Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wigtown Book Festival

Last week was Wigtown Book Festival, and here's the windswept main street with craft bookbinder Rachel Hazell suitably tousled by her workshop with local school pupils. I love the area, its soft green fertility, old stones, mud flats and the backdrop of the southern uplands. It was a time of gusts through sunshine, setting the leaves dancing just above the surface of roads and paths.

I've been to the festival several times but think this year, their tenth, was perhaps the most exciting programme. I only wish I could have stayed for longer. I started my two days there with an early morning dash to the ancient Cruggleton Church for the launch of Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence. This was a magical event in the hush of candelight, the church reached in its woody copse through a narrow corridor cut through towering maize. Sara's readings and her observations on exploring silence cut through the darkness as a single bird fluttered behind her head. I've been reading the book since I've been home and would highly recommend it for thoughtful writers, readers, walkers, and solitaries. Or perhaps for people whose lives are full of noise but think there might be something else out there. I've felt quite electrified by the accounts of her experiences and the links she draws to other traditions and experiences.

Ian Kelly's illustrated talk from his new biography of Casa Nova was highly entertaining and informative, full of interesting snippets such as his escape from five years' solitary confinement; the trade in 18th century Venice for fake penises when female sopranos had to pass checks to prove that they were castrati; and Casa Nova's observation in his final, sad years that the only prophylactic against anxiety is writing or reading.

As someone said, 'there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes'. For my own event in which I was talking about my walking essays, the audience had to battle in through sheets of rain with inside-out umbrellas, but they made it, wrong or right clothes. I enjoyed this very much and felt privileged to talk about work in progress with the expert help of Sam Kelly in the chair, and a keen audience.

The best author's retreat imaginable awaited us with an open fire, a long table decorated with lilies, and a table offering the best chocolate brownies I've ever tasted from the deli at Whithorn. People came and went before and after their events, exchanging stories, ideas, even writing exercises suggested by the festival's writer in residence, George Anderson. It was hard to leave and get in the car for the long drive home.

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