Dundee Literary Festival: An Offering of Strange New Things

The famous city of jute and jam looks at the printed word beyond its famous form of journalism, delivering a literary festival with a broad and ambitious programme - punks, pubs and Picoult.

Preview by Alan Bett | 15 Oct 2014

Dundee is a city famous for the printed word, to be read one day and wrapped around chips the next. Journalism sits next to jute and jam in the well worn phrase which described the city so accurately in years gone by. As the industries have died it has become a historical and irrelevant catchphrase. Recent years have however seen a resurgent craving for literature, amply satisfied by the Dundee Literary Festival. After building itself up over past events, the 2014 line-up suggests that Dundee is looking to flex its muscles in 2014. Running from 22 to 26 October the main body of thought, word and ideas are bookended (sorry) by two literary stars.

Jung Chang opens events on October 18, here to discuss her vast biography of the 19th century Empress of China, Dowager Cixi. She, alongside Mao – another of Chang’s subjects – is a parent from whom modern China was born. Largely derided as an incapable tyrant, Chang looks here to polish her image somewhat, casting light on newly discovered facts. The author of Wild Swans will surely be asked of that epic book also, which even 23 years since publication remains a harrowing classic, telling the panoramic tale of her grandmother, mother and Jung herself – three daughters of China. November 6 looks to provide fitting closure to the festival with world famous author Jodi Picoult reading from and talking about her new novel Leaving Time. It’s a rare chance to see the author of My Sisters Keeper and The Storyteller on one of only two stops on her UK tour. Alongside Chang’s event this is part of the evening lecture series and is absolutely free.

These two authors bookend an embarassment of riches as Dundee plays host to several top names this year. Any literary event in Scotland is going to play second fiddle to Edinburgh's star power, but this becomes a double-edged sword. Dundee offers the opportunity to catch those you missed, the hidden gems which were revealed themselves too late or the names sold out too fast – Chiew-Sia Tei, Kirsty Logan, Read Yourself Fitter. Dundee also has those who Edinburgh themselves missed for one reason or another – Faber and Albertine. Punk legend and feminist icon Viv Albertine will be treating audiences to tales from her time with The Slits, Clothes…Music…Boys. And perhaps outdoing all others, with the enigmatic unease of Under the Skin still disturbingly fresh from the cinema screen, the man whose mind spawned this horror brings his new novel The Book of Strange New Things to Dundee. Michel Faber – hailed by The Guardian as ‘a man who could give Conrad a run at writing the perfect sentence' –  lives in the upper echelons of writers and this new work is already being widely acknowledged as a work of genius.

The festival boasts a programme of high quality authors of the text and graphic variety, while also engaging with Scotland’s newly resurgent spoken word scene. One of the individuals credited with this line-up, Programme Manager Peggy Hughes told The Skinny that 'This is our biggest Dundee Literary Festival to date, with over 60 events spilling out of our festival hub and into Dundee libraries and pubs. From literary giants – including James Naughtie, Anne Donovan and Laura Bates – to local heroes…We've built a 5 day celebration of the written and spoken word, and can't wait to share it with everyone.'

Dundee Literary Festival takes place between 22 and 26 October; Jung Chang opens with a special event on 18t Oct and Jodi Picoult closes on 6 Nov. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/literarydundee/