Category Archives: Lunchbox Talks

Lunchbox Talks: Designing Stories (With Prof. Mike Press & Holly Scanlan, Friday 23rd, 1pm)

“Designing Stories” is a rather vague title, being one of the classic examples of an event label that have little to no relation to the topic actually discussed. What I attended, was in fact a discussion of blogging – highlighting its merits, including a short reading of a number of blog entries. These were presented by Professor Mike Press, Holly Scanlan (a personal blogger and hairstylist) and three other bloggers who, despite contributing rather interesting points, didn’t quite make it to the Literary Festival guide. These three were Linda Isles, Lauren Currie and Jennifer Jones. Although, it is quite possible that due to the lack of reference material, I have completely butchered the spelling of their names.

Each guest in turn read a short extract from their blog and then answered questions, which ranged from why they felt the practice was generally important to how an individual new to the world of blogging could proceed. Video presentations were integrated seamlessly without appearing forced, but whilst offering interesting insights into the work of Currie and Jones, they didn’t add much else of note. The rest of this review will focus mainly on Press, Scanlan and Isles. These three all read well, yet their chosen extracts and more general discussion of their work revealed a disjunction between the different speakers’ material. Press read a well-structured story about his childhood that gave the impression of time having being put in, and multiple drafts having been written. This is perhaps unsurprising as his usual material is of an academic nature, discussing aspects of current movements in art and design. Scanlan and Isles’ extracts, however, were far more spontaneous, almost in the form of diary entries that, while providing a certain amount of energy, made their work also appear somewhat unpolished. While I am sure the intention of these two very different writing styles was to show the variety of voice and options open to a blogger, I felt it made the event seem somewhat unfocused. This continued into the general discussion where Scanlan’s personal and emotional approach to her work seemed very out of place with the more academic points being brought up by Press, with Isles’ comments alternating between the two standpoints. The mistake, at least in my eyes, was to have Press as both a member of the panel and the moderator, which meant his points overpowered those of the other speakers somewhat.

More generally, the problem seems to have been a lack of direction to the discussion. While each speaker had interesting points to make about their own work, these never seemed to build towards any sort of conclusion, which at moments gave the impression of the event simply being a chance for the guests to advertise their blogs. Deeper questions about the nature of the medium were brought up but were quickly glossed over. These included the worry that blogging is the ultimate expression of narcissism, and whether it created a “cult of amateur”.

Perhaps I am being too harsh in judgement. It was a “Lunchbox Talk” and perhaps its aim was simply to entertain an audience over a lunch hour, which it, of course, did perfectly adequately, always staying enjoyable and never becoming dull.  Yet I feel that the subject matter of the talk was worthy of a little more intellectual probing and thus I left the event somewhat unsatisfied.

Chris Gerrard

Lunchbox Talks: ‘A State of Nature?’ Landscape, Ownership and Conflict in Northern Scotland, C. 1790-1920, with Annie Tindlay (1pm)

I got the chance to meet Annie Tindlay, briefly, before her talk this afternoon. She joked about how she is an ambassador for the BBC television show, Landward (“like Countryfile, but Scottish and better”), a programme that she is going to be making an appearance on at some point in the near future. One thing that was clear from this very brief encounter, coupled with her talk, was that Annie is very passionate about her research area. She opened today with a warm welcome and a comment that it was a privilege to be able to speak to us today about Scottish land ownership. A comment made later in her discussion (she welcomed, encouraged even, questions and comments from the audience), about how she asked the students of her third year module on the Scottish Highlands and Islands at the University of Dundee how many of them had been to the highlands of Scotland, sadly reflected the level of attention the highlands generally receive from the general public – she was disappointed to learn that very few had been farther north than Stirling.

The relevance of Annie’s discussion today is extremely high considering the topical nature of land ownership in light of the Scottish government’s current discussions about land reform. Annie gave a brief history of Scottish land ownership leading back to (and beyond) 1886 and the “Sutherland land war”. She commented how the highlands are “trapped by the history of the clearances” which have left a “legacy of unfairness” in relation to how the landscape, and the ownership of it, are thought about. She suggested that the population boom of the 1780s has almost reversed in that the problem is now a case of depopulation, something akin to abandonment. This is what she described as “The Highland Problem” – noting the “capital ‘h’ and capital ‘p’”. The problem with land reform is that, as I mentioned earlier, Annie noted we are trapped in the past. She feels that what should be considered in relation to the land is not what has gone before, but she urges that we should look forward and ask what it is Scotland could and should be? She suggests this could be agreed upon through democratic debate and then action – “only then will we recover from the clearances” as “land reform [until now] has left untouched the relationship between power and land”.

Annie made a sweet and jovial comment on how, as a historian, the future is not her area of expertise. However, her talk today highlighted many problem areas in our, the people’s, relationship with, and attitude towards, the land we live on and ‘own’. She recognises that we have an aesthetic and romantic view, a “collective imagination” in relation to the land, and noted that this conflicts with the historical and actual relationship we have with it. Her comment to forget the past and concentrate on the future of Scotland is very interesting, and is possibly something the government should consider in their current debates.

Frances Kelly

FestWatch 2015 Introductions

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Hello!

I’m Frances and I’m an English Studies MLitt student at the University of Dundee. This is my first time even just attending an event like the Dundee Literary Festival and so I am really excited to be involved!

As previously mentioned by my FestWatch editing buddies, the events this year are truly great. The festival is covering a wide range of genres with some truly amazing guests and even getting involved with important issues! The first event I am attending is the first of the Lunchbox Talks series, namely ‘A State of Nature’? Landscape, Ownership and Conflict in Northern Scotland, C. 1790-1920 with Annie Tindlay (Thursday 22nd October 1pm). I am really looking forward to this talk as the issue of land ownership “both in practical and imaginary senses” will be illuminated. I am personally interested in ideas such as these, having looked at the notion of ‘nature’ in relation to Romantic and Contemporary poetry for my Honours dissertation!

The Dundee Literary Festival is great because not only is it, of course, about literature but you don’t have to be an avid reader to be able to get something out of the events. It is open to everyone, and with other mediums being brought into play, and discussions being held about a wide range of topics, there is definitely something for everyone.

Frances