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Wigtown Book Festival: Accessible, inclusive and packed with top authors

Wigtown StageText

The Wigtown Book Festival is one of the UK's best-loved literary events. Now in its 18th year, the programme is packed with over 200 events and activities for all ages, including music, theatre, food and visual arts. 2017's highlights include appearances from Judy Murray, Louise Welsh, Denise Mina, Mary Contini, Alan Johnson, Kaite Welsh and Andrew O'Hagan.

In addition to exciting programming, this year, the festival's onus has been on accessibility. After a sucessful trial in 2016, Wigtown has now fully implemented StageText: an initiative which uses live subtitling at key events. We spoke to Adrian Turpin, the festival's Artistic Director, to find out more about StageText, the programme, and what he is looking forward to this year.

Why was the StageText initiative brought in?

We were aware that many of our audience had problems hearing clearly in a historic venue [the Main Hall in the County Buildings] that doesn't have the best acoustics anyway. We've always had a loop system, but that doesn't work for everyone.

In 2016, we trialled StageText for one day and the response was so positive that we decided, with the help of the Winifred Kennedy Trust, to do a little more this year. It is mesmerising to watch, and fascinating to talk to the amazing people who do the transcription.

Very often the most magical things things take place in small venues with writers who are not headline 'names'- Adrian Turpin - Wigtown Book Festival

How is the festival focused on accessibility?

StageText is the most obvious example. We've also been working with the charity Fight for Sight and are looking at how we can package some our content for people with visual impairment. But we also know that accessibility issues are different for different people, and we're really keen that people should feel comfortable contacting us if they have particular requirements, so that we can help tailor an individual solution. We also offer free tickets for carers.

More generally, we want the festival to be as inclusive as possible. We've introduced free tickets to adult and YA events for all under-26s, and in some cases helped with transport, which is a big issue for young people in our region. We've also just begun a joint project with the charity Open Book, which offers shared reading groups and festival visits for people who might not otherwise be able to attend, or who might otherwise have felt comfortable attending.

What events in the programme are you looking forward to?

Don't make me choose! From a literary point of view, Andrew O'Hagan, Iain Sinclair (both Sat 23 Sept) and Denise Mina (Sat 30 Sept) will all be fantastic. And I'm really taken with Declan Murphy's memoir Centaur (Sat 23 Sept), which is about how he lost his memory after a horrific horse-racing accident. It's an extrarodinary piece of writing.  But I'm also excited about our discussion series, which is looking at our European neighbours and brings together some fascinating voices from across the continent. We'll be talking about Macron, Germany and Catalonia, and what Brexit looks like from abroad.

What can visitors expect from the festival this year?

We're talking revolutions, Scotland's history and running a series of walks with writers. There's also, as usual, a separate programme for children and young people, food and drink, film, theatre and the occasional moment of light relief, like the Wigtown's Got Talent show and the final weekend festival ceilidh. My main advice to anyone visiting is to get off the beaten track, take the odd chance and talk to people. Very often the most magical things things take place in small venues with writers who are not headline 'names'. Serendipity rules.

StageText shows in the Main Hall

Saturday 23 September

Bella Bathurst

  • Patrick Barkham, Islander: A Journey Round Our Archipelago, 10.30am, £6
  • Cathy Rentzenbrink, A Manual For Heartache, 1.30pm, £8
  • Bella Bathurst, Sound, 3pm, £8
  • Iain Sinclair, The Last London, 4.30pm, £8

Sunday 24 September

Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

  • Kevin Toolis, My Father's Wake: How the Irish Teach us to Live, Love and Die, 12pm, £6
  • Tiffany Jenkins, Keeping Their Marbles, 3pm, £8
  • Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, Land of the Dawn-Lit Mountains, 4.30pm, £8

Wigtown Book Festival runs from Friday 22 September to Sunday 1 October.

This article was published on 20 Sep 2017