Essayist Sinéad Gleeson is determined that the Ireland her daughter inherits will be better, more equal and more just than it has been for women of any previous generation.

Her hugely praised first book Constellations explores life in a human body from its entry to the world, through key experiences such as pregnancy and motherhood and onwards to death.

The essay collection is written from the perspective of someone whose body has frequently been subject to illness and pain from the age of 13 and which has undergone enormous amounts of medical intervention.

Ms Gleeson was also putting together Constellations as the campaigns were taking place ahead of last year’s referendum decision to overturn Ireland’s ban on abortion.

Ahead of her appearance at Wigtown Book Festival she said: “It occurred to me that I could not write a book about the body and not about this.

“The issues of contraception and abortion have had an immense impact on the lives of women in Ireland for generations. My own mother and grandmother grew up in tenements, working hard and having no choice but to raise huge families.

“My mother’s godmother went through 20 pregnancies and died at 62, quite possibly just from exhaustion. I did not want my own daughter to have to live in that sort of Ireland.” 

Her concern is now for the women of Northern Ireland, where laws have not been liberalised and many women are still forced to travel to other parts of the UK for abortions. 

Ms Gleeson will be appearing at Wigtown at noon on 2 October when she will be in discussion with Peggy Hughes. 

She chose to write essays because it’s a form that is simultaneously “bendy” and disciplined: “They take a very high level of crafting. In fiction you can create any situation you like, with essays you have to be careful, you can’t embellish and you have to check your facts.”

In this case she says the result is “ostensibly a book about the body and blood, perhaps really about mortality and empathy”.

Jornalist and friend Patrick Freyne wrote: “Sinéad Gleeson is a broadcaster, editor and the author of Constellations, a new book of moving, insightful, beautiful essays about health, art, gender, parenthood, bereavement, the body and her own struggles with “wonky hips” and leukaemia.” 

Fellow author Kate Mosse described the work as “An absolutely astonishing, brilliant and beautiful book,” while Daisy Buchanan said it is “extraordinary and life-enhancing”.

Ms Gleeson has a series of other projects underway, including having been invited to compile an anthology of 100 Irish stories written since the 1880s. 

It’s a task that she likens to being set loose in a sweet shop – with just too much to choose from. However she says: “Ireland has not been good at representing women’s voices” so will ensure the choices are inclusive, representative and provide a platform for recent work.

At the same time she is also writing her first novel, giving form to an idea that has been “tormenting” her for about 15 years and which will have “a strange and eerie tone”.

Adrian Turpin, Artistic Director of Wigtown Book Festival, said:Constellationsis a powerful and moving book from a writer of immense humanity and compassion.

“We are really looking forward to welcoming Sinéad to the festival, not just so people can find out more about her life and work, but also as a way of promoting the essay – which remains a very underappreciated literary form.”

For full details of Wigtown Book Festival go to

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For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org  

Festival themes

Epic North: A short strand that takes a fresh look at Northern European epics, from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Finland and Scandinavia. Sessions include discussions of a key passage of the text. Book them all for a serious discount. 

This Farming Life: A series of events on the life agricultural, including the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen and three of Galloway’s finest farmer-writers. Plus put your wellies on and see behind the scenes on inspiring visits to three very different farms. 

Lost Province: The story of Galloway is written in its place names, which reveal an extraordinary variety of languages: Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon, Scots, Norse and Cumbric, the Brittonic language closely related to Old Welsh. The Lost Province celebrates the region’s past as a melting pot, through new writing, translation, illustration, speaker events and even an archaeological survey. 

A Year of Conversation: Wigtown Book Festival is part of A Year of Conversation 2019, a Scotland-wide collaborative project about the potential for conversation to make our lives better. Events include The Wigtown Feasts, a town-wide invitation to eat together. 

Bookspired:A mini film festival within WBF19, supported by Screen Scotland, where cinema and books meet. Films include 1984The Snow Goose and Angelou on Burns, Elly M Taylor’s remarkable documentary about Maya Angelou’s fascination with Scotland’s national bard. In association with Driftwood Cinema.

Year of Indigenous Languages:In the UN International Year of Indigenous Languages, we celebrate Scotland’s own. Activities include two days of drop- in Gaelic events and the relaunch of Wigtown’s Scots and Gaelic poetry prizes. We also ask why minority languages matter and welcome Celtic cousins from Galicia. 

Out and About

From brewery tours to birding, cycling to botany, we encourage visitors to make the most of a trip to the festival by getting out of Wigtown and seeing some of the many other attractions that make Galloway special. We even provide ride shares. 

For younger visitors

  • WigWAM is the new name for our young people’s festival, programmed and run by a dedicated team of volunteers aged 13-25. For the first time this year, you will find WigWAM events in our main listings. And they are open to all ages – but free for under 26s. 
  • Big Wig will offer lots of fun and inspiring events for our youngest festival goers – starting off with a Caterpillar Party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Some of this year’s guests

  • Kirsty Wark, bestselling author and one of the most trusted names in British news will be talking about The House by the Loch, inspired by her own childhood memories and set in rural Galloway.
  • Ruth Davidson became Scottish Conservative Party leader in 2011, just six months after becoming an MSP. She discusses her book Yes She Canwhich combines the story of her own rise with her conversations with 17 mould-breaking women in fields as diverse as science, politics, the military, business and sport. 
  • Legendary barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC will spill the beans in a talk about his entertaining memoir Rather His Own Man, recalling his battles on behalf of everyone from George Harrison and the Sex Pistols to Salman Rushdie and Julian Assange.
  • Melanie Reid, who was paralysed from the top of her chest down after falling from a horse, talks about The World I Fell Out Of, a powerful account of how she rebuilt her life.
  • Matthew Parris looks ahead to his forthcoming work Fractured, which draws on his Radio 4 series Great Lives to consider whether genius comes from the wreckage of a fractured childhood – considering eminent figures from Freddie Mercury to Marie Curie. 
  • Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir will be a particular highlight as he discusses a remarkable sporting career and his campaigning for motor neurone disease research.
  • Kathleen Jamie, winner of the Saltire Book of the Year and the Costa Award for Poetry, talks about her new book Surfacing which blends memoir, cultural history and travelogue, exploring how the changing natural world alters our sense of time. 
  • The mother of all confessional shows from the bestselling author and star of The Fast Showand Two Doors DownArabella WeirDoes My Mum Loom Big in This? is for everyone who’s had a mother or been a mother, featuring hair-raising hilarious true stories from Arabella’s dysfunctional childhood and her life as a single working mother.
  • Carol Drinkwaterbecame a household name as Helen Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small. Her “Olive” memoirs sold more than a million copies
  • and have been followed by a series of epic novels. They latest is The House on the Edge of the Cliff
  • Nathan Filer,former mental health, won the Costa Book of the Year Award for his bestselling debut novel The Shock of the Fallabout a young man with schizophrenia. In his non-fiction work A Breath on Dying Embershe returns to the subject, debunking myths.   
  • Steve Jones, one of the UK’s best-known scientists, shows how life on Earth is ruled by our nearest star which nourishes and destroys all life. Here Comes the Sun dazzlingly links science, politics and culture. Steve is a Senior Research Fellow at University College London. 
  • Historian Tom Devine speaks on The ‘Death’ and Reinvention
  • of Scotland. By the late 18th century Scotland was prospering in the Union. But some believed this came at a cost: Anglicisation and the end of an ancient identity. Sir Tom looks at this “crisis” and reaches surprising conclusions. 
  • Eunice Olumide was signed to the catwalk when she was just 16. Since then she has worked all over the world for designers including Mulberry, Alexander McQueen and Harris Tweed, as well as collaborating with the V&A. Along the way, she has championed diversity and stood up for ethical fashion. In How to Get Into Fashion she talks about a remarkable career. 
  • In the 1960s Tony Laithwaite, a student from
  • Bolton, took a job washing bottles
  • in Bordeaux. So began a 50-year affair with wine. His wonderfully engaging memoir Direct is a love letter to France and the grape, and the wonderful characters he met on his unlikely journey to becoming Britain’s most successful wine merchant. 
  • When Jackie Morris heard about the removal
  • of words such as kingfisher, bramble, and acorn from a junior dictionary, she had to act. The result was The Lost Words, her award-winning, beautiful collaboration with Robert Macfarlane. She talks about our relationship to the natural world under threat, a subject she has also written about in the introduction to the lost childhood classic The House Without Windows
  • Shaun Bythell runs The Bookshop in Wigtown. It should be an idyll for bookworms. Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don’t understand what a shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival, and his neurotic Italian assistant who likes digging for river mud to make poultices. He tells
  • all about his new set of bestselling diaries.

About EventScotland  

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Wigtown Festival Company Ltd, 11 North Main Street, Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, UK, DG8 9HN © 1999 – 2018. Wigtown Festival Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status.                                        Scottish Charity No. SCO37984.