Tiree Techwave - The Isle of Brine

An experiential inquiry into the creation of a locative story

The island of Tiree, most far flung of the Inner Hebrides, barely pokes its head above the Atlantic swell. A place at the edge of empires, Tiree is peppered with Iron Age settlements, the ruins of Irish monasteries, and the graves of Viking raiders. Its history mingles with legends that are rich with witches, giants, and magical stones - creating a heavy narrative tapestry that is woven into its sweeping beaches and salty machair. An island of stories.


During the original StoryPlaces project it became clear that there was a deficiency in our participatory design strategy. As technologists we were learning about authoring locative stories by observing writers tackling the challenges of each of our locations. But we had no direct experience ourselves of what it was like to create a locative story, and this made empathising with our writers difficult.

The Tiree Tech Wave offered us a potential solution. The Tech Wave is a bi-annual event hosted by Prof. Alan Dix on the Scottish Island of Tiree. A cross between a workshop and a makespace, it offers a place where participants can experiment and play with technology, and was a perfect safespace where we could step aside from the core StoryPlaces deployments and experience creating a story ourselves (without feeling that we had somehow crossed a professional line). The goal was no to create a brilliant story, but to reflect on the process of creating a locative story.

Alan was a magnificent host, and we spend five days on the island designing a locative story that drew on the island's rich history. We followed the methodology of experiential inquiry, created a digital journal of our experience, and held a number of reflective brainstorming sessions when we returned home to tease out the challenges we had faced, and analyse the decisions we had made. We also used this time to complete the writing task itself. Resulting in a story called The Isle of Brine.

The Isle of Brine

One of our goals with our Tiree story was to push the interactive elements of the StoryPlaces engine, as this was something that we were more familiar with than the authors we were working with elsewhere on the project. As a result the Isle of Brine has a relatively complex structure. It tells the story of a surveyor, returning to Tiree to update the records on the island, but over the course of the story it becomes clear that he has a deeper connection to the island itself, and an altogether different reason to visit.

The story unfolds over three areas of the island, and with each progression our surveyor becomes a less reliable narrator. At the same time a sequence of flashback pages runs backwards, showing his arrival, planning, and the conception of his trip. These two threads (one running forwards in time, the other back) create the hypertextual element of the story, as they progress at different rates, with the idea that they create different juxtapositions and experiences for the reader.

Our process was to design overall architecture of the story (the three forward and three backward Acts), and then to link the story with the legends of the island itself. In total we identified around twenty different local stories that we hoped to integrate with Isle of Brine. We then went out to the locations to scout for hotspots, and create a photo record. We took a manifest with us of the local stories, and part of our visit was searching for suitable places where those stories could appear, such that they were thematically consistent with our own story, but also with the feel of the locations themselves.

Our experience and much of what we learned is captured in our 2017 ACM Hypertext Paper, Tiree Tales, where we explain the methodology and the lessons we learned in more detail. However, our overriding insight from the experience was that creating locative stores is really difficult, as the author needs to juggle so many elements - from within the story itself (the characters, events, and themes), the hypertext structure, and the constraints and demands of the location. This alone was an important lesson as we moved on to deal with the other StoryPlaces deployments.

Dave also wrote up a personal account of the Tiree Tech Wave which you can find on his blog