Local Heroes

20 September 2022

As Wigtown prepares to welcome visitors to the Book Festival, Galloway remains front and centre of the celebrations, writes artistic director Adrian Turpin

Did you know that 2022 is Scotland’s Year of Stories, a nationwide celebration of tales inspired by or created in Scotland? It’s a central theme of this year’s Wigtown Book Festival - which is more than peppered with tales of Dumfries & Galloway, old and new.

It’s been a long road through Covid and, as other events have found, bringing audiences back takes time. But we’re happy that this year’s book festival is looking a lot more like its old self. From the opening night party to the ceilidh and The Kist makers’ market, some old favourites have been restored. The big tent is back, on a new site at the primary school. And there’s renewed anticipation in seeing a packed marquee for the likes of Robert Harris, Andrew Cotter or Ricky Ross. Wigtown welcomes the world again.

But it’s also stories close to home that are likely to make up some of the most memorable events this autumn. The festival even kicks off with a special event offering two new version of local legends - Hugh McMillan’s “sequel” to William Nicholson’s The Brownie of Blednoch and novelist Karen Campbell's short story Down by the Lake, which draws inspiration from the story of the Black Loch, and the tale of how the McCullochs came to possess Cardoness.

Karen has become a stalwart of the book festival, and she will also be talking about her novel Paper Cup (described as a love letter to Galloway) - it even features a scene at the book festival. A well-kent face in the region, Sally Hinchcliffe returns with her Gothic thriller, Hare House, set in a crumbling country mansion. Equally familiar is bookseller Shaun Bythell, who introduces the fourth set of his bestselling diaries, the wryly titled Remainders of the Day.

As ever, we’ll be getting out and about, walking in the footsteps of John Buchan, Dorothy L Sayers and St Ninian, popping to the distillery to learn about the history of Bladnoch in a unique tasting, or exploring the true stories behind Sara Sheridan’s novel The Fair Botanists In a special event at Castle Kennedy Gardens.

History is never far away. Barholm’s Janet Brennan-Inglis will be exploring the story of Scotland’s castles - a passion she has devoted years to - while the Whithorn Trust Event, “Bishops, Bones and Burials” will reveal for the first time the faces of the inhabitants of medieval Whithorn. The latest Undiscovered Treasures event presents new writing inspired by the Devil's Porridge Museum and the history of the munitions factory at Gretna. Elsewhere National Museums curator Fraser Hunter discusses south-west Scotland’s early history.

Three memoirs by writers with local connections stand out. Vanessa Martin recalls her time as a senior nurse at Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. Castle Douglas-based filmmaker Sarah Thomas talks about The Raven’s Nest, her love letter to Iceland and its ecology, while an undoubted highlight will be the launch of Wilma and David Finlay’s moving account of their personal and professional struggles as they tried to establish the “ethical dairy” at Cream o’ Galloway.

And, if you’ve had enough of words, visitors can luxuriate in period musicians The Galloway Consort’s latest show or the massed strings of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra. The latter are back at the festival for the first time in a decade with a special concert inspired by Year of Stories and their locally educated co-founder, John Mason.

Finally, with so much focus on Galloway, what better way to end than with a tribute to a man who did more than anyone to preserve the region’s heritage and tradition, the much-loved teacher and historian Jack Hunter? Expect a packed marquee as his life and work is remembered among his friends and admirers.

View the programme at www.wigtownbookfestival.com