A Brave New Words update from founder and director, Martin O’Neill
This year has been quite the rollercoaster, hasn’t it?
With next year looming round the corner, we’re asking ourselves, what will it bring? Global societal change for the better? Universal basic income? A fairer and more just world? Or, judging by this year, is it all going to go a bit belly up?
Well, we hope not. But let’s ask the questions.
Over the next couple of months we’re holding back our usual Brave New Words Friday night mash-up live-streamed extravaganzas in favour of something a little bit different. To end our year, we’re inviting creative writing submissions around the theme of ‘What Now?’ with contributions making up our first ever printed newspaper publication. We’re looking for submissions from poetry, short stories, flash fiction to text-based art from writers young and older, professional or just dabbling. Think of it like an open mic, but as a newspaper!
You can submit up to three pieces to be considered.
That said, just like our open mic, whilst every effort will be made to ensure your piece ends up in the final print we will be limited on space and can’t guarantee that everything will make it through, so do think hard on what you’re sending in.
This is a completely open submission for anyone based in Dumfries & Galloway. You don’t have to have been at a Brave New Words before, and we’re always looking for new voices to showcase.As always, we encourage you to be brave and put yourself forward.
If you need any more information on the publication please get in touch through our social channels or email [email protected]. Submissions should be sent to: [email protected] in PDF or Word format (please don’t put your submissions in the body of the email) Deadline: 1st December. Get writing, & be brave.
In the good old days, if you recall, before the big bad virus swept across the world. You know, that flu that awakened our most primal of fears, leaving us high and dry, bleaching banana skins from the supermarket shelf and losing all concept of social cues and humility. The ‘good times’, before bumping into an old colleague in the supermarket left you equal parts scattered like some unassembled jigsaw and petrified, marooned and struggling in vain to stitch together some semblance of a normal, pleasant English sentence from the ruined, anxiety ridden attic of your mind whilst gripping a bottle of disinfectant (anti-viral of course) just in case they dared step foot within your 2 meter sanctuary of social isolation.
Pause for air.
Well, before all that, we had such things called ‘plays’. ‘Plays’, or ‘live TV’ (not really, but bear with me) were these real-life moving pictures where people called ‘actors’ would perform words written by writers, too strange and socially awkward for most other professions.
These ‘plays’ would be performed in ‘theatres’. Theatres were buildings that came in all shapes and sizes. From majestic stone coliseums in Greece, to tiny wee almost-shed-like structures near Whithorn on the Galloway coast. Yes, they were quite the hit for some time. People would travel in their millions to a tiny, expensive over-crowded city in Scotland to watch some semi-sane people dance and prance their way on stages in dive bars and portaloos. The legends of the Internet are rife with memories and photographs of these most magical, dumb and dangerous shenanigans.
Then the Big Bad came and ‘plays’ weren’t able to take place in theatres, with people, sitting right next to you, loudly chewing Werthers Originals, letting their mobile phones ring loudly occasionally interspersed with quiet farts now being considered a health risk. So much of them went online, in Instagram stories and glitchy Zoom sessions where you got to sit and stare at yourself, striking the odd socially-conscious facial cue to let them know you were in fact listening and not just scrolling through cat videos on YouTube. The same too happened here, at the Stove with the ‘Lowland’ play, ready to be performed in Lochside, Moniaive and Langholm, Lowland sank back into the dusty shadows of the rehearsal room and sat, patiently waiting for the time to return. Realising after three to four months that maybe wasn’t looking all that likely, it was time for a re-imagining!
Originally conceived and developed with the help and guidance of local young writers, poets and dramatists, Lowland initially explored what it meant to ‘belong’, using postcards filled out by Doonhamers, featuring drawings, poetry, stories and the occasional dirty joke. Over 500 of these postcards were filled out during poet Stuart A Paterson’s residency with the project over a year ago.
As time went on, the play started to take a bit of shape. Several adaptions, rewrites and voyages into dead-end dark tunnels later, the play was ready to be rehearsed with a talented community cast of local actors, writers and performers. Just as it was coming to the scripts-down, lights up, camera action…the big bad burst on through the stage door and it all went quiet.
Since then, the play has been re-adapted as a podcast in 2 chapters (originally it was meant to be a radio play but there was just too much swearing). Following on from the cast’s first digital get-together and read-through of the adapted script, we are embarking on a journey into the world of audio plays!
We can’t say it’s been easy. Four months of mourning for live theatre and foggy lockdown head doesn’t do a playwright any good. And the pubs were closed. Yet now, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in-between we are delighted to be returning to the rehearsal room (albeit in cyber space) and are almost ready to buckle down and get recording! Lowland: The Play is on its way. And we can’t wait for you to hear it…
So, what’s it all about?
‘Let me get this straight. You’re telling me I have to present some new fangled resources centre, right in the middle of the scheme, with little to no idea what it will actually be used for. On top of all this, they’re all here, Barnside, for a consultation. Only, there is no such thing. I’m nothing more than a salesman. And if I don’t do this. I destroy three years of clawing my way back out of the gutter…for a job.’
Barnside is sinking and the residents are on the edge of revolution. The local council, in its bleary wisdom, have been drafted in to ease the tensions. Only, not everything is as it seems and sooner or later, something’s got to give.
A play in two acts, inspired by over 500 postcards reflecting on life in Dumfries written by Doonhamers. Lowland: The Play features a community cast, devised through collaboration with local writers’ groups, communities and members of the local council, Lowland is the tale of a consultation gone wrong.
As Angela, a council officer, prepares for a consultation, one year in the making, her boss throws a curve ball, eradicating all her best intentions, leaving her and her assistants in disarray and woefully unprepared. As a storm rages on outside, a community prepares a coup d’état…
Lowland is a tragi-comedy, offering a satirical and emotional look at the nature of community, power, local democracy and belonging.
by Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence
Cometh the hour, cometh the town centre regeneration arts hub, cometh the associated projects and cometh its first Writer in Residence – me. Welcome to Lowland, described thus by its lead artist Martin O’Neill –
A 3-year project conceived and delivered by the Stove Network. It seeks to place writers at the core of the Stove’s and local community’s activities to reflect and celebrate a town in a transitional phase of its history. Generating a contemporary narrative of place, by interacting with and responding to activity in the town through the written word. The central idea of Lowland is to generate an evolving narrative through a series of engagement opportunities and outputs, whether a song, a book, a map, or a play – these outputs will create a collage of work and output that will form the backbone of our future activity.
I’m delighted to have been chosen to launch the Lowland ship into the uncharted waters of the next three years. If it’s only half as successful as The Stove has been in the previous three years, it’ll prove to be something well worth waiting for, for everyone.
What exactly does ‘place writers at the core of….the local community mean’? For me, it means not so much putting writers into the town regeneration spotlight, more about giving words, writing, ideas the platform to inspire, instil inspiration & hope into Dumfries & its future. For we’re all writers, really, all poets of the everyday, although most of us will never write it down. Poetry is in the stories at the bar, the chat at the shop counters, the sharing of memories about the place, the blether on the benches. Aye, it might not always be positive & that’s understandable. Like many towns the length & breadth of the country, Dumfries has had more than its fair share of knocks, disappointments & let downs from those to whom we trusted the future health of our towns & communities. It turns out that that trust was misplaced for much of the time. And external trends & markets haven’t been kind to the business, spirit & lifeblood of town centres. Out of town shopping, death by rates, the internet, a lack of incentives, accompanied along the way by ‘improvements’ to the very fabric of our town centres have been wrecking balls we’ve been powerless to avoid.
I believe that in Dumfries, contrary to what many might think, there is still more than enough of a history, spirit, pride & culture to kick-start it into a brighter future than many towns might hope to inhabit. Not just history in old buildings, stories in stone, memories of the good old days, pride lost & never to be recaptured, glories gone & the old days always being better than now (what was the old joke? Nostalgia’s not what it used to be?). We can do something about that & we’re actually doing it now. Not just talking but doing. The Stove is the acorn from which a hundred wee oaks have started to grow, mostly nurtured & encouraged by the town’s young people, from the outskirts to the centre. Lowland, like Brave New Words, Nithraid, Blueprint100 & the Midsteeple Quarter, is one of those wee oaks, putting down roots in the town centre & beyond. The words I’m harvesting from the people & workers of Dumfries are themselves branches into past, present & future. They’ll hopefully be here long after town centre planners & absentee landlords have sold up, moved on & been forgotten about.
There are, I hope, some good things lined up for the next 3 months. Nithraid is almost upon us again – the boats, the crowds, the Salty Coo. I’ll be getting involved & hope to see you there as I man the Word Oven & keep hearing & gathering the words & stories from any Doonhamer who’ll give me the time of day. There’s a Word Walk planned, a tour of Dumfries & its past inhabited by the writers now no longer here. I’ll be hosting High Street Writers on the first Wednesday of each month, 6-8pm in The Stove, meeting & encouraging the writers who are coming through & here now. I’ll be linking up with Crichton Writers & Dumfries Writers groups to add to the Flood of Words, which we’ll be creating from the feedback on the Lowland postcards – fill yours in now, put it in the box in The Stove. We’re going to have words on windows, poems in shops, stalls on the street – & Latvia 100! on September 5th, which will be amazing & a cultural crossover which’ll have the Norwegians shaking in their boots. And of course, Brave New Words on the last Friday of each month. It goes from strength to strength & shouldn’t be missed. Come along, no matter if you’ve never read in public before. You’ll be among pals.
Before we know it, it’ll be October & my 3 months will be up. I hope to leave a few building blocks for others to add to, as well as the beginnings of a legacy of the town’s narrative in the present day. Nostalgia’s great – but let’s make our own good old days first.