Dumfries and Galloway is rich in history and myth. Open to the sea and five neighbouring kingdoms how could it be anything else? It was, and continues to be, a refuge and a hub. The history is still being interpreted and re-interpreted - why do a series of hill forts face each other across the River Urr like some dark age 38th Parallel? - and where history fails we have always filled the gap with tales. Like the last Picts jumping off the Mull of Galloway with the recipe for heather ale, or Merlin stalking about Crossmichael.

Where people inhabit a landscape, they create a landscape of the mind, and the language of this landscape is stories. The old folk tales of Dumfries and Galloway are varied and well recorded in works which continue to educate and entertain. But storytelling doesn't stop when we shut the book and people continue to inhabit, and move fresh into, an area where people still interact with the environment and still seek to make sense of their lives as best and happily as they can


The Wigtown Book Festival in collaboration with Fresh Start for the Arts has commissioned a writer to fill the gap and document the modern tales and stories of Dumfries and Galloway, and I'm excited to say that writer is me. Over the next six to nine months I will be meandering through the region rooting out tales and characters of contemporary or near contemporary times. I expect to rediscover some old themes, perhaps in heavy disguise. I've already met an alien abductee, for instance,  but was he really away with the fairies?

Provisionally I'm looking at the following categories: 'Woodsmen', 'Nomads', 'Dykers', 'Weans', 'Drunkards', 'Naturals',  'Taxi Drivers' and 'Strange Encounters'. A 'Natural' was the word given by  John Mactaggart to describe those ' who move about purely by the dictates of nature...and attract the attention of men by their wild and out-of-the-way eccentricities'. Throughout I hope I will be inspired by Mactaggart and his Gallovidian Encyclopedia, a work of individuality and humour which covered the same sort of ground in the 19th century.

I am looking for stories and tales from the modern era and the language and vocabulary that goes with them. I hope to set up shop for a while in the different parts of the region and make contact with people in a variety of ways. One way would be through this blog. Feel free to leave contact details or e-mail me at steamboatsmcmillan@hotmail.com to set up a meeting or to establish contact. I will will post regularly on this blog in the coming months.
 
Literature has become, in a way, the preserve of an elite. Stories are owned and swapped by everyone. Swap some with me.

Hugh McMillan