ONE of Scotland’s most beloved book festivals is set to get underway on Friday.

Wigtown Book Festival is running for 10 days in Scotland’s national book town in Dumfries and Galloway with a wide variety of authors set to appear at more than 200 events.

This includes writers of fiction and non-fiction across numerous genres with Outlander star Graham McTavish set to appear as well as Scottish author Christopher Brookmyre.

Speaking to The National, the festival’s director Adrian Turpin said: “This is a place where reading, writing and literature are valued more than a lot of other places.

READ MORE: Wigtown Book Festival 2022 unveils 200-event line-up including Graham McTavish

“We want to keep promoting this idea that there’s something special about books and the climax of that is the Wigtown Book Festival.

“This is the Year of Stories, and we feel that as Scotland’s book town, we should be at the heart of that.”

Whilst things will look more normal for festivalgoers this year than last, Turpin says they’re still rebuilding from the impact of Covid.

He said: “Last year we had a hybrid festival, but it was very scaled down and was all very socially distanced.

“Things aren’t going to be exactly the same, like most arts organisations across the country we’re rebuilding after Covid so it will take a while I think to get audiences and volunteers back.

“All of us are thinking we might be rebuilding for years. We’re trying to create a festival that feels like we’ve gone back to where we were before Covid.”

The festival runs from September 23 to October 2. Turpin said that there will also be a focus on ensuring that stories created within the region are celebrated.

READ MORE: Graham McTavish reflects on love of Scotland, House of The Dragon and Outlander

He added: “We use the word celebrate all the time and that’s what this is about. It’s about making visible some of the writing that perhaps hasn’t got so much recognition in the past couple of years and bringing people together."

Celebration of local literature

The festival will help to celebrate the centenary of Willie Neill, often regarded by admirers as southern Scotland’s finest poet since the great Rabbie Burns.

Two well-known contemporary poets, Hugh McMillan and Stuart Paterson, have co-edited an anthology of work celebrating Neill’s contributions titled The Leaves of the Years.

“Neill’s a tri-lingual poet and was fluent in Gaelic and English as well as his native Scots, he worked nearly all his life in south-west Scotland," McMillan told The National.

He added: “The reason we produced this book is not only because we think he’s very important but because he’s somewhat neglected in the great scheme of things and we felt if we didn’t bring out some kind of memoir for him then nobody would.

The National: Hugh McMillan co-edited a new book about Willie NeillHugh McMillan co-edited a new book about Willie Neill (Image: Agency)

“He’s always been a lot more undervalued than he should be.”

Neill's poetry took in a wide variety of topics and included translations of Homer and Horace. 

McMillan notes there are a couple of reasons for the lack of recognition awarded to Neill, who he describes as an “independent nationalist”.

He was a founding figures of the Heretics, a literary group set up in Edinburgh in opposition to the Arts Council which supported the elites of the day. 

“I don’t think he did the networking stuff very well, but he spent his writing life in Dumfries and Galloway rather than going to the writing powers of the Central Belt”, McMillan explains.

As a result of his dedication to his local area, much of Neill's work was published in booklets and pamphlets although selected works were released by Canongate in 1994. 

Neill saw the protection of Scotland’s languages as both a cultural and political imperative.

He was once quoted as saying: “I coudna see hou I culd possibly be a Scotsman an no ken Gaelic.”

McMillan continued: “He felt the indigenous languages of Scots and Gaelic were every bit as important as English if not more.”

The new book is comprised of a series of memoirs from writers all across Scotland who knew about Neill and wanted to pay tribute to him.

McMillan said: “The original idea was to ask a whole lot of writers who wanted to mark Neill and who knew his reputation to choose one of his poems and then write a poetical response of their own.

“Some of the folk have done that but others have done it more as a memoir, it’s a right old mix and match, there’s also some academic essays but other stuff just remembering what he was like, including people who worked with him and had contact with him away from his life as a writer.”

“Wigtown has done a great turn for Dumfries and Galloway, not just because it brings folk in but it has always concentrated on local writers and talent and played a real part in encouraging current writing in the area. I’m really excited for it to be released there.”

“Willie would probably be quite sardonically pleased that this has been written by people from the area.”