This week I have been on an adventure. I have been to the Wigtown Book Festival, which takes place every year in a small village in the southernmost part of Dumfries and Galloway.
I've been to book festivals before, of course, as a visitor. In fact two years ago I "pitched" The Sewing Machine to an agent and a publisher at Wigtown and was given useful feedback on my idea for a novel about an old Singer 99k. This year is a bit different though, because I had been invited as an author, and if I was lucky, people would have signed up to buy a ticket to come and hear me talk about the book and about writing and other things. It was quite a daunting feeling to know that people were (hopefully) actually paying to come to the event.
On the way, I stopped off in Dumfries to do a talk at one of the libraries. The group I had been invited to meet were a "walk and talk" gathering. They go for a gentle walk first and then come into the library to have a cup of tea and a KitKat. Once a month the librarian invites a speaker, and this time, it was me.
They were a wonderfully interactive group, and they was a lot of chat and reminiscence about their own experiences. One had worked in couture at the House of Worth, and there were teachers and keen dressmakers as well.
I love going to do events like this, there is so much back and forth conversation and I always come away with new knowledge and a deeper understanding of lives lived at a time when using a sewing machine was an essential skill for many women.
If you live in Dumfries and Galloway, the library service now has no fewer than FOURTEEN copies of The Sewing Machine, so please do go and borrow a copy!
Afterwards I went into Dumfries, and had a lunchtime meet-up with someone I know from the knitting world, and we sat in the sunshine and drank our ginger beer and talked about freelancing and art and yes, knitting.
In the centre of town there is a Burton menswear building in art deco style, and surprisingly, it's still a Burton today. It's like an island in the street and on each face of the stonework it bears the words MONTAGUE BURTON, THE TAILOR OF TASTE.
I stayed overnight in Dumfries and treated myself to a G&T which came in the most enormous glass.
On Tuesday I completed the journey to Wigtown, and managed to get there in time for an event with Gail Honeyman (on the right) who is the author of "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine". I read the book recently and really enjoyed it so this was a treat.
She was interviewed by Lee Randall (left), and I was also keen to see how Lee worked with an author, because she would be sitting beside me on the stage the following afternoon. It was very interesting, and quite informal, rather than there being a script. It felt very warm, as though the audience were sitting in on a conversation between friends.
The organisers of WBF had arranged a B&B for me, so that's where I headed next. It was a large stone house, probably 150 years old or more, full of character.
I've never seen a table lamp with a cockade on it before, but it absolutely suited the rest of the decor.
The owners have put considerable thought into the "extras".
My pet hate is a hot bedroom, and mine was pleasantly cool, but next to the hairdryer was a fleece-covered hot water bottle for anyone who needed it.
And if guests have a sweet tooth, there is a chocolate Belted Galloway cow beside the biscuits!
Wikipedia says that this heritage breed is colloquially known as the "Oreo Cow".
To finish off the quirky additions to my room there was this pair of binoculars!
It was a fairly dreich day, but I'm sure that when the weather is better you can see for miles. In fact it may be that England is visible across the Solway Firth in the distance.
In the evening, I avoided the literary Pub Quiz (I am terrible at that sort of thing) and instead I squeezed in at the back of the main marquee for a performance of Stand Up comedy by Jim Smith. He has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, and at the Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. Initially he was going to be doing his gig in the County Buildings which has 180 seats, but it had became apparent that a bigger venue was needed. The marquee had space for 350 and every seat was full.
Jim Smith is a Perthshire farmer.
His opening line was to ask how many farmers were in the audience.
At least half the gathering put their hands up.
"Thought so", he replied, "checked shirts everywhere".
We were treated to a wide ranging and very funny commentary on everything from what it's like to be 39 and leaving home (moving to the cottage beside the farmhouse where your Mum lives), the difficulties of finding a girlfriend in a rural community, Young Farmers, Agricultural College shenanigans, and his gig at the "Rural" annual meeting. The Rural is otherwise known as the Scottish Women's Institute, and they have recently dropped "Rural" from their name; a matter of some division in the ranks. He was very clear that on a farm, it's the women who are in charge!
I'm not sure what he would have made of "Oreo Cows" though.
Throughout the time I spent in Wigtown we (the authors - it still feels odd to be part of that gang) were exceedingly well looked after. This was lunch, or a bit of it at least. I do love a nice slice of cheese.
And then at last it was my turn. I had no idea how many people were coming, and had deliberately not tried to find out - what if there were three people, or four? In the event, the McKellie Tent was almost full - perhaps seventy people, maybe eighty. It was a "Tea and Chat" occasion so there were cakes and scones and tea and coffee.
Lee introduced me, and, taking a leaf from Jim Smith's patter, I asked how many people sewed - almost every hand went up. Lee smiled broadly and said "Natalie, these are your people!"
The hour flew by, the audience were marvellous, there was both laughter and thoughtful reflection, and Lee was a generous and well prepared host.
Afterwards there was a patient queue of people who wanted to buy a book, and they all had their sewing stories which made it very special. There were quilters and dressmakers and as well as the ladies there were two men who had worked in the Singer factory, one as a metal turner, and the other as a service engineer who travelled all over the world servicing machines and training other engineers.
All of a sudden it was over. I headed back to the Bookshop Tent to sign a few more books and say thank you to Emily who was my bookselling volunteer and who had made it all go smoothly.
Thank you Wigtown, for inviting me. The volunteers were amazing and it was an adventure - the second of my #59things for this year of being 59.
PS My computer is broken.
I am taking it to the fruit shop tomorrow in the hope of a fix, but for the moment my only email is on my phone, and I don't have access to any previous emails or documents or history so I am somewhat at sea.
This post was written by uploading photos from my phone to the website and then using my husband's computer to access the business end of the site.
I am crossing everything that the Mac is not beyond repair, but please forgive me if I'm not able to reply to things as quickly as I would like.