For 10 days every year, Scotland's National Book Town enjoys a sprinkling of celebrity stardust.

Writers, artists, politicians and personalities in all their guises descend on the Wigtown Book Festival to debate ideas, share gossip - and sell books.

This year comedian Phill Jupitus, politician Vince Cable and Communard-turned-cleric, the Reverend Richard Coles, have been spotted in the unassuming town by the River Cree.

Before the festival finishes on Sunday, Alex Salmond and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli will also appear at Wigtown.

The big names are not just drawn to the festival for publicity and marketing purposes however.

According to Scottish crime writer Chris Brookmyre, Wigtown is "infused with literature" and his audiences at the festival are engaged and enthusiastic.

He said: "[As an author] you spend most of your time alone with a computer and you're never present at the point where someone experiences the thing you spend all your time working on.

"The closest you can get really is to read something to an audience, and see how they respond to it.

"Obviously sometimes you're hearing their response months or even years after they've experienced it but it's better than nothing.

"It's a very solitary pursuit most of the time, writing, so this is the chance to get out there and actually encounter people."

Richard Coles, who claims to be the only vicar in Britain to have had a number one single, admitted authors "sort of have to" go to book festivals as part of their publishing deal.

But he added: "The other thing is that it's really good fun. You go to places... where perhaps you've not been before and enjoy the company of other authors. That's the best thing, so you can bitch about your agent and your publishers."

As he discussed his journey from pop to the pulpit (he was part of The Communards with Jimmy Sommerville) on stage in the ScottishPower Foundation marquee on Tuesday, he certainly appeared to be enjoying himself.

"I was sitting down in front of people talking about myself which is invariably something which leaves me very... I enjoy that, yeah. Mea culpa," he said.

The festival massively swells the population of Wigtown, which is normally home to about 1,000 people.

That generates a cash boost for the myriad of local bookshops, hotels and restaurants, but it also adds a vibrancy to the atmosphere of the town.

Artist Emily Nash, a 20-year-old who grew up on the family farm about 10 miles from Wigtown, said the town "comes alive" when the festival is on.

"Everybody is in high spirits... you get to meet loads of different people and everybody is telling you what they've been to and everybody's always happy," she added.

Inevitably, there are some surreal experiences when the festival comes to town.

Ms Nash, who has an art studio in the town, said: "I saw Phill Jupitus looking in my window the other day, which was a highlight.

"Then somebody thought I was famous and they asked me for a selfie the other day so I was, like, ok, I'm just going to go with it."

Many of those appearing at the festival find themselves in The Writers Retreat, part of The Bookshop owned by Shaun Bythell.

He knows the event brings a year-round financial benefit to his business but it also affords him the opportunity to mix with "interesting and clever people" who might never normally cross his path.

"Last night I had Vince Cable having supper in my sitting room," he said.

"At some point during the week Alex Salmond will be in there. Phill Jupitus was there for several hours a day for three days."
He said he has become "really firm friends" with Stuart Kelly and Robert Twigger, writers who appear at the festival every year.
And in the past, he has had Ian Paisley and his two undercover armed officers for supper "which was interesting...".

The event, he said, "totally changes the atmosphere of the town".

"Wigtown is famed for having the widest street in Scotland, so even when there are thousands of people here it always looks empty," he added.

"It still looks fairly empty but you just need to come into this shop on one of the Saturdays during the festival and it's really busy - there will be, you know, 100 to 150 people in the shop."

The festival is not just about books, however.

In Scotland's Year of Food and Drink, it features plenty of discussion and digestion of local fare. But there is also visual arts, music, theatre and cinema.

Gill White is artist in residence at both Wigtown Book Festival and the Spring Fling open studios event.

Through her residency - Pop Up Story - she invites festival-goers to create their own small pieces of literature.

"It's a lovely festival. People are so friendly.

"I love the fact that people have enough time to have a good chinwag."

So maybe Wigtown isn't just about selling books - it's about sharing stories.

Source: BBC News

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