Last week I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to spend a few hours on the opening day of the Wigtown Book Festival. As well as a look round the festival tent and local shops, I managed to squeeze in one event in a packed hall to hear Ursula Buchan, granddaughter of John Buchan (1875 – 1940) give an inspirational and eloquent talk on the life of her grandfather.
Talk about making you feel inadequate! In addition to his illustrious career as a writer, John Buchan was a scholar, war reporter, MP, minister of wartime propaganda and much-loved Governor General of Canada. Happily married and a devoted family man, he lived with debilitating illness for most of his adult life.
It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. John Buchan
I learned that he wrote more than 100 books, and over 1000 articles for newspapers and magazines. Known for his elegant prose, he showed Scotland and the Scots to the world - delighting in its eccentricities.
I believe everything out of the common. The only thing to distrust is the normal.
As a child he was forced to spend 6 months in bed with a head injury following an accident, during which time he was not allowed to read. This experience was pivotal in developing his imagination and no doubt sowed the seeds for his future literary genius. He wrote his most famous novel, The 39 Steps in six weeks while on holiday with his family in Broadstairs, Kent, and when it was published in 1915, it was seen as ideal reading for men in the army stuck in the trenches, and I can understand why.
The 1935 film version of The 39 Steps directed by Alfred Hitchcock had a dramatically altered plot and cost £60,000 to produce. John Buchan received just £800 for the film rights.
As his distinguished diplomatic and political career progressed, he wrote at weekends, and all his writing is still available in print or e-format. In her summing up, Ursula Buchan described her grandfather as wise and courageous. I am still awe-struck that he managed to pack in so much to his life.
I would have been content with any job however thankless, in any quarter however remote, if I had a chance of making a corner of the desert blossom and the solitary place glad.
My one little snapshot can hardly do justice to the 10 day Wigtown Book Festival and its 150 events, but I was delighted to learn from the programme that youngsters were well catered for with 50 Big Wig events for 0 – 13s. Stories, songs, drawing and puppetry! What’s not to like?
For the next age group – 13 to 20, WigWAM (Wigtown - Words, Art, Media) a young people’s festival, was programmed and run by a dedicated team of volunteers aged 13-20 and offered free entry to anyone under 26.
And for those aged between 10 and 13 Book Bridge sat between the Big Wig Children's Festival and the WigWAM programme for young people.
This year is the 21st Wigtown Book Festival and its success is testimony to a mix of innovation, hard work and strong leadership. In the mid-1990s it was suggested that a book town on the model of Hay-on-Wye could help regenerate a community in Scotland. Of six small towns, an international panel chose Wigtown, which at that time sadly had one of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland. Today it is firmly established as Scotland’s National Book Town with over a dozen bookshops and related businesses.
As an avid reader, I couldn’t think of a nicer environment to be in, and wandering through The Book Shop with roughly 100,000 books perched on around a mile of shelving, was a positive delight. It felt cluttered enough to entice, but organised enough to allow proper focused searching, and I came away with two John Buchan books. I also boosted the coffers of the local economy by finding two quirky Christmas presents in the Wigtown Festival Company and enjoyed a tasty lunch in the popup festival café in the County Buildings.
As I left, I saw a crocodile of primary-aged children crossing the road, chattering excitedly. Were they on their way to hear a story, or had they just heard one? The lovely thing was that it didn’t matter. Their enthusiasm was contagious and I’m sure their imaginations were firing off in all directions. And that’s why Scotland’s National Book Town is important and must be encouraged to thrive.
Leadership is only courage and wisdom and a great carefulness of self.
Take care. Lead well.