Category Archives: 22.10. novels

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



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