Wigtown Book Festival was set up to help regenerate one of rural Scotland’s most economically-challenged regions.
Now, with the 25th annual event soon to start, it is providing a national showcase for the region’s writers and storytellers and does much to highlight the area’s heritage, culture, wildlife and countryside.
This year there are an abundance of opportunities to hear Galloway authors and poets present their work, to find out more about its archaeology and history, to see locally-created films, and take walks to discover its wildlife and literature
Adrian Turpin, Wigtown Book Festival Artistic Director, said: “Galloway is a region that’s brimming over with creative talent, has breath-taking landscapes, plus an astonishingly rich heritage and culture.
“The festival has always been as much about showcasing Galloway to the wider world as it has been about bringing in the best contemporary authors, journalists, scientists, poets, Illustrators, academics and others into Wigtown.
“And with this being our 25th event we are more determined than ever to provide a platform for the best of Galloway and is a chance to enjoy everything from inspiring writers and films to walks, talks, poetry and music.”
Starting in 1999, a central aim of the festival has been to help drive regeneration across a highly rural area which has seen a steep decline in its traditional industries.
In that time it has generated over £50 million for the regional economy and each year more than 10 times the town’s population (of just under 1,000) come along to enjoy the event.
Below are some of the Galloway-related events and activities at this year’s festival.
Books and Authors
Galloway: The Lost Province. Michael Ansell & Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh: A bold new collection of essays exploring Gaelic language in Galloway proves that the region was once a stronghold of the language. Michael Ansell uses his unrivalled knowledge of local terrain to explore how the Gaelic names of hills and mountains have been adulterated in the process of anglicisation. Professor Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh will discuss the rich Gaelic legacy of the local Galloway Scots language, demonstrating that it’s likely that Gaelic survived in this region until as late as the 17th or 18th centuries, possibly into the 19th.
Devorgilla, Queen of Galloway. Mairi Kidd: Mairi Kidd discusses a new story researched and written specifically to explore Galloway’s Gaelic heritage. In telling us the story of Devorgilla, builder of Sweetheart Abbey, mother of a king, and one of Scotland’s most powerful women of her era, she also focuses on the challenges involved in understanding a period so distant from our own.
Wheen. Stuart Paterson: Links between Galloway and Northern Ireland date back centuries, and Wheen is part of an ongoing effort to rebuild and regrow connections that are still very much alive on both sides of the water. There are more than 100 poems in the book: Stuart will share some of these poems, full of the vibrant Ayrshire Scots of his Kilmarnock childhood, and seasoned with the distinctive cadence of Galloway where he now lives.
Queen K. Sarah Thomas: Galloway-born Sarah Thomas’ debut, Queen K, has earned rave reviews. Inspired by her own experience of working for the super-rich, her withering take on privilege and corruption reveals the ugly truth about the lives of plutocrats, and is set against the background of Moscow’s elite, and the dizzying glamour of European resorts.
The House that Sugar Built. Donna Brewster: Donna Brewster’s curiosity was piqued when she lived in what was then called Barbadoes Villa. The House the Sugar Built is a fictionalised account of the life of Margaret McGuffie and of merchant Captain McGuffie. He returned to Wigtown from Barbados as a rich man, bringing his daughter, a free woman of colour. Her story encompasses the sugar trade, slavery, and life for a mixed-race woman in Victorian rural Scotland.
When I First Held You. Anstey Harris: Dumfries & Galloway-based author Anstey Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool, and the search for her birth family inspired her new novel. When I First Held You explores the scandal of forced adoptions which saw thousands of babies who were born to unmarried mothers between the 1950s and the 1970s removed and placed with families deemed more suitable.
John Keats and Me. Hugh McMillan: Accompanied by his friend Charles Armitage Brown, and on a tight budget, John Keats arrived in Dumfries on 1 July 1818. The friends tramped furiously across Dumfriesshire and Galloway, recording their feelings in poems, letters and journals. A great lover of Burns, Keats loathed the cult already blooming after the poet’s death, almost coming to blows with the newly appointed curator of his birthplace. The next three years saw the greatest flowering of Keat’s poetry. Hugh McMillan takes us on a journey to examine the role Galloway played in that, as he attempts to retrace their route, responding with humour and respect via his own poetry.
The Southlight magazine launch: Southlight, the literary magazine for Dumfries & Galloway, publishes the best of new poetry and short stories alongside black-and-white prints and photography. Join the editors and contributors as they launch the new edition.
Spotlight on D&G Writers: This year we are showcasing local authors – with three of them reading from their own work on weekday mornings. The line-up is Kriss Nichol, Anne Dunford, and Lydia McMillan, Grace Brown, William Perks, Anthony Perks, Ken Barlow, Helen Ryman, Lindsay Banks, Tim Cowen, David Clark and Sarah Burchett-Cook.
Stella: In her feature film, Stella, Wigtown-based filmmaker and author Jessica Fox has reimagined the oldest folk versions of the story of Cinderella, exposing a little-known moment in Scottish history, when Dumfries & Galloway became a centre of support for fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Filmed on location at Galloway House in 2022, it won multiple awards. Starring Gary Lewis and Susan Vidler. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Jessica.
Doorstep to Dark Skies: An immersive, sensory based short film (created by local young artist Helena Cochrane and supported by DGU’s Emergents Fund) that uses visuals, sound, scents, and props to replicate the experience of being under a sea of stars in Galloway Forest Park. It has been made to raise awareness of the importance of preserving these areas while making the night sky accessible to those who may be unable to travel into the forest to experience it for themselves. It aims to give people a door to the night sky – something everyone should witness.
Into the Nicht. Dan Richards and Elizabeth Tindal: A unique night-time walk mixing acoustic art, music and literature led by writer and adventurer Dan Richards and Dark Sky Ranger Elizabeth Tindal. Join the pair as they explore the nature, sounds and stories of Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, and on up into the starry night sky. A Scottish adventure featuring the voices of poets, astronomers, astronauts, broadcasters, and writers beaming-in across time and space. An immersive celebration of the local and the interstellar shot through with tales and tunes from this most storied part of the world.
Birds and a Bard. Paul Tarling & John Atkinson: Paul Tarling, warden for the RSPB’s Crook of Baldoon Nature Reserve, and local poet John Atkinson, team up to offer this bird walk with a difference. As you listen out for autumn birdsong amid Wigtown’s beautiful surroundings, John will read poems inspired by our avian neighbours.
Bookshops and Back Stories. Ben Please and Shaun Bythell: Discover Wigtown’s bookshops and some of their owners, and to learn about the town with Shaun Bythell (proprietor of The Bookshop, and author of the bestselling Diary of a Bookseller series) and Ben Please (musician, composer, film editor, designer, and music producer, and one half of The Bookshop Band).
Dorothy L. Sayers in Kirkcudbright Walk: Take a gentle stroll around charming Georgian streets in the elegant 1930s footsteps of glamorous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. His creator, Dorothy Sayers, used Kirkcudbright’s vibrant artistic community as the centrepiece of her detective novel Five Red Herrings, a love-letter to Dumfries & Galloway.
The Princess Victoria Disaster. Elaine Barton: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Victoria, with the loss of 135 lives. The grief is still felt heavily, particularly in the communities of Stranraer and Larne. Elaine Barton explains what happened on that fateful day, and the stories behind some of those who were lost. It is also the 25th anniversary of the late Jack Hunter’s book, The Loss of the Princess Victoria. The event will be introduced by Jack Hunter’s son, Fraser.
Tales from the Punt. Peter Cockrell. Soldiers, diarists, writers, fishermen: the history of Wigtownshire’s wild-fowling is full of remarkable individuals, from larger-than-life actor James Robertson Justice and novelist Gavin Maxwell, to conservationist and artist Sir Peter Scott. Peter Cockrell, who has restored the punt used by the actor Robertson Justice, brings to life hardship, humour and tragedy on the Solway over 150 years.
Skeleton Keys: Using Archaeology to Unlock Whithorn’s Past. Dr Adrian Maldonado and Dr Shirley Curtis Summers: For five years archaeologists have been investigating evidence of early medieval life in Whithorn. Now they can disclose some of the exciting insights they’ve achieved, bringing the past closer than ever before.
A’ The Way to Galloway. Jo Miller and Neil Sutcliffe: Performances from a new album of Galloway music, based on Jo’s research into local songs, interviewing residents and exploring historical sources to investigate the region’s musical culture. A’ the way to Galloway features a selection of tunes from the 18th century to the present.
The Bookshop Band In Concert: Wigtown’s own internationally acclaimed and award winning group The Bookshop Band perform a unique concert of songs inspired by books. Fresh out of the studio with Pete Townshend, and hot off the heals from composing for the Oscar nominated musical Robin Robin, the band’s concerts will transport you to a world of stories you will want to read after the show.
Despite the Wind and Rain. Aaron Jones and Rachel Walker: A selection of songs telling the tales of a host of remarkable Scottish women. Spanning centuries of Scottish history, these songs are in both Gaelic and English and cover a range of topics including suffrage, emancipation, endeavour, discovery, and women’s rights.
A Wedding in Ferrara, 1502. The Galloway Consort: A musical tribute to two great Renaissance ladies and patrons of music, arts, and literature, Isabella d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia. Captured just at the point when Lucrezia married Alfonso d’Este, a union negotiated by the powerful Borgia pope and an unwilling Ercole d’Este, father of Isabella and the groom. Fans of Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait may be especially interested as it concerns the women featured in the novel.