ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View


You know, there's nothing like enjoying a good book when you're on vacation. And if you really like reading to relax, what would be a better place to visit than an entire literary city? In Scotland, the small community of Wigtown has become known in the UK as a town for books, hosting an array of book launchings and signings throughout the year. And every September, it celebrates literature with a festival, featuring authors from around the world. But as Adam Fowler discovered, it's not the kind of event you'll find in the hushed halls of your local library.

by Adam Fowler

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

If you've been to the Edinburgh Festival, you'll know it's not actually one festival but several. For instance, if you manage navigate the crowds and the bagpipers on the streets you may well find yourself at the Edinburgh book festival. But the nation's capital doesn't have it all its own way, as far as the printed word goes, as Adam Fowler discovered when he visited a festival town that has been re-developed especially in celebration of books. This festival features authors well known throughout the UK and one or two who are famous farther afield. Oh, and the bagpipers have been replaced by something just a little less traditional.


I've got the book festival brochure in my hand. It features people such as Sir Ludovic Kennedy, going to be here; James Kelman; Alastair Reid, coming over from New York. But this is not the Edinburgh International Festival - I'm actually in Wigtown and this is the brochure for their second Scottish Booktown Festival because Wigtown is Scotland's booktown. It's a small place, I'm standing in the town square surrounded by business premises on all four sides: eighteen of which, and that's most of which, are bookshops.

Wigtown is full of surprises and not just live jazz. Like people dancing to it in the square. How often does that happen at a book festival? And it's not just the grown ups who have all the fun, the children get to meet their favourite authors too. Like writer Mairi Hedderwick, who shared one or two other things the visitor might find surprising in this area of Dumfries and Galloway, if they manage to find Wigtown at all that is.

Mairi: They'll find a forgotten part of Scotland and it is unexplored territory. Many many villages and communities are as they've been for years and years.

Adam: When I came down I expected a book town, book festival, I don't know, I suppose I expected rather studious looking adults clutching books and having deep and meaningful conversations. Quite a surprise to walk in and hear the shouting and the laughter of children but that's something you obviously very much encourage.

Mairi: Oh, indeed, and this community here, I mean the actual people who live in the area, are very involved in it too. It's a community enterprise this book town.

Alastair Reid has come all the way from his desk at the New Yorker to read his poetry in Wigtown. He was born not far from here where the rolling grasslands meet the sea: a gentle farm landscape known by its Gaelic name as the Machairs. So what's the attraction for someone who has spent most of his life away from Scotland writing in Spain and Latin America and the United States.

Alastair: It's the smells, that I know the names of all the farms, in fact on the internet now whenever they ask you for a password I always put in the name of a farm in the Machairs because nobody else has taken it. So it's very much with me, so I come back here not so much from any sense of duty but from pure pleasure and also I'm very keen on what's going on in Wigtown. I think it's amazing.

Adam: With the book festival, how important is it to Wigtown, or a town, to have this kind of focus.

Alastair: Well the amazing thing is it's brought the whole town to life, everybody, because, I mean, when I would tell people where I came from they'd say, oh, we've never been there. And there was no reason to go there before. Now we've provided a reason so it's just the general coming to life of a place that was moribund before.

Adam: If they come here for the book festival can they go wider afield into the surrounding countryside, will they find names, will they find references that they're familiar with through literature?

Alastair: I'm not too keen on that. I just hope they don't discover it too rapidly. I'd like it to remain a secret. It's always been my secret world I think and I keep it that way.


The countryside around Wigtown might not be quite on the same scale as, say, that of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland but you only have to come a mile or two out of town to find yourself beside rivers and in forests and in the shadow of mountains. Don't tell Alastair Reid I told you this, but it's a little pocket of Scotland well worth discovering. From the Wigtown book festival I'm Adam Fowler for the Savvy Traveler.


Savvy Resources:

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy