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Introducing – High Street Multiverse

By Martin O’Neill

It’s likely that the Marvel fans among you might already be well acquainted with the ‘multiverse’ theory, for Marvel, an all-too-convenient premise to string-out an empire of franchises and merchandise to rival Dolly Parton’s wig collection.

But for those who think Iron Man’s a cut-price Forman grill, let’s steal from the internet to better explain it…

The multiverse is a hypothetical group of multiple universes.[a] Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of spacetimematterenergyinformation, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. The different universes within the multiverse are called “parallel universes”, “other universes”, “alternate universes”, or “many worlds”.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Imagine it. An infinite web of universes born from even the smallest encounters, where realities blur and bend from even the smallest decisions.

Where whole worlds of stories and sorrows, memories and hopes as vivid and colourful as your own exist within each passer-by.

Supported by DGU, the High Street Multiverse is a digital, public art project working with 5 emerging writers from the region, this unique initiative supported writers to craft five individual audio stories to be placed within the town centre of Dumfries, through a specially designed series of QR code sculptures, the artworks will immerse listeners into new imaginative worlds, traversing time and space.

Under the mentorship of writers Des Dillon, Karen Campbell and Karl Drinkwater, emerging writers Carolyn Hashimoto, Davey Payne, Cameron Philips, Kris Haddow and Jasmine McMillan, worked together in a 4 month period to craft 5 unique tales inspired by Dumfries High Street. These immersive and imaginative works were later recorded, mixed, mastered and designed by producer John Dinning to create immersive audio works, adding an exciting new layer to the tales.  

As part of the project’s conclusion an accompanying publication is set to launch on Friday March 11th at the Stove Café, alongside the artworks themselves. The evening will feature talks and readings alongside a preview of the works themselves. This exciting project culminates alongside a creative writing workshop with Multiverse writer Carolyn Hashimoto exploring the doors and portals of the town the next day.

We hope you can join us in celebrating a new imaginative addition to our town centre, where worlds hidden in the undergrowth of the streets or in the reflections of passing strangers will be heard for the very first time.

1000 years from now lies only 5 minutes from here…

High Street Multiverse Launch: Meet the Makers of the Multiverse

March 11 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

High Street Multiverse Writing Workshop: Doors & Portals

March 12 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm

This Boon of Pure Water: Writing Workshops with JoAnne McKay

July 25, 2021 @ 2:00 pm 4:00 pm

Dumfries Fountain Project
This Boon of Pure Water: Two Creative Writing Workshops with JoAnne McKay

Join writer JoAnne McKay for two creative writing workshops exploring the celebrations and controversies of providing clean water to the town of Dumfries. What role did the devastating cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1848 play? You’ll develop your own writing to share as part of the Dumfries Fountain Project, which is seeking to restore the landmark High Street fountain to its former working glory. Relaxed, informative and fun, the workshops will take place on two Sunday afternoons in July.

1. The Cholera – Sunday 18th July, 2-4pm

As in 1832, the cholera seems to be more malignant in Dumfries than in any other part of Scotland. Perhaps the peculiar sanitary state of the town may account for this. The river Nith runs through it on one side, and on the other, but at a greater distance, is the large swamp of Lochar Moss; whilst, worse than either, there is no water brought into the town except by carts.

Bells Weekly Messenger, 16th December 1848

Join writer JoAnne McKay on a walking tour of Dumfries exploring the history of the devastating cholera “visitations” in 1832 and 1848, which increased calls for clean, piped water to the town.  Gather impressions and inspiration for your own writing during this relaxed, circular walk which will begin and end at the High Street fountain. Wear stout shoes, dress for the weather and bring something to take notes with.

2. A Magnificent Jet – Sunday 25th July, 2-4pm

The Provost then turned the screw of the pipe which supplies the fountain with water, and forthwith a magnificent jet was thrown up into the air, which continued playing all day afterwards.

Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser, October 22nd 1851

Using contemporary reports, this indoor writing workshop with writer JoAnne McKay will help you develop new writing on the origin story of the Dumfries Fountain: the politics and processes of bringing piped water to the town – and then keeping the clean water flowing.

100 High Street
Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway DG1 2BJ United Kingdom
01387 252435
View Venue Website
Musings News

Brave New Words Celebrates Four Years on the High Street!

This Friday sees the return of Brave New Words to The Stove for a special evening celebrating the fourth anniversary of the monthly event for new words spoken, sung, signed, shot or silenced. Since 2015, the open mic night has offered a platform to the town to celebrate diversity and challenge stigmas and stereotypes through spoken word, poetry, music and film.

Since our first Brave New Words four years ago, we’ve seen a new kind of scene flourish in the region. New poets, performers, musicians and writers from all walks of life coming together to support one another as well as a hunger for new work from local people. It’s really been an amazing journey.

Brave New Words plays a vital role in The Stove Network’s mission to bring vibrancy to evenings in the Town Centre, offering support to those willing to make a positive and impactful change in their home town and beyond. Since it began in 2015, Brave New Words has voyaged to festivals, created multi-disciplinary installations and uncovered an incredible amount of talent in the heart of Dumfries.

Over the years, Brave New Words has hosted some of the biggest names in the spoken word scene and as the project moves forward into 2020, there are a host exciting collaborations with national organisations, local initiatives and remarkable writers across Scotland.

This Friday’s Brave New Words tackles the theme of ‘Rebellion’ and will be a night full of surprises. Everyone is welcome to come along, and those wishing to participate should arrive prompt for 7pm to sign up to perform.



Lowland Writer in Residence: Chapter One

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.

Stuart A. Paterson, Lowland writer in residence

Musings News

Lowland | Building a contemporary narrative of Dumfries town

Building a contemporary narrative of Dumfries town
by Martin O’Neill

“I wrote about what was around me. But some people are so daft they don’t understand that writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his Inferno.” Mark E. Smith

A friend sent me this quote around the time of Fall front man and debauched hero Mark E. Smith’s death. It was a photo of the quote crudely written in sharpie. A cardboard epitaph by a postbox, adorned with flowers left to wilt. It reminded me of the sad street-lit shrines we see by the side of a road, marking a life cut-off too quickly by a road traffic accident. As if his death in the city was just as tragic. That his legacy should be marked in cardboard felt a fitting tribute to a man who dwelled between genius and joker.

At the time, I’d been going through a lot in my own practice – how much what surrounded me affected my own unconscious ranting – that first stage before actually forming something which might be deemed as poetry or art, and how much my own sense of place lead me to its final form.

Whether it was in the worlds unveiled in a hospital waiting room, or a past reflected in the walls of St. Andrew’s church. These worlds of words which when stringed together created in me that place always real and half-imagined like a dream, rippled from the walk of a day through the High Street, by the river or upward to the museum, the omnipresence of Burns carved in stone or engraved in a window, fogged by the rising smoke of a cigarette, his work obscured only in the presence of a poorly painted portrait.

These places that resonated on the page, and for which I couldn’t have explored the other parts, hidden from view. And it was the same for most every other writer I met in this town. They wrote what was around them, so as to peer further into themselves and understand better the lives of others.

There came a point, whilst compering Brave New Words which is now fast approaching its third year, growing in excellence, audience and value every month thanks only to those who contribute, and the communities which have grown from this that I was struck how important the living word, and its profound connection to place was.

With that, it seemed important to examine our current sense of belonging, through a platform engaging professional writers and artists, responding in their chosen practice, a contemporary account of Dumfries. It struck me that the hierarchy of writers was marked by death, and that their shadowed legacy was inscribed in the minds of those ‘in the know’, or on a white tomb, or in the pages of a tourist brochure and that little infrastructure existed to engage current writers to engage in the intricacies of writing place. What with the weight of a bard carved into marble.

To connect with our communities through the arts is the Stove’s ethos. To see that our opinions, thoughts, emotions and lives matter and to break down whatever barriers exist between culture and community is pivotal to creating a town everyone can be part of. And the form of the written word is just as valuable as any other form by which to do that.

With that, came Lowland. 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.

Launching with a writer-in-residence, the project hopes to create a valuable strategy for literary activity in the town and seeks to work with our community, our partners, artists and other writers to reflect the varying perspectives of the place we call home in new and inspiring ways.

With this, and the continued presence of Brave New Words, is where we build a legacy not formed by marble but by people, and the stories, which weave between the bricks of our buildings and the voices in the streets.

For further information on Lowland, please contact [email protected]


Beyond Burns

From Dr Gerard Lee McKeever
I was delighted to have the opportunity to run an event at The Stove in Dumfries in February. They are a really exciting arts network who have been a driving force in revitalising Dumfries town centre in recent years, part of a much broader flowering of cultural activity in the region.

Gerry McKeever introsducing 'Beyond Burns' at The Stove
Gerry McKeever introducing ‘Beyond Burns’ at The Stove

 Beyond Burns was an evening of poetry and talks about literary Dumfriesshire & Galloway, past and present – the first event funded by my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. It was an opportunity to engage with the local public, aiming to inspire thinking about other literature connected to the region around the time of Robert Burns, as well as more contemporary writing.

Beyond Burns Galina Walls

After an opening talk in which I surveyed some of the early fruits of my research, I was delighted to give the stage over to three local poets: Hugh McMillan, author of many books and pamphlets including Not Actually Being in Dumfries (2015) and McMillan’s Galloway (2016); Liz Niven, widely published in Scots and English and recently the editor of I’m Coming With You (2017); and Stuart A. Paterson, the latest BBC Scotland Poet in Residence, who has a new collection titled Looking South (2017). All three poets gave performances featuring a mix of their own work, other local poetry and reflections on the literary history of the region, with particular stress on issues including place, gender and language.


‘Knowledge Exchange’ and ‘Impact’ in academia have acquired the off-putting quality of all buzzwords. But literary scholars are among those best placed to engage with wider audiences. I’ve been really heartened at the response my project has had from the local community over the past six months. It’s clear that there is a significant wellspring of local knowledge and enthusiasm for eighteenth and nineteenth-century subjects. Through my involvement with the Oxford University Press edition of Burns at Glasgow, I was introduced to some creative ways of tapping into the massive public interest in Burns. Certainly no other D&G writer has his profile, but there is a real appetite for the wider literary-historical landscape here.

Beyond Burns Galina Walls Stuart Paterson
Stuart A Paterson
Beyond Burns Galina Walls
Liz Niven
Beyond Burns Galina Walls
Hugh McMillan

Engaging with three contemporary writers has also been a refreshing way of developing my thinking. Liz, Stuart and Hugh are all poets with a keen interest in the historical, geographical and political issues around living and working in this part of Scotland, with its unique perspective on local, national and global contexts. Further collaborations have already been mentioned – it’s great to reach beyond the traditional confines of scholarly research and participate in what is an optimistic moment in the region’s arts scene.

Beyond Burns Galina Walls

Beyond Burns was well-attended and closed with a Q&A session, before an after-hours writing workshop for keen attendees. The response to the event has been brilliant – I hope that it has helped to stimulate some new conversations about this rich literary history ­– including but also beyond the legacy of Burns.

Credit to Galina Walls for the photos from the evening.

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