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25 years of books and festival fun

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By Fiona Reid
Dumfries and West
25 years of books and festival fun

CELEBRATIONS have taken place in Wigtown to mark 25 years since it officially became Scotland’s National Book Town.

Some of those who helped make it possible gathered for the occasion and to remember how it all came about.

And it was noted that the small Galloway community of less than 1000 has undergone a major regeneration since it was given the title on May 16 1998 after beating five others.

The very first Wigtown Book Festival then took place in 1999.

The event has since grown to become one of the UK’s favourites – now running for ten days a year, attracting thousands and offering hundreds of events for adults, young people and children.

In addition, the town is now home to 17 book-related business, including Scotland’s largest second-hand book shop and the country’s only feminist book shop and together all the bookshops stock more than half a million books.

High-profile authors living locally include Shuan Bythell who wrote the Diary of a Bookseller series; Kathleen Hart who wrote the blockbuster Devorgilla Days; and Jessica Fox writer of Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets.

There is a hugely successful Open Book Airbnb where visitors can enjoy a holiday running a book shop, a literary-themed guest house, a

Bookshop Band; and the annual Wigtown Poetry Prize.

It’s all a far cry from the 1990s when the town was in deep economic trouble after the closure of the creamery and distillery which were major employers and when there were 83 properties – some derelict – on the market.

Looking back this week, Sandra McDowall, who was community council secretary then, said: “We spent months putting the bid together and it meant so much to win. The town was so far down at the time and winning gave us back our hope and our confidence. And over the years it’s all just kept on growing. It’s been an amazing journey.”

Anne Barclay was a schoolgirl in 1998 and is now the festival’s operations director. She added: “We owe so much to those who had the foresight to campaign for Book Town status, and to those who have supported, developed and maintained it, helping to create a beautiful and vibrant place to live, work and visit.

“It is a privilege to be part of Wigtown’s story.”

Thoughts are now turning to the 25th annual Wigtown Book Festival which will take place from September 22 to October 1.

Lee Randall, from Edinburgh, is this year’s guest programmer and said: “I’ve been involved in the festival for many years now, and visits to Wigtown are a highlight of my calendar. I’m besotted by the beauty of the town and its bookshops, and the warm welcome for visitors.

“We are really looking forward to an extra special 25th book festival later in the year.”


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