Category Archives: Thursday 22nd

Dark Star: Oliver Langmead

“[Dark Star is] a love story for three genres – the originality is in how they’re put together.”

Oliver Langmead’s début novel was shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not-the-Booker Prize, and now, he revealed before an enthusiastic audience at the Bonar Hall, the story has been earmarked for a potential movie tie-in with the same creative group that produced Skyfall and American Beauty.

Dark Star was released in March – coinciding, conveniently, with the solar eclipse that month. Having undertaken so many press conferences and interviews in the preceding seven months, it seemed a challenge for the room to come up with questions that Langmead hadn’t answered a hundred times before.

Fortunately, for a change as much for himself as for the crowd, he chose to read an extract from the middle of the book, rather than the intro to which he and his audiences are accustomed (he has the opening stanzas embedded in his memory). Langmead meditated for a moment on the symbolic significance of trains and train journeys in fiction – the event covered in the extract – before the floor was opened to general questions.

The first concerned which element of Dark Star he had come up with earliest in its creation. The world came first , he replied; more specifically, the image of Vivian North – the university student found dead in a pool of luminescent blood in a dark alley, whose murder sparks the subsequent criminal investigation around which the story initially revolves. The police detective protagonist’s character developed from the language and dialogue – “Virgil was a voice,” Langmead explained, who then grew alongside the poetic meter in which the book is written. “How challenging was it to write in first person?” another question asked ; “You mean, how much of me is in there?” Langmead replied, wryly. He had imagined the dialogue between police partners Virgil and Dante as Sin City-esque, suggesting that a sequel from Dante’s perspective might be worth exploring.

A question regarding blending voice with verse asked whether he had made “linguistic concessions” when fitting authentic-sounding conversations into syllable counts. Langmead conceded that earlier segments flowed less smoothly, but that it got easier as the book progressed; the trick was to make it sound easy to read, and eventually counting the syllables became natural, almost subconscious. Another asked him whether his book, or any book, ever felt completed – “No-o-o-o-o…!” He recalled how Virgil (the real one, the epic poet) didn’t want his own work published as he felt it was less than divine, but that as an artist you never stop finding new ways of looking at the same parts of your own work. If someone had told Langmead their perspectives on particular elements of the book, he might have written them differently .

Asked for advice on publishing after writing, he encouraged perseverance – “Someone will be enthusiastic” (“someone” in this instance being Unsung Stories). Following up by returning to the subject of writing itself, he discussed how roleplaying plots within the Dark Star universe with friends allowed him to discover facets of its world he’d never have considered himself, e.g. without any light-emitting combustible fuels, guns would have no muzzle flashes. Langmead also suggested that writing to limits could, ironically, expand your imagination – “putting a lot of constraints on yourself is a good idea” as it means you “try new things all the time”, resulting in “crazy stuff” like the book in his hands – a “world that feels unlike any  ”.

Adam Learmonth



“Heard It. Seen It. Done It” A Cultural Showcase

What’s next on my list of things to see at Dundee’s Literary Festival? Well, what better an event than a showcase of different art forms? Heard it. Seen it. Done it. was advertised in the Dundee Literary festival guidebook as a “One-off cultural showcase of live music, spoken word, animation […] conceived, curated and performed by voice hearers from the HaVeN, Dundee […]” The blurb went on to explain that the HaVeN charity based in the City was an organisation seeking acceptance of voice hearing being a valid experience. I was left a little puzzled in what was meant by ‘voice hearing’ and so I grabbed my coat and made for Bonar Hall.

Upon arriving, and after a quick detour to the downstairs bar, I had found a seat. Some chairs were placed around tables with pens and paper, other chairs lay dotted around the room bizarrely. Was it interactive? Did I need a pen and paper or a table to lean on? Were they reserved for specific people who did need pens and paper? I wasn’t sure and so I found a chair close enough to a table that I could shimmy to in the event it was needed, but far enough away in case it was indeed reserved. With reasons unknown, the showcase began forty minutes after its scheduled time. A man dressed in bright, patterned clothes jumped on stage and brought the spirits of the waiting crowd back to life. He told us he was part of NEU! REEKIE!, a duo who bring literary culture to the masses by holding events using technology and their bright enthusiasm for The Arts. He explained how they had given workshops at HaVen to inspire poetry among other mediums to express their experiences as either voice hearers or mental health issues. The informal chat was cheery and informative, although I was rather hoping the term “voice hearing” would be explained as he had obviously chosen to categorise it differently to that of mental health struggles.

He then introduced a short film directed, created and written by Ainslie Henderson portraying daily battles with mental health. The lights went down. The short was narrated by the main character, a man about to face a crowd and sing at an open mic. We watch as the character breaks down and his doubting inner voice materializes as a younger version of himself. The film’s subject matter talked about how childhood experiences may linger and cripple our self-confidence in future life and how we must fight it by finding peace with ourselves. The film ended as the character and his younger self walk on stage together and begin to sing. As the lights went up the sheer silence of the room before the roar of applause said everything. It had moved every single member of the audience to reflection and thought as well as appreciation of the beautiful and flawless stop motion.

The host, only known to us as NEU! REEKIE!, quickly brought on the second act of the night, three musicians under the names of Loki, Becci and Marissa. Loki seemed the foreman of the trio as he welcomed us in his broad Glaswegian accent. He spoke about how he too had run workshops with groups including HaVen, mental health support groups and nderprivileged teenagers. He spoke of vaguely of personal traumas as a younger man and how these experiences had caused a sense of depression and isolation within himself. Without further ado, Becci strapped her guitar round her chest whilst Marissa rested her violin under her chin and they began their first song. Fully expecting Loki to sing, my eyes widened in delight as the lyrics spilled from his mouth; he was a rapper! Each piece they performed sang of his dark experiences alone with his mind and his struggle with drug use. “Tell me something good to shout about, ’til then its mood swings and roundabouts”.

His elegant play on words, rhymes and rhythm accompanied by the sorrowful tones of the violin and constant strum of the guitar had successfully personified his struggles into sound. The group thanked the crowd at the end of their set and left us with a beautiful and comforting thought “some of you here might represent the mental health community, some of you might represent the literary community and others are part of the local community. Tonight, we ARE the community. One community together.” I found myself looking around the room at the crowd and no longer felt in limbo at my table-less, scattered chair.

The next performer was Kevin Swinyard, a member of HaVEn, who had prepared two of his own poems written in a workshop with Kevin McCabe, a spoken word artist. The poems described the poet’s face and repetition peppered the piece with “you have a boxer’s nose like me” giving an even and lulling rhythm and tempo. He spoke with passion and commitment for his work whilst giving a convincing performance of the words he spoke. His ode to Kevin McCabe suited the event perfectly as the poet himself was welcomed onstage to perform his own pieces.

Again, the spoken word was set to music, a Rhythm and Blues tribute from the lone guitarist as Kevin performed his pieces, inspired by Dundee, with elegant musicality. Unfortunately, it was here that I guesstimated the reasons for such a long wait for the show to begin. During the last of McCabe’s pieces the sound crackled with deafening screeches. I mention this in my review not as a negative point but to applaud both McCabe and the following performers as they continued with confidence and strength as the sound misbehaved intermittently throughout the rest of the night.

Margaret Mackay, another member of HaVen, was next up, reading her own poems also created in a workshop with NEU! REEKIE! What struck me most about her poems was not the content itself, but how her personality shone out of them, like the rainbow she spoke of in her first piece.

Last to perform were a duo named Panda Su, a singer songwriter and her drumming companion who stunned the crowd with her melancholic and unusual sound. Not for the first time during the evening, the crowd applauded with genuine appreciation and recognition of their talents.

I walked home that evening with a sense of wholeness and a new respect in humanity, something that is often lost in a bustling, busy City. No, I still wasn’t completely sure what the term “Hearing voices” meant, but it wasn’t the point of the evening. The showcase, as Loki had pointed out, had brought communities together to form a whole; to acknowledge talent and skills from every point of life – how you can put the worst and darkest nights of your life to use and turn them into a celebration in happier days.


Aileen Gilchrist

First Writes

First Writes

Poetry Workshop with Lindsay MacGregor and Eddie Small

22nd October, 10 am

After some introductions and an enthusiastic welcome from Lindsay and Eddie, we were asked to write down an answer to the question: “What brought you here?”

As someone who has tried to write poetry in the past, this was an easy question to answer – I love reading poetry, I especially love hearing it read aloud, and it would make me happy, if at any time I could manage to write a poem that I would be content to read to an audience, without feeling that it was not quite right, or not quite good enough.

Eddie Small  began the workshop by reading a poem in Scots’ dialect by Harvey Holton, which described a once industrious area of the Dundee docks.  Perhaps some of us took inspiration or absorbed some nugget from that reading.  Lindsay then challenged us to think about what makes a poem, and what we all expect from the poetry we read or listen to; of course this produced a number of different thoughts and answers, which gave us more to think on.

Things moved on apace (90 minutes is all too brief!).  We were presented with a set of four images; as each one was displayed, we were given time to free-write on anything which came to mind, and this was followed by another wonderful poem reading from Eddie, this time by local poet John Glenday, which provided further inspiration

Now it was time for us to start writing our poems. Lindsay asked us to scrutinize all the writing we had produced  in the last hour, then to use the  lines which gave us something that we could form our final piece of writing from.  After a while we were asked to begin polishing our work, firstly by looking at the verbs – were they working hard enough? –then the nouns – were they the right ones;did they convey the right meaning?

So all of us had now written a poem, which nearly all of us felt brave enough to read out to the audience of our workshop peers , with Eddie and Lindsay’s encouragement.  Some of those poems will live on, exactly as they were when we read them out, some will be rewritten or edited into new life, and some will be discarded; perhaps new thoughts and poems will replace them.  That’s the heart and the joy of writing poetry, it evolves, or it stays the same, it swells or it shrinks, but in a very short time you have something complete which lives with you, or something incomplete which grows with you.

Lindsay and Eddie had skilfully organised the event to make best use of the all-too-brief time, and with their infectious enthusiasm, considerate support and shared wisdom, they certainly inspired me to believe that one day I will write a poem which I think is good enough; I do hope that day will be soon!

Lorna Hanlon



Word into Art, Art on Words: Graham Domke & Beth McDonough (DCA) and Kirsty Gunn (3pm)

The Word into Art event was set up a little like a talk show, if we imagine Kirsty Gunn as the host and Beth McDonough and Graham Domke as the guest speakers. Kirsty, a lecturer at the University of Dundee and a well-known author, began by introducing herself, and commented that as a writer she “like[s] to think of other media”. She then introduced her guests, namely Beth who is both an artist and a poet, as well as the DCA’s (Dundee Contemporary Arts) writer in residence and Graham, the curator of the DCA.

Kirsty prompted discussion about the relationship between words and art – what is it? How do we explain it? In response, Graham, who described himself as an “avid reader” and “inhaler of culture”, talked of his own experience of writing catalogues for exhibitions, and used his work on Thomas Hirschhorn’s It’s Burning Everywhere (shown at the DCA in 2009) as an example of how he writes what the artist creates. He read a little excerpt from the piece and Kirsty noted how it was an excellent example of the coming together of formal and creative writing. That is, even though the piece was communicating information, it was done so in a creative and thought provoking way. This example highlighted a form of relationship between the written word and art in that it was a written piece about art but also written in an artful manner.

“Poetic work is informed by visual work and vice versa”, noted Beth. That is the reason, she told us, that she was drawn to poetry, having initially started out in the ‘art world’ as an art teacher and jewellery designer (I’m not sure in what order). The incredible attention to detail, she commented, is something that written and visual works share. However, Beth also interestingly noted how there appears to be a boundary of some form that surrounds places such as the DCA (The McManus Galleries not so much) in that people feel they are unable to, or incapable of, relating to the work there. Her work recently, alongside Graham, has involved attempts at “dissolving [those] boundaries” and I found this a rather fascinating project. How to get people to engage with, and (as I’m sure it was Kirsty who commented) ask “normal” questions about art.

These examples are only a snippet of the conversation today as part of the Dundee Literary Festival, and they show only a glimpse of the possibilities of such a conversation. I am sure the discussion could have continued for a number of hours if time had allowed. The relationship between the written word and art is one that is not particularly easy to define, but is definitely a significant one. The key seems to be, as suggested today, to get rid of some of the preconceptions of both genres and allow the imagination to do the talking whilst remembering that “what holds us together is greater than what separates us”.

Frances Kelly

Another Kind of Writing: Peter Davidson in conversation with Kirsty Gunn

Intimate and cosy, the Bonar Hall is warmer than is has been in previous years as Kirsty Gunn chairs a conversation with The Idea of North author Peter Davidson. Kirsty’s voice is clear and confident, commanding the room’s attention easily without the use of a microphone. She opens by telling both the audience and Peter about her first experience with his work and travelling while pregnant to Perth to attend one of his readings. However, arriving late she was too shy to attend, intimidated by the sound of applause she could hear from outside the building. But now, sixteen years later she tells us that she has the honour to chair Peter Davidson here at Dundee. The last of teh light

Davidson then introduces his work with a reading from The Idea of North. Charming and funny, Davidson’s voice is slow, calm and composed, beautifully accentuating the ‘lyrical sensibility’ (as Kirsty call it) of his work. A perfect introduction to Davidson’s writing the piece includes all the aspects Kirsty attributes to his work: miracles, a deeply informed world, a poetic sense of the self and a very cinematic aspect. Description plays heavily into Davidson’s work in what Kirsty deems the ‘exquisite pleasures of seeing and responding.’ This integral preoccupation with the visual in his writing is later attributed, , to his time as an art historian. Davidson tells us of his fascination with landscapes and in turn landscape paintings, to which Kirsty notes his writing is a ‘painter’s dream.’

After a second reading Davidson then comments on one of his favourite artists; a woman from Aberdeen, who’s landscape paintings are a huge inspiration to his writing. He credits her as producing ‘a perfectly eloquent painting of Scottish winter’, that succeeds in capturing the last bit of light the eye can perceive before nightfall. This then inspired Davidson to think of the time in history when people began to paint Scottish landscapes as they are, misty and brooding: ‘a land who has more damp than it knows what to do with.’ He then discusses his new novel The Last of the Light: About Twilight. Returning to the last perception of light captured in the artist’s paintings, Davidson’s latest text deals with the history of twilight, as well as using it as a metaphor for those who run away from the light and become ghosts of themselves, as well as a moment of change.

Focusing on his fascination with a sense of north and cinematic attention to the metamorphosis of the ‘five Scottish seasons’, Kirsty spends the last few moments of their conversation discussing the ‘carnival sense of expectation at the lengthening of the days,’ and the ‘Persephone moment of seeing everything growing.’ It is this business of seeing and possibility of light which pervades Davidson’s work and steers the conversation to its close. Davidson, like Burn’s before him would describe this time of year, not as autumn, but something more Scottish: when the leaves fall and the twilight comes earlier. A time of the perpetual dampness captured in painted landscapes of the north and Davidson’s evocative descriptions of nature.

Kate McAuliffe

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



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.