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Maggie O’Farrell and Andrew Marr among speakers at online Wigtown Book Festival

© Colin Hattersley / PA(left to right) Shaun Bythell, Ben Porter, Beth Porter and Jane Baldwin will be launching the festival
(left to right) Shaun Bythell, Ben Porter, Beth Porter and Jane Baldwin will be launching the festival

Novelists AL Kennedy and Maggie O’Farrell and broadcasters Andrew Marr and Carrie Gracie are among those taking part in a book festival which has moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Organisers of Wigtown Book Festival say they still hope to bring the sights, sounds and tastes of Scotland’s National Book Town to the world despite the online format.

As well as talks with writers the festival will show daily videos bringing the town’s bookshops to life, and films exploring the unique saltmarsh habitat of Wigtown Bay, while sound artist Stuart McLean will be recording the sounds of Wigtown for a “slow audio” experience.

A limited edition of 100 bottles of the “aromatic air” from Wigtown’s bookshops will be on sale to raise funds to support the festival.

Others speaking at the festival include historians Neil McGregor and Charles Spencer, non-fiction writers Mark O’Connell, Richard Holloway and Helena Kennedy, and Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

Adrian Turpin, the festival’s artistic director, said: “Digital technology has been a lifeline during lockdown. But, as anyone who has sat through a morning of Zoom meetings knows, the online world can feel very disembodied.

“Wigtown is a distinctive place and we want to share its character with new and existing audiences in every way we can, putting the town in the public eye, nose and ear.

“The last six months have been a very difficult time and part of our aim is to offer the chance to have some fun.

“But there’s a serious point. The UK’s book festivals – large and small – are remarkable because they each reflect the places in which they take place. We want to cherish that diversity in every way, even at a time when we can’t gather ‘in real life’.

“We also hope that next year we will be able to welcome in person many of those who experience Wigtown for the first time through this digital event.”

Gracie is among a number of broadcasters taking part in the festival, also including George Alagiah and Gordon Corera.

She became a figurehead for women at the BBC when she resigned as China editor in January 2018 in protest at pay inequalities at the broadcaster.

The BBC subsequently apologised for underpaying her and reached an agreement over her back pay.

The festival, which runs from September 24 to October 4, also features the world premiere of Ninian’s Gift, a new song cycle with words by novelist Alexander McCall Smith and music from composer Tom Cunningham.

Marr, who will be discussing his forthcoming book Elizabethans: How Modern Britain Was Forged, said: “I’ve always wanted to go to the Wigtown Book Festival and I am delighted to be taking part, albeit virtually, and look forward to going there in person one day.”

Last year the festival brought around 20,000 people to the small town in Dumfries and Galloway, generating £4.2 million for the local economy.

Organisers said a key aim of this year’s event is to promote local businesses which have been hit by the pandemic.

Events will be free but viewers will be invited to make a donation, and details can be found at www.wigtownbookfestival.com.