Wigtown Book Festival goes online for 2020 version due to coronavirus pandemic

One of the region’s top tourism events has a new chapter this month.

Wigtown Book Festival is to go online across 10 days from September 24 to October 4 and will feature more than 80 guest authors including Anne Applebaum, Alastair Campbell, Andrew Marr and Maggie O’Farrell.

A limited edition of 100 bottles of the aromatic air from Wigtown’s bookshops will be on sale to raise funds to support the festival which, this year, will also be a digital showcase for local businesses.

And, on the opening evening, there will be the world premier of Ninian’s Gift which is a new song cycle, completed during lockdown, with words by the novelist Alexander McCall Smith and music from composer Tom Cunningham.

The piece reflects on the lives of early Scottish saints, including St Ninian who came by sea to Whithorn near Wigtown in the 4th century.

Last year’s Wigtown Book Festival attracted around 20,000 people to the region and generated £4.2m for the local economy.

Switching to a vitual festival online because of the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers decided to go ahead to support the area and its businesses which will miss out on the influx of festival-goers this year.

Adrian Turpin, the festival’s artistic director, said they are determined that distance will not stop audiences from “savouring the quirkiness, charm and atmosphere of Wigtown” which is home to more than a dozen second-hand and new bookshops which are being championed during the event.

Alastair Campbell is taking part in the online Wigtown Book Festival.
Alastair Campbell is taking part in the online Wigtown Book Festival.

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s events champion, Adam Wilson, has given his support and said: “Great care has gone into the planning of the online Wigtown Book Festival this year. In normal years the mouth-watering line up of writers would have attracted many thousands of visitors to the national Book Town.

“I hope that the festival programme is a source of inspiration to online visitors and that people can come in person to support and enjoy the bookshops of Wigtown soon.”

As well as talks from authors, the online audience can look forward to The Bookshop Band running a daily chat show, daily videos bringing Wigtown’s bookshops to life and films exploring the unique saltmarsh habitat of Wigtown Bay.

Events include a “slow audio” experience of the sounds of Wigtown from Stuart McLean; online whisky tasting from the Bladnoch Distillery; and live online personal shopping at The Open Book – the world’s first Airbnb bookshop.

Mr Turpin said: “Digital technology has been a lifeline during lockdown. But, as anyone who has sat through a morning of Zoom meetings knows, the online world can feel very disembodied.

“Wigtown is a distinctive place and we want to share its character with new and existing audiences in every way we can, putting the town in the public eye, nose and ear.

“The past six months have been a very difficult time and part of our aim is to offer the chance to have some fun.

“But there’s a serious point. The UK’s book festivals – large and small – are remarkable because they each reflect the places in which they take place. We want to cherish that diversity in every way, even at a time when we can’t gather in real life.

Artistic director of Wigtown Book Festival Adrian Turpin at one of the book shops which is being championed.
Artistic director of Wigtown Book Festival Adrian Turpin at one of the book shops which is being championed.

“We also hope that next year we will be able to welcome in person many of those who experience Wigtown for the first time through this digital event.”

Andrew Marr, who will be discussing his forthcoming book, Elizabethans: How Modern Britain Was Forged, said: “I’ve always wanted to go to the Wigtown Book Festival and I am delighted to be taking part, albeit virtually, and look forward to going there in person one day.”

The annual Magnusson Lecture – in honour of Magnus Magnusson and introduced by his daughter, the broadcaster Sally Magnusson – will be delivered by Rosemary Goring who said: “It is an honour to be asked to give the Magnusson Lecture. I never imagined all those years ago when I worked with Magnus that I’d be able to pay tribute to him in this way. And since autumn without Wigtown Book Festival would be unthinkable, it’s terrific that it is going ahead.”

Among the speakers taking part in the are:

■ Novelists – AL Kennedy, Andrew O’Hagan, Juno Dawson, Stuart Turton and Philip Hensher.

■ Broadcasters – Andrew Marr, Carrie Gracie, George Alagiah and Gordon Corera

■ Historians – Neil McGregor and Charles Spencer

■ Nature writers – Helen Macdonald, Dara McAnulty and Patrick Laurie.

■Non-fiction writers – Mark O’Connell, Richard Holloway and Helena Kennedy

■ Poets – Michael Longley, Dean Atta and Inua Ellams

■ World Book Day children’s authors – Pamela Butchart and Sibeal Pounder.

As well as running its own children’s and young adult programmes, Wigtown is one of the participants in Reading Is Magic, an umbrella festival that brings together many of the world’s best children’s book festivals, from Bath to Toronto.

The winners of the Wigtown Poetry Prize 2020 will be announced at the final event of the festival on the evening of Sunday, October 4.

Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: “As one of the country’s unique literary festivals, the team has organised a fantastic 10-day programme that brings Scotland’s national book town to life digitally and EventScotland is proud to be continuing its support of the Wigtown Book Festival to take this year’s event online.”

■ For event details see www.wigtownbookfestival.co.uk.

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