Folk Tales Commission Awarded To Poet and Writer Hugh McMillan

Wigtown Book Festival and Fresh Start for the Arts join forces for new project to gather tales of Dumfries and Galloway

Poet and author Hugh McMillan has been awarded the commission to create a new work retelling folklore and tales – old and modern – about Dumfries and Galloway.

The initiative has been organised by the Wigtown Book Festival with funding from Fresh Start for the Arts, which supports the development of the region’s arts sector.

The commission is loosely inspired by the work of John Mactaggart who, in 1876, produced the Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopaedia after interviewing people with unusual tales and interesting information.

Hugh, a retired history teacher from Penpont, will be following in Mactaggart’s footsteps and will travel the region in search of interesting characters with fascinating stories.

“I’m really looking forward to getting on the road and meeting people. I have a deep interest in the folklore and the stories of the region, and I’m sure there will be a huge amount out there.

“Telling a story is such a natural thing, and it enriches everyone’s life. My only problem might be that I might get enough material for five books!”

Among the nuggets he has already picked up are the tales of the German submariner, from Annan, who had a picture of his own grave, and the psychic Dumfries taxi driver who once took a ghost back to its former home.

Hugh has already identified some provisional themes that he is especially interested in investigating. These are:

· Woodsmen

· Nomads

· Dykers

· Weans

· Drunkards

· Naturals

· Free Spirits

· Strange encounters

A “Natural” was the word given by 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”.

Kathleen O’Neill, Fresh Start Project Manager, said: “We were so pleased that the commission has been awarded to Hugh – he has such a love of the region and its people and is a highly accomplished poet and writer. I’m certain that Hugh’s work will be a wonderful read and that Mactaggart would be delighted to have such a worthy successor.”

Fresh Start for the Arts is able to fund the folklore writing project thanks to financial backing from the Rural Dumfries and Galloway LEADER Programme, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Creative Scotland.

Adrian Turpin, Director of the Wigtown Book Festival, said: “We’re delighted that the first book commissioned by the festival should be from Hugh, a writer of great talent. There are so many strange and funny stories in D&G, the kind that are told and retold over dinner tables, at bars and firesides – he is the perfect person to capture them for all to enjoy.”

Hugh will be present at the festival and has already started a special blog for the project which can be seen at http://greatgallowaytalehunt.blogspot.co.uk/ and he can be emailed at [email protected]


About Hugh

He has had six full collections of poetry published, the most recent ‘Thin Slice of Moon’ a collected and selected volume, published by Scotland’s Roncadora Press. A new collection from Mariscat Press is due for publication in 2014. Previous collections of poetry include:

· Tramontana (Dog and Bone, Glasgow, 1990)

· Horridge (Chapman, Edinburgh, 1995)

· Aphrodite’s Anorak (Peterloo, England 1996)

· Strange Bamboo (Shoestring, England, 2001)

· The Lost Garden (Rocadora, Dumfries, 2010)

Hugh has also published several pamphlets: ‘Postcards from the Hedge’ won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Prize in 2009 and ‘After the Storm’ was a winner in the Smith/Doorstep Poetry Prize in 2004.

The range of applications for the commission revealed just how many potential approaches could be taken – from graphic novels to narrated stories.

Some also suggested using video, live shows and other techniques for attracting the widest possible audiences. Fresh Start and the festival would like to thank everyone who took time to apply for their thought, imagination and enthusiasm.

Matthew Shelley


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