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Five things I loved about the Wigtown Book Festival


Quick note: If you are in Stornoway on Halloween, I'm giving a talk at the Faclan book festival. If you could come along, I'd love to see you.

Last weekend I was really pleased to be doing a drop in session at the Wigtown Book Festival in Dumfries and Galloway. It was a hands-on session as part of the Childrens' Book festival, and was a bit different from previous talks I'd done, so I was really looking forward to it.

It was an early start, though ! I had to get up at 6am and leave at around 7am. Dad drove for two and a half hours to get to Wigtown, and we arrived at around 9:45am.  Wigtown is a pretty small town, but for one week every year it turns into one of the most exciting book festivals in Scotland.

The night before I'd packed a good selection of my bones, and they were ready to be loaded into the car:

This is me just as I arrived at Wigtown. Can you tell I was still a bit tired ? 

The primary school was the location where I would be for the day. Initially, I was going to have a tent - then it was changed to a shed ! It was cosy, but I knew it would look brilliant once everything was out. We started to unpack.

And then a short time later...

We moved the big table to the back wall, where we put the antlers there, along with the fallow and red deer skulls as well, as they were to big to go anywhere else. There was also lights around the room, but they didn't do much as there was a large window at one end.

I didn't just bring down bones; I also brought framed photos with some famous people I've met, and some props, like my BBC pass from The One Show. I grouped the skulls together that were similar, like I put the exotic animals, like the leopard, together and the deer together.

I'd brought bones which children could handle,  but some of them were fragile, such as the very old horse jaw and the red deer skull with soft antlers (it died in velvet).

There was a smaller shelf that the put the more robust skulls on. The duck skull on the top right of the shelf was a favourite; the kids love to look at that, and then I could show them the duck quack bone afterwards.

Last but not least, there was a cardboard poster of me, that said 'Join Jake McGowan-Lowe at the Wigtown Book Festival', the date, time and venue as well. It was by the door of the shed, but dad taped it to the door so people could see it better

Ready for business !

LOADS of children came in to see the bones, and they all seemed fascinated by them, which is nice to see. Only one skull was knocked over in the whole 4 hours, which is less than I thought, and it was a great day. 

There was also an artist, Shoo Rayner, who was sketching everyone at the festival, and he was really good at it. He spent about 10 minutes drawing me then another 15 for painting. Inside the primary school was a bigger drawing of most people talking or presenting at the festival. See if you can spot me !

If you didn't, I think I am in the very top left of the page, riding on what looks like a dinosaur skull.

Just before I packed up, the festival photographer came to take pictures of me. He got me to pose with one of the red deer skull and just outside the shed

So...these are the things I loved about it the festival.

1. Wigtown is a brilliant town

Wigtown has a really nice feel to it, it's quite a small place but it has a great atmosphere, especially the bookshop in the centre (where this skeleton was). The writers room was in the owners living room above the bookshop, where I popped in a couple of times to get a snack.

2. Children all love a dinosaur

When the children came to the shed, one of the first things I asked them was their favourite animal. Most said T-rex and other dinosaurs, and one or two pointed at the cow skull, wondering if it was a dinosaur. I can see what they mean; it's quite a big skull and its got big teeth and eyes. I had to tell them that their aren't many dinosaurs in Scotland.

3. Adults are as much interested as children

It wasn't just adults that were interesting in my collection. Even though more children came the adults, most parents and helpers came in to ask about the various bones I had brought. There was also the artist Shoo Rayner who was sketching everyone at the festival, and I was chatting to him as he was drawing and painting me.

4. Drop-in sessions are great

When I give talks, I don't get much of a chance to talk to audience, except if I'm doing a book signing after, but with drop ins, I get a chance to chat and get to know a bit about everyone that comes in. Everyone had at least one interesting question, and they all went away knowing a bit more about bones, which was the main thing. Also, I brought along more bones that I ever had tbrought to any of my previous talks, and I got the chance to show off every one.

5. Drop in sessions are more tiring than talks

I've given loads of talks before, like the one in Bath last October and the most recent one in Gravesend. Even though they take more preparation, they are over in around 45 minutes, whereas this drop-in session lasted five hours and there was a lot more people to talk to. It was a great day, but I was glad to have an early night once I got home !

Thanks again to everyone who came, and thanks to the Wigtown Book festival for inviting me !

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