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Me, Dundee and Nick Cave


Dundee — city of jute, jam and journalism; city of Discovery; city of life sciences and computer games — was looking splendid in the sun as I rolled up a week past Friday for my reading at the literary festival. It’s a fantastic train ride up along the east coast from Waverley, not least that last leg across the Tay bridge (on the way back, there was a hot air balloon over the hills in the distance, floating gently northwards). I shared the journey up with fellow Salt writer Wena Poon, who had just been released from four weeks in a certain writers retreat. Fine company on a beautiful journey.

Cupcakes at Dundee

Cupcakes in the Dundee green room. The chocolate ones were particularly fab.

The festival was held in the Dalhousie Building, bright and airy new-build  university premises. A good venue. A great bunch of people running it too,  who made me feel most welcome. And provided cupcakes in the green room. (See the photo. Cupcakes! and a green room! Whoah! I can dream we could provide those at LBF …)

There were around 12 people in for my reading, including Wena, a work colleague of mine and Red Squirrel poet Andy Jackson*. A very respectable number, especially for a seriously sunny graduation day lunch hour. More to the point, it was a great audience — engaged, interesting and intelligent — who asked some stimulating questions and bought some books. The book buying is always very welcome, of course, but the stimulating questions make it even more fun.

After a fly pint, I dragged Wena into Richard Holloway’s event on how poetry helps us cope with grief and God. He was marvellous, of course, speaking with his usual intelligence and eloquence and quoting some tremendous poetry, including Celan’s “Psalm”, Owen’s “Futility” and Donne’s “Death, be not proud”. I won’t forget him describing Don Paterson — with absolute justification, of course  — as “a local poet”.  He talked about poetry being sacramental in the sense of making experience present again, how we are “beings towards death” who cannot help “growling back at death”, as Donne does in that ballsy, fierce, teeth-grittedly hopeful sonnet.

Afterwards, Jim Stewart, who had very sensitively chaired both my event and Richard Holloway’s, made sure that the controversial former bishop and I spoke and that The Ambulance Box found its way into Holloway’s hands. Jim is a lovely guy, with a sharp mind a quiet, gentle manner.

You’ll be wanting to know about Nick Cave. I nearly met him. He’d been given an honorary doctorate that day and there was bubbly in the green room to mark the occasion but, as is often the case with such events, time got tight and he had to be whisked to his reading rather than sharing a glass with the company. I did hear him read, though, and he was good — a strong, lively reader; relaxed and interesting in his answers to questions. The hall was packed and the signing queue afterwards snaked round the concourse. So I may not have met the rock star, but we have sat in the same signing seat.

*Not to be confused with AB Jackson.

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