Category Archives: Kate McAuliffe

Future Book

Marginal Technologies: The Future of Books in a Digital Age

Claire Stewart from Electric Bookshop chaired the discussion today about print and digitally formatted books. She was joined by Reif Larson, author and academic at St. Andrew’s University, and our own Dominic Smith from the Philosophy department.

Reif kicked the event off with a presentation looking at the future of books from a writer’s perspective (as opposed to an editorial or publishing one). Focusing on his 2009 novel, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, released at a time when E-readers were blooming and readers feared for the fate of the printed book. Six years later, however, our fear has somewhat subsided – Reif comments on “the intimate relationship we have with print books and places that house print books.” In accordance with this, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet was released as a print book which included all the boundless benefits of an E-reader or tablet by including illustrations and added information in the margins with arrow to the main text, effectively acting as a hyperlink. “The story demanded this form,” he tells us. From this, he moved on to discussing his next project which combined narrative with images from Google Maps, something which appealed to both guest speakers .

Dominic followed with more of a lecture than a presentation, including excerpts from several modern philosophers. He used these passages to show the differing metaphors that can be used to describe the Book: a finite resource (Lars Iyer), a thick collection of letters (Peter Sloterdijk), or as a device for the imagination (Vannevar Bush). His points were very academic and well structured; I confess I was at a bit of a loss in trying to understand his various arguments, philosophy never being one of my strong points.

This was then followed by a discussion and questions from the floor, which soon got quite heated. The first question stated rather than asked that E-readers, like Google Maps and the surveillance it incorporates, are an invasion of privacy. The man’s point, to his credit, is that when reading a kindle it monitors your reading speed and how long you spend on certain pages, relating this feedback to Amazon, demonstrating a grim irony of how books are now reading us. However, reflecting back on a point made by Dave Gibbons on Thursday, E-readers and digital print can in some ways offer more privacy. For example, the book cover is hidden from the public, thus allowing more discretion for the individual reader. The second question, which is again not a question and just as aggressively presented as the first, is that the fear of digital reading is only an issue of the moment, as not too long ago reading was an entirely public event as families would read aloud to one another, and even the roots of storytelling are oral. This again disputes the question of privacy as well as the future of books, which is an ever changing dilemma. A solution Dominic offers is to remove the idea of privacy from the Book.

The final question, which is again infuriatingly not a question, is that the “technologizing of literature is dehumanising.” These are strong words, and like the statements before them (from both audience and panel), they reveal a strong passion for both digital and print books. People seem greatly polarised on the subject, attacking and defending digital books in equal parts. What seems an optimistic solution, that the panel have identified, is to use the boundless possibilities of digital formatting within narratives or to derive narratives. This is why, they agree, Google Street View is interesting and complicated as it offers another perspective by capturing (voyeuristically) the everyday life of other people.

Kate McAuliffe

Pamela Butchart: Spies and Vampire Rats

24.10. 10 am:
Taking the suitable for ages 7-10 as a mere suggestion, I walked through the doors and was handed a blank page of paper (which of course I took) and sat on the end of the back row, trying to look as inconspicuous and non-shady as possible. Yes, I was the only person attending not accompanied by at least one child, but I hope my scribbling of notes confirmed my identity as a reviewer and kid at heart. Pamela opens by asking for a show of hands to indicate who saw her at the Literary Festival last year. Many eager hands shoot up and stay held as she asks who has read her previous books and who has read her new book My Head Teacher is a Vampire Rat. She then asks a young girl in the front row, Isla, to stand at the front and demonstrate what Pamela means by “a round of applause.” Isla has been here before and she knows the drill, smiling eagerly at the front she proceeds to clap her hands in an arc to which we all join in.

Pamela then talks about the first book in her Izzy series: Baby Aliens got my Teacher. Showing photos of famous film and television teachers and aliens, Pamela starts a competition putting one side of the room against the other. This goes down very well, as the keen and well behaved kids each raise their arms to answer, some hopping on their seats and squirming with anticipation at being picked, full of beans the way only kids can be so early on a Saturday morning. Excitement is peaked as a photo of Yoda flashes onto the screen and all the young arms in the room raise skyward, with a couple of adults’ enthusiastic nods.

We then move onto a reading from Baby Aliens got my Teacher in which hero Izzy finds a “crisp twin” of her neighbour and posts it to her accordingly. This moves us on to the next bit of fun and audience participation as Pamela asks for some volunteers to come out front with her. Not a single child who enthusiastically steps forward is refused and soon nearly every child in the Croppedroom is huddled shoulder to shoulder at the front. Alex, a young boy, is given the job of “crisp inspector”, and, with that title not seeming official enough, is given an old teacher hat to wear. Alex crunches a bag of crisps, opens it and pulls out a triangular shaped crisp. The volunteers then stand in a line and are told that one by one they are going to add a part to the story of how this crisp (which wasn’t always a crisp) became a crisp. This is lots of fun and the kids really take to it, some adding lots and others shyly saying only a few words, helped along the way by Pamela’s guidance (her being a teacher as well as an author). At the end, Pamela tells them not to let the story go to waste and encourages the children to go home and write it down, maybe even in groups.

The event ends with more engaging participation as Pamela shows us how to draw a “vampire rat”, using the blank pages we were offered at the beginning. At the end the proud children held up their illustrations with beaming faces, and I succeeded in refraining from joining them (though I do admit to having drawn my own copy). Pamela was a treat to watch and listen to, all the children and parents were engaged right from the very beginning, but most importantly, the event was fun and encouraged creative interests and outlets, be that writing or illustration.

Kate McAuliffe

The Boy from Nowhere: Gregor Fisher and Melanie Reid

8 pm

My first introduction to the character Rab C. Nesbitt was as a young child when my brother dressed as the famous fictional Scot in our town’s annual civic week parade and won the first prize. However, Melanie Reid, the co-writer of Fisher’s memoir tells us that, “when you get to know Gregor Fisher you realise that he is a million miles away from Rab C. Nesbitt.” When people see Fisher, they ignorantly assume he is synonymous with the character, but like myself, they are wrong.

During the event there are three people on stage; Jenny Brown, a literary agent based in Edinburgh, Melanie Reid, a journalist and columnist for The Times, and Fisher himself. Brown chaired the event and asked several questions about the memoir, including a query into Fisher’s motives, as well as personal questions about his relationships with certain relatives and people growing up. But, she need not have been there. Fisher and Reid continually pushed each other and bounced back and forth in a humorous double act. Responding to Brown’s question asking when he discovered that he was adopted, Fisher replies that he was at a Christening when he was “about twelve or thirteen.” “You told me you were fourteen,” interjected Reid to which Fisher stared blankly. “It says you were fourteen in the book.” To which he responded comically, “I was about fourteen.” For all the ways in which their personalities seemed at odds (Fisher, laid back, playful, with a strong west coast accent and Reid, very composed and solemn, occasionally sarcastic in her comments), they perfectly balanced each other. It was obvious that they shared a real understanding of each other, extending to something more than a mere professional friendship. Another example of this is Fisher’s description of the unusual circumstances surrounding his birth and upbringing: “You could write this,” he jokes. “Now you know how I feel,” Reid cuts in, much to the amusement of the audience, one of the many laugh out loud moments that frequent the event.

Fisher and Reid’s relationship is not always harmonious, however, as Reid comments “you are quite difficult sometimes.” “In what way?” asks Fisher. “Tricky,” she replies. Fisher puts this down to his west coast upbringing and explains he has his own reservations about Reid, who he accuses of being “too emosh” and “girly”, much to the oohs and laughs of the audience.

Getting down to the book itself, Brown inquires as to why Fisher decided to write to the book, or have it written, as it were. He tells us that he wrote it in order to find out about his past, having been inspired by a conversation with one of his in laws, he dons a posh English accent (he tells us jokingly that he married above him) and impersonates the woman, shocked and thrilled at his upbringing. Reid confesses that she had never written a novel or tried her hand at ghost writing. Brown then describes the novel as both a detective piece and road novel, using one of Reid’s lines from the memoir describing Reid and Fisher on the road as “Dastardly and Muttley.” But it is Fisher himself who describes the memoir as “a great story of love and human kindness”, while Reid believes it to be “a story of survival.” Either way, I was completely sold, if not by the narrative, which sounds creatively written and fascinating in its exploration of Fisher’s turbulent childhood, then by the witty repartee of its two writers.

Kate McAuliffe

Do it like a Woman: Caroline Criado-Perez

Friday 2 pm

Speaking to a predominantly gendered audience (one man for every fifteen women or so), Caroline opens rather controversially by stating that she has been an “anti-feminist longer than a feminist,” believing women to be “useless underachievers.” Fighting with the screeching microphone, she decides to “go natural” as Zoe Venditozzi (who chaired the event) puts it. “I bet a man designed that” retorts Caroline much to the amusement of the audience. Carrying on with talking about her previous anti-feminist beliefs, she tells us that she was first challenged by Deborah Cameron’s novel: Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Studying English Literature at the time, it was Cameron’s focus on grammar which fascinated her. Thinking about how language shapes our world, Caroline was struck by Cameron’s discussion on grammar as being gendered. Now, this was an idea she was not unfamiliar with, the default pronoun always being male e.g. mankind and he, but what struck a chord with Caroline were the studies mentioned, which showed that when people heard this default ‘he’ or ‘mankind’, they pictured men. It was then that Caroline started looking into feminism and how women were represented.

The next section of the presentation involves Caroline reciting statistics which highlight the underrepresentation of women in society. One mentioned is that women in Hollywood films make up 28% of all speaking roles and 17% of all crowd scenes. “Why is it that the stories we tell ourselves shouldn’t be gender equal?” Caroline asks us. But she doesn’t just throw these statistics at us to shame without reason, she evaluates these results and looks into the theory behind them. She tells us that in a study of mixed gender groups composed of 17% female and 83% male, the male participants perceived the ratio as 50/50. It is studies like this which have highlighted why sexism is still very much apparent in society if 17/83 is regarded by males as gender equal.

It is reasons like this, Caroline tells us, that she was so anti-feminist in the past since she “never saw women in any position of power [she] felt like she could not achieve anything without pretending to be a man.”
She then talks about stereotype threats and role models, explaining that in another survey, it was shown that women who were made to tick a box stating that they were female before sitting a mathematics test statistically did worse. Another, showed that women who gave speeches in rooms with portraits of powerful women (e.g. Angela Merkel), were judged better by themselves and the audience, highlighting the self-belief evident in their gender. Looking at marketing, male is again set to default as Walmart advertises ‘Deodorant and Female Deodorant.’ Similarly, BIC pens were thought to be gender neutral until the female version was released, a new hot pink colour being the only difference. (It is at this time that I look down to my hand, holding a similarly pink ballpoint and horror floods me until I realise that I stole this pen from my boyfriend several days ago.) Yes, this marketing, while infuriating, does seem relatively harmless on the scale of sexism – at least until Caroline later comments on the symptoms for heart attacks. Pain in the left chest and shooting pain down the left arm, right? Yes, something we all know from television dramas and health warnings to look out for and beware of. However, Caroline tells us, shockingly, that these are the male symptoms and countless women have been misdiagnosed, their symptoms appearing as heart burn and indigestion. This is another example of men as default, but in this case it can result, horrifically, in female death.

Ending her presentation with the story of Sheryl Sandberg’s pregnancy at Google, Caroline told us how the walk from the car park became too strenuous for Sheryl in her condition, and so she asked for a car park closer to the building for pregnant women. The idea was instantly taken up by head office, who had never thought of it and Sandberg confessed it had never occurred to her before she was pregnant. In telling this story, Caroline ended her presentation, not with hate towards or shaming of sexism, but an understanding of it. She understands that it’s hard to see the world from another perspective, which is often learned only from experience.

Kate McAuliffe

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

Dave Gibbons: The Story So Far

Wednesday 4pm: Dave Gibbons

As you may or may not know, today is the exact day that Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II. While we may not have flying cars, self-tying shoes or hover-boards, today we did have poet laureate Dave Gibbons speaking on his life and process – he even managed to work in illustrations of hover-scooters from the futuristic parallel world of The Originals. Gibbons talked of his love of science fiction and how his favourite works encompass an “infusion of action, invention and comedy.” But, his involvement with the future doesn’t end there, as he discussed his immersion in different aspects of multimedia and what he believes the future has in store for comics.

Chaired by Dundee University’s own comic’s lecturer Chris Murray, Gibbons is briefly introduced, focusing on his relationship with Dundee (being awarded an honorary degree last year), his emphasis on encouraging the reading of comics in education, as well as the creation of the Dundee Comics Creative Space (opening soon). Chris then handed the event over to the man himself who proceeded with what he called his “autobiographical presentation”; the accompanying image reading “The Story so Far.” Gibbons then delved into a montage of stories about his childhood, specifically his family and their support of his love of comics. The most touching memory is of Gibbons aged seven being bought an American Action Comic featuring Superman by his grandfather. Gibbons describes this comic as a “nugget of colour” when everything else around him seemed a perpetual grey. This memory also tied inWatchmen with Gibbons’ roots to Dundee as his grandfather worked as a postings officer who was situated for a time in the city. This meant that Gibbons’ father grew up here and knew a D.C. Thompson artist, to whom he sent young Dave’s drawings. It is because of this that Gibbons feels that Dundee has played an important part in him being here today. With a clearly planned narrative arc, Gibbons later leads us back to the same comic he was gifted as a child, talking about the extreme thrill he felt when he was eventually asked to draw Superman for an American company – always referring to himself as a fan.

But Gibbons didn’t just talk about his strengths or successes. Included in the biography he gave is the disappointment he felt when he was given the opportunity to rewrite one of his co-created characters: Rogue Trooper. He explained that by giving the character a different origin story, his readership soon lost interest. So instead of merely highlighting his huge successes (Watchmen and his partnerships with comic icon Alan Moore simply glossed over or mentioned in reference) Gibbons gave equal attention to his failings, acknowledging that writing is not his strength.

Throughout the lecture, Gibbons also integrated his experiences working with different multimedia. He talked about his involvement with the computer games industry, having done character design for Beneath the Steel Sky and Bionic Commando. He said he finds computer games “similar to the fandom of comics”, where as a child you would read the medium and then write your own. He also briefly mentioned the product design on the Owl Ship in the film adaptation of Watchmen, praising the detail to which it replicated his illustration in the graphic novels. Towards the end he also promoted a couple of apps and digital readers such as May Fire and Magic leap, praising the digital format of comics for allowing privacy to readers, recognising the social taboo attached to reading comics as an adult. He explained how the rise of digital comics has in turn boosted readership, and ironically increased sales in book format.

Ending the event with an emphasis on the importance of comics in schools and promoting CLAW (comic literature awareness), Gibbons has succeeded not only in describing his own evolution as a comic book artist, but the changing opinion of comics in society and their gradual academic acceptance and appraisal. Gibbons then ended his presentation with a series of Q&A, the accompanying slide reading, much like the end of Back to the Future Part II: “To be Continued.”

Kate McAuliffe

FestWatch 2015 Introductions

Hello eager readers. I’m Kate, a fifth year mLitt Writing Practice and Study student here at the University of Dundee. This will be my third year working in and around Dundee’s Literary Festival, and it’s always a week to highlight on your calendar.

With Dundee’s fast growing reputation in the world of comics (D.C. Tho11905402_10207931163140939_5383414540784113219_nmpson being universally recognised for The Beano and The Dandy), and UNESCO City of Design status, Dundee’s cultural  significance is exploding. Yes, we may have missed out on City of Culture to Hull, but with an annual Litfest like this one, we know we were a close contender.

Dundee’s Litfest is as non-discriminatory as possible. There are events aimed at both young and old, starting from 0-3 years on Friday morning’s Book Bug Session. It also covers all mediums, from memoirs, comics and poetry to film, workshops and theatre: the Dundee Literary Festival has it all. I know I’ll be going to as many as possible!

Looking forward to seeing you there, Kate