Every year, Dundee Literary Festival plays host to the MA Writing Practice and Study Showcase. It’s a chance for some of the new writing talent emerging in Dundee to show off their work. This year the event took place in Bonar Hall, the central hub for much of the festival. The environment was a relaxed affair. There were several tables spread around the room covered in various chequered tablecloths and a nearby stall to purchase drinks and an array of cakes. The overall effect left a relaxed atmosphere with the low hum of chatter picking up as more and more people filed in to the event. There were many friends of the writers and poets and the general feeling was one of support and friendship. It was a great place to be.
I snatched myself a seat towards the edge of the group and was immediately greeted by others nearby who, like the rest of the crowd, were enthusiastic and welcoming. Following some brief small-talk, Kirsty Gunn, Professor of Creative Writing at the University and a critically acclaimed author in her own right, opened the event. She talked about how much she enjoyed the event every year as a chance for the new talent to ‘totally showoff’ and of the uniqueness that each University year class of writers had; each with their own interests and skills. She briefly explained that each writer would approach the microphone and tell us a bit about themselves before reading from their work; either poetry or prose.
We were treated to a reading from a novel centring on the experiences of a Holocaust survivor, who has since become a Hollywood Director, recalling his experiences in concentration camps. The author was engaging and clearly very passionate about her work. The novel was haunting from the beginning, building a sense of foreboding and drawing the audience in. This was followed by the first poet of the night who dived into the concept of memory and the power of language. His refreshing humour endeared the audience to him. I feel he best summed up the night with the closing line of his second poem, ‘Love Language’. It felt as though it summed up the night completely, a night where a love of language and a creative passion could be celebrated and shared.
The second novelist of the night, Leslie Holmes, had written a post-apocalyptic novel set in Dundee, set after a plague had wiped out 99% of all men. The short section of her novel revealed the depth of the world she had built and the complexity of the female characters she had centred her narrative upon. She moved through several poems full of powerful imagery that brought a sense of the unknowable and the unchangeable. She held her own rhythm and her own style bringing the audience into the world of her words; like everyone else her rapport with the audience was unique, individual and enthralling.
The session closed out with two prose authors; one of whom created a world built on the mundane and wrapped in the extraordinary; the other who brought this Young Adult novel to life through stream of consciousness with an insightful look into the world of a teenager with too much on his shoulders.
To say the talent on display was diverse would be an understatement, each writer came with their own style and voice that set them apart from the others and the session benefited from this. There was no repetition; no speaker overstayed their welcome or failed to hold the crowd. The event was full of raw talent nurtured here in Dundee but still true to the roots it came from. Professor Kirsty Gunn was perhaps best at describing the event as she opened it: ‘Every year, it’s different, I’m never bored, there’s never been a year where I’ve gone “well they were a bit like…” They bring ‘themselves’ to this event: their skills; their own techniques, it’s their work, their talent.’ And that’s what the event showed: the authors and their work, diverse backgrounds, methods and ideas; brought together by a need to create and love of language.