Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 7 September 2014

WagTongues by Mary Smith

 I live in Dumfries & Galloway in the south west of Scotland. It’s a beautiful place to live 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 boast menus from delicious local produce: seafood, salmon, beef, venison, game. It has more artists, craft makers, and writers than you can shake a stick at BUT it does not have a single independent bookshop.

Authors – whether mainstream published or independent – have little opportunity to sell their books over the counter – over any counter. Last year, a few of us were grumbling about this state of affairs. Even the annual Book Festival, held in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book town provides no 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 visitors to the book festival.

Instead of bemoaning our fate some of us decided to do something about it and so, WagTongues was born. It is a collective of Dumfries & Galloway writers which organises pop-up bookshops throughout the region. 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 last year, on the last day of the festival. It had proved very difficult to find a venue but the Machars Initiative came to the rescue and offered their office space – not ideal, but central. Authors were offered reading slots during the day and the bookshop turned into a mini festival, an element which has continued to be an integral part of WagTongues.

The next time we popped up was in Dumfries when we had a two-day shop in a central venue, on the weekend the Christmas lights were switched on so there were lots of events going on around us. It was a great success – apart from selling lots of books, people who would never in their wildest dreams have attended a poetry event were enticed in and discovered poetry could be fun, witty, and entertaining, authors were interviewed about their work and WagTongues started to become known and talked about.
 
Soon we were being invited to attend festivals and had a fantastic two days at Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival where we popped up in an old newsagents shop. This month we have three pop-up shops – one down and two more to go. The one we have just done was across the border in Carlisle when WagTongues was invited to pop up at the first Carlisle Book Festival. As it was in the library we couldn’t have our usual mini festival of readings but we had ‘Ask the Author Anything’ in which visitors could ask authors questions about their writing – or anything at all really as I realised when I heard author Margaret Elphinstone say: “Oh, that’s Auntie Barbara!”

Another part 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 immortalises the memory in poetry. It was a good day, even though sales were lower than usual – we suspect because people come to libraries to borrow, not buy books.

WagTongues has also been invited to take part in one of Dumfries’s newest festivals, the Nithraid – a boat race from the sea up to where the salt water meets the fresh in the River Nith. WagTongues will have a pop-up book-stall. The final event will be back in Wigtown on Saturday 27th September, which is the first Saturday of Wigtown Book Festival where there will a wide and exciting range of publications, a complete mini festival of readings and talks.

WagTongues is growing and is proving to be a fantastic showcase and sales point for the writers who live and work in Dumfries & Galloway – a beautiful region in which to live and work but which has no independent bookshops – 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.

12 comments:

  1. I did know about WagTongues and attended the event in Dumfries before Christmas, but even I didn't realise how much it has done. Major congratulations to all involved!

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    1. Yes, WagTongues is growing, Gill, and we're planning to keep on popping up around the region. Looking forward to having your books for sale.

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  2. What a fantastic initiative, Mary. It's a shame you don't have a local bookshop, but well done to all of you for getting this together. I love strong communities!

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    1. Thanks, Jenny. It's a lot of fun when we get together because, apart from the serious business of selling our books, it gives writers a chance to meet each other and blether.
      Our next one (on Saturday) is the first outdoor event we've done so keep your fingers crossed for a fine day

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  3. Mary, that's such a good idea! All success to all of you!

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I'm sure it would work in other areas of the country but haven't heard of any similar projects.

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  4. I think people should realise that Mary Smith has done more for writers in Dumfries and Galloway than Bill Gates has done for information technology - but she doesn't receive his billions. Coming on Saturday. What time should I be there?

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    1. Aw, Sara, I'm blushing to the tips of my ears!
      Brilliant that you will come along on Saturday. Not sure of exact times yet but I'll give you a ring/email to let you know. The stalls are being set up in the late morning but I'm still waiting to be told when - and where I can park as we're taking over the Whitesands car park but I have boxes and boxes of books to take from my car to the stall. It'll be lovely to see you there.

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  5. Great post. And what a brilliant idea, but how very sad that you have had to take this step because of the decline of independent bookshops. I am so lucky down here in Devon because I have the lovely Torbay Bookshop (in Paignton) which is hugely supportive of local writers ....but has had to take on a chocolate franchise to survive. Now, books and chocolate.....there's an idea!

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    1. Now, there's food for thought, indeed, Linda. Maybe WagTongues could incorporate chocolate into our pop-up bookshop events!
      My nearest independent bookshop is in Biggar, out of our region, and a four-hour round trip. It's a brilliant shop and the owners do author events (I loved it when I was invited to do a reading) but it's really too far. Waterstones in Dumfries is always exhorting readers to 'buy local' but doesn't stock local.

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  6. I always take chocolate when I do a booksigning, Mary.......well I am published by Choc Lit so it seems appropriate! People love a freebie and I've had lots of sales because people have stopped for the free choc and got chatting.......cunning? moi?

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    1. I like your style, Linda. Will definitely try it - especially as I can't provide fresh mulberries

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