderful feature of the local calendar and always has something interesting to offer.
It usually falls over the last weekend of September and first week of October, so this year’s festival began last Friday (27th) and runs until this coming Sunday (6th). If you’re anything like me, you would find it very easy to lose a full ten days of your life to it, attending events all day, every day from breakfast until supper time. You’d also probably find that – even though the various talks and other sessions are very reasonably priced (and, in some cases, completely free) – you’d put quite a dent in your bank account by the end of it all. So, unless you happen to be blessed with a healthy supply of spare time and spare cash, it usually makes sense to do a bit of picking and choosing when it comes to what you want to attend.
This year, I chose half a dozen sessions to attend and have enjoyed learning more about:
- Icelandic Sagas and the ongoing impact of epic European literature (Nicholas Jubber, Epic Continent)
- The importance of questioning (or, at least, thinking carefully about) perceived ideas (Peter Cave, The Myths We Live By)
- The history of Spain (Jason Webster, Violencia)
- The quirks and hazards of the bookselling life (Shaun Bythell, Confessions of a Bookseller)
- Oscar Wilde (Matthew Sturgis, Oscar)
All of them were interesting, all of them taught me some things I didn’t know and all of them were entertaining. I would recommend any of the above books which are available from all good booksellers (including the half-ton gorilla in the room, Amazon) but I’ve provided links to them on The Book People. This is largely out of respect for Shaun Bythell, proprietor of The Book Shop in Wigtown, now a best-selling author himself, an all round good egg (don’t tell him I said that!) and a man who, as an independent book seller, has a love-hate (well, mainly hate really) relationship with Amazon. (Although I do confess to using Amazon for all sorts of stuff – very useful when living somewhere a bit remote – I wouldn’t even dream of pointing anyone in the direction of Amazon in this particular post!)
So if you’re a bookish type and are looking for your next literary festival fix, try a jaunt out into the wilds of south-west Scotland. You might be surprised what you find there! You’ve only got a couple of days before it wraps up again for this year, but it’ll be coming around again at the end of next September and I’m prepared to bet there’ll be more good, fun and fascinating stuff to see.