Dundee Literary Festival

Hardeep Singh Kohli

Hardeep Singh Kohli

2009 Book prize winner and entries for 2010

This Festival, which has just completed it’s fifth year, is thrusting through the crowded Scottish festival scene – there are now at least 135 other festivals in Scotland. Dundee has focused on 2 strands, the quality of the writers and the Dundee International Book Prize worth £10,000 to the winner and a publishing contract with Birlinn publishing. The festival has gathered a determined set of public backers in the Council and University and supported by Birlinn.

The prize is for an unpublished book in English and this year they attracted nearly 200 entries from 10 or more countries. And before the evening was under way word was spread that long term commitments had been made to the prize to underpin future planning of the Festival. The 2 judges, Magnus Linklater (ex Scotsman Editor, ex Chair of the Scottish Arts Council, etc.) and Kirsty Gunn, Professor of Creative Writing at Dundee University read 15 of the entries.

Awarding the prize on 26 June, Magnus Linklater praised the widespread originality, sense of place and narrative drive of many entries despite the absence of necessary editing in nearly all cases (which he acknowledged you would expect given the rawness of the talent). Was the entry with the brightest originality but masked by the greatest need for an editor the deserving winner or were more polished entries with less originality? The winner this year was Dead Wood by Chris Longmuir and based on the excerpt and the description from the judges this is not bed time reading. It is published by Birlinn.

The Festival itself is mostly held on the Dundee University campus which is modern, spacious and comfortable but inevitably institutional – how many more years for the association of books and writing with a good smoky bar to pass. The programme had a spread of talent across the days with James Gray representing the zeitgeist, through David Peace on Damned United and closed on 28 June with a day focused on graphic novels.

On 27th Pauline McLynn talked of the ferment brought on by her west of Ireland roots meeting the formality of her Trinity College, Dublin History of Art education. It certainly helps explain the ease with which she carried off her television role in Fr Ted. After 8 books (last due in late 2009) she is nearly out of contract with her publisher and was musing whether she will return to detective work or pursue another new genre. She certainly expects to continue to write. This is not an actress turned occasional writer, rather the converse.

Hardeep Singh Kohli produced the largest audience of the day - his background has been well covered. His day had been typical with separate public appearances. The first cooking, at the Royal Highland Show, followed by coming on back to Dundee (where his father first trained in the UK). This proud Scotsman held the audience in his hand, perhaps 90% of the time, and when it did not work enjoyed working out why.

His enduring optimism that things have improved in Scotland in his life, his concern for the United Kingdom, and his outpourings about the goodness of so many people (he recently spent 10 days living as a homeless person in London) mark him as unusual in these sometimes cynical and recession dominated days. And this made his wit all the keener when he turns back to his comic self. Cook, writer, wit, presenter and more on show again.

With programming for 2010 underway and entries open for the next book prize it looks as though the Dundee Literary Festival may continue to raise it’s profile.

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