Festival wants writer to retell stories of Dumfries & Galloway, a news story said last week. And so we do. But it’s not simply about tipping old wine into new bottles.
The inspiration for the new commission came from Borgue-born John Mactaggart – 19th century university drop-out, sometime canal-builder but, most importantly, author of The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopaedia, a compendium of local knowledge so full of scandal, rumour and gossip about Galloway that he was practically drummed out of town. It probably explains why he ended up in Canada.
Defamation laws have changed since 1824, and we’ve no desire to be sued. But we do like the irreverence, humour and lateral-thinking that Mactaggart brought to his book – all qualities that exist in spades in the region.
Straight local history is best left to local historians. For the completist, there’s Wikipedia and the like. What we’re looking for, instead, is an original piece of writing that can stand on its own two feet inside and outside the region. If Mactaggart’s ghost haunts the commission, so do the shades of WG Sebald and Sir Thomas Browne.
Old stories are likely to be a big part of the work that emerges. But I hope it will also address the question of what makes a contemporary myth: the kind of yarn that’s recounted every day – in pubs, by firesides and over kitchen tables throughout the region. Mactaggart didn’t neglect the rich potential for story-telling offered by his own age. I hope that whoever takes up this challenge won’t either.
(For further details and how to apply, please go to http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/year-round.)
Adrian Turpin, Festival Director