I’m a bit late in putting up my post this week because instead of writing it last night I went to the launch of JoAnne McKay’s latest poetry pamphlet, You Are Not Here. It was a wonderful evening of poetry, wine, chocolate and chatter.
And now, I need to get my head down to prepare a series of press releases and publicity for a mini two-day literary festival in Castle Douglas. This is being organised – a loose term – by Dumfries & Galloway Writers’ Collective aka WagTongues.
I live in Dumfries & Galloway in the south west of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place with glorious countryside, forests, hills and miles of sandy beaches. It has lots of lovely little towns, many boasting independently-owned shops. It has excellent cafes and restaurants, which offer menus based on fresh local produce: seafood, salmon, beef, venison, game. It has more artists, craft makers, and writers than you can shake a stick at, galleries galore BUT a dearth of independent bookshops – despite being home to Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town.
Authors – whether traditionally published or independent – have little opportunity to sell their books locally over the counter – over any counter. Even the annual Book Festival, held in Wigtown, provides little opportunity for local writers to sell their books unless they are in the main programme. A small number of the 60 or so local writers might be in the programme each year but it leaves the vast majority invisible to the many visitors to the book festival.
Some of us felt visitors (and locals) should be aware of the amazing writing talent there is in the region. Instead of bemoaning our fate some of us decided to do something about it and so, WagTongues was born to provide outlets for authors through a series of bookshops which pop up throughout Dumfries & Galloway several times in a year. It is a bit anarchic – no constitution, no committee, no bank account. All published writers living in the region can sell their books in the pop-up bookshop. WagTongues takes no commission so authors receive the full sale price for their books.
The first pop-up bookshop happened in Wigtown almost three years ago, on the last day of the book festival. Authors were invited to read from their work and it proved so successful the pop-up bookshop idea morphed into a mini literary festival. People who would never in their wildest dreams have attended a poetry reading are enticed in and discover poetry can be fun, witty, and entertaining. Novelists read from their latest book or are interviewed about their work.
Another feature of the WagTongues experience is ‘The Poet Is In’. Visitors can describe a momentous event in their lives, drop it in a box and one of the resident poets immortalise the memory in poetry.
As WagTongues has become more widely known we’ve been invited to attend festivals including Dumfries’s Nithraid, Carlisle’s inaugural Book Festival, the Big Lit Festival in Gatehouse, Wigtown Book Festival and Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival.
It’s as part of the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival WagTongues will be popping up this month, on Friday, May 27 and Saturday 28 in an old newsagents shop. I’m being interviewed by novelist Sally Hinchcliffe on the trials (and there are many) of turning a blog into a book, JoAnne McKay will read from her new pamphlet, debut novelist Lucy Cameron and crime writer Graham Smith are putting on a Blood Murder double bill, Janet Walkinshaw is launching her latest historical fiction – and there’s much more to entice, amuse and enlighten.
WagTongues is growing and is proving to be a fantastic showcase and sales point for the writers who live and work in Dumfries & Galloway and provides an opportunity for writers and readers to interact.
Are there any similar book-selling collectives out there? It would be great to compare notes.