Lindsay Madden, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2018/19

November 7th, 2018 by Lindsay_Madden | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Lindsay Madden, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2018/19
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Most people seem to be able to remember their first book, or the book that made them “fall in love with reading,” but for me, books have just always been there. From Robert Munsch, to Mary Pope Osborne, to Kenneth Oppel, to JK Rowling—I’ve had a book in my hand for as long as I can remember. Publishing is not a big industry in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada, so it never really occurred to me to make a career out of my love of books. When I started university, I decided to pursue a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice, as I loved studying human behaviour, crime, and deviance. Three years into the programme, I realised that publishing would be a dynamic, challenging, and hugely rewarding job that would pay me to bring more books into the world. I had the sudden epiphany that, as an adult, there was nothing stopping me from moving to where I needed to be to get into this field, so I went out and got a second BA (Honours) in English Language and Literature.

During my second degree, I completed a study abroad semester at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. While I was there, I enrolled in a Publishing module in which I conceptualised, wrote, edited, and designed an original crime magazine called Deviant. The module cemented my determination to work in the publishing industry and, as I loved living in the UK so much, I moved back to Norwich when I graduated in 2017 to begin my career. Unfortunately, like Ottawa, Norwich isn’t exactly a central publishing hub, so I made one of the easiest decisions of my life and moved to Scotland to start my MLitt in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling. It has already been such a rewarding and enlightening experience, and I’ve had opportunities to get involved by volunteering with Bloody Scotland and joining the Society of Young Publishers. My understanding of global book markets, the publishing industry, and the technical skills required to succeed in this field have grown substantially over the last two months, and I cannot wait to learn more so that I can apply my skills and my passion to a career in trade book publishing.

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Of The Famished Road and Literary Dreams — Ben Okri at University of Stirling

October 25th, 2016 by Otieno Owino | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Of The Famished Road and Literary Dreams — Ben Okri at University of Stirling
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Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling -

Ben Okri in conversation with Liam Bell. Photo: University of Stirling/Jim Mailer

When Ben Okri walks into Logie lecture theatre, it’s the black beret I see first, ever present in photos of him. It makes me feel as if I have been in his company before; that same sensation you have when you meet someone popular, like a TV personality. A hush falls over the warmly lit, intimate space, as if Azaro, the narrator of The Famished Road, has cast a spell on the students and staff seated in a neat semi-circle.

It’s Tuesday 11th October 2016, the University of Stirling is hosting Nigerian novelist and Booker Prize winner Ben Okri on the 25th anniversary of the publication of his acclaimed novel, The Famished Road.  To mark this, the Booker Prize Foundation’s Universities Initiative has made available 1400 copies of the book to all first years; a number that I will later learn is symbolic.

Soon after, Prof Malcolm McLeod, Deputy Principal and Director of the Institute of Aquaculture gives the introductions, expressing gratitude to the Booker Prize Foundation and laying down Okri’s prolific writing career spanning over three decades with eight novels, collections of poetry and essays along the way.

Taking the stage, in conversation with Creative Writing Lecturer Liam Bell, it doesn’t take long for the audience to be transported by the magic of Okri’s insight.

“In Africa, everything is a story, everything is a repository of stories. Spiders, the wind, a leaf, a tree, the moon, silence, a glance, a mysterious old man, an owl at midnight, a sign …” he begins, reading an excerpt from A Way of Being Free. Then he jumps to another page.

I have always known this, have always experienced it back home in Kenya, in everyday life, in conversations on the daily commute, and in the stories of my grandmother. But this still strikes me as profound.

“Unhappy lands prefer utopian stories. Happy lands prefer unhappy stories,” he continues.

The conversation picks up from there, taking usual trajectory of literary conversations: Craft, process, editing oneself, writing and rewriting, the need to toil and discipline oneself in the act of creation.


Then it moves seamlessly to the magic of The Famished Road.

Published when Ben Okri was only 32, the book that would catapult him to worldwide fame is his third. He says it was several years of hard work, in which he had ‘dialogues of form’.

Pausing as if reaching for the right words, holding the tome in his hands, turning it from one palm to another he says, “I was in all kinds of states when I wrote this book. It was frightening writing it, working with logic that is not usual.”

And on the tone, which is at times playful, at times frightening and at times painful, he says, “I wanted a coalition of suffering and laughter and happiness, and to give a voice to the richness of African reality.”

But why can’t Azaro take off, go back to the land where he came from? The land in which he and other spirit children ‘floated on the aquamarine air of love’? Okri says: “That’s the miracle of the paradox of life.”

Perhaps that is why the Booker Prize committee of 1991 thought The Famished Road was the best novel of that year: the transcendental nature and fullness of its experience. Something that he’s felt more African writers need to embrace for their writing to achieve greatness

Okri says the book had sold about 2000 copies before the Booker came along, and looks over to his editor for confirmation. He’s told, no, not really. Only 1400 copies. The audience roars with laughter. And it strikes me that Ben and his editor have a rare relationship; one that has lasted for over 25 years and is still going. Editors and writers can, in fact, be lifelong friends.

Of the pressure that came with prize, the most difficult was shutting out the achievement and staring at a new blank page. Writing new stories, because that is the life of the writer. Okri winning the Booker opened up UK publishing for other black and ethnic minority writers, even though diversity is yet to be achieved according to a report by Spread the Word.

In the Q&A that followed, he amuses us by saying he writes while standing. And then it’s the end, the room empties, and Ben Okri signs books for audience members.

Like the last line in The Famished Road, ‘A dream can be the highest point in life.’ This feels like one.

Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling -

Ben Okri chats with a student as he signs her book. Photo: University of Stirling/Jim Mailer


 By Otieno Owino

Bob Dylan wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature

October 14th, 2016 by Soraya Belkhiria | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Bob Dylan wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature
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I never thought a day would come when a Nobel Prize announcement would feel Rock and Roll, but it is definitely the case today! Sure Bob Dylan is known primarily as a folk, blues, and country singer, but the mere fact that a musician’s work is acknowledged by the Academy is quite revolutionary in itself…because it is the very first time in the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature that this has happened. Dylan is also the first American to win the Nobel Prize since Toni Morrisson in 1993.

However, this is far from being the first award he has won for his work, as he already can count one Academy Award, one Golden Globe Award and no less than 11 Grammy Awards in his collection.

The Nobel Academy crowned his achievements by awarding him “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, preferring him to the famous Japanese novelist Murakami or this year favourite, the Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

Once the initial surprise has passed though, the decision of the Academy definitely doesn’t seem unjustified. Even if Bob Dylan’s voice defied conventions and rallied counterculture in the sixties, he is now 75 years old and the cultural moment he marked now belongs to the classical heritage of American Literature.

Bob Dylan had solid footing into the literary world already. He and the famous poet Allan Ginsberg were very close friends. Here is what Ginsberg had to say about his cultural impact and aura:

“His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people…something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people’s hearts and heads actually were rather than where they ‘should be’ according to some ideological angry theory.” San Francisco, 1965 (Excerpt from Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995, A. Ginsberg)

Several clips featuring Bob Dylan were indeed playing at the Beat Generation Exhibition in the Centre Pompidou this summer in Paris, presenting him as a major actor of the American avant-garde of the sixties. Here are some great lyrics that let you see his poetic talent even without the accompaniment of the music (even if you won’t get the whole experience without listening to the songs!):

From Subterraneans Homesick Blues (you can see Ginsberg in the background of the video; this video clip was playing at the Pompidou exhibition):

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” (1963)


From The times They Are A-changing:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command” (1964)


From Mr Tambourine Man

“Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,

Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,

With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.” (1965)


From It’s alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding):

“Temptation’s page flies out the door

You follow, find yourself at war

Watch waterfalls of pity roar

You feel to moan but unlike before

You discover

That you’d just be

One more person crying.”


And a personal favourite from Maggie’s farm:

“Well, I try my best,

To be just like I am,

But everybody wants you,

To be just like them.” (1965)


It might be time for a Bob Dylan songbook leaving the lyrics in their bare beauty! And now, time to enjoy even more good music to celebrate!



Bob Dylan and Ginsberg in front of Kerouac’s grave

By Soraya Belkhiria

Literature ingrained in society

January 16th, 2015 by Marit Mathisen | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Literature ingrained in society
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Where do the popular knock knock jokes come from? Some people say they are from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and they are not the only thing coming from literature to become something everyone says.

The most obvious type of literature people might quote without knowing they are quoting it, would be religious texts, but there are many other areas in which literature is being used on a daily basis. For instance, it should not come as a surprise that catch-22 comes from the novel of the same title, but people might use that without having even seen a copy of the book.

Do you, for instance, know why you say something is “a sight for sore eyes”? The saying is attributed to Jonathan Swift, who in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation wrote “the sight of you is good for sore eyes”. Or did you know that the phrase “busy as a bee” is attributed to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales? Some research is likely to yield more examples like these, and Norway has one long quote from a book that is so ingrained in society that any Norwegian you ask will know what you are talking about, regardless of whether they have read the book it comes from.

What I am referring to is the “Law of Jante” or “Janteloven” in Norwegian. It was written by Aksel Sandemose, who was Danish, but lived in Norway. His writing was actually a combination of the two languages, but  knowing that Norwegian writing is derived from Danish, either language is quite easy to understand. There are ten laws, and the gist of them is  that whoever you are, you are not to think you are anything more special or better than “us”.

The English Wikipedia article on the law has the list translated:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

The law is so ingrained that whenever someone acts too confident they are told to remember the law of Jante. The Norwegian people police each other with these rules, as do Danes and Swedes. Can you think of anything borrowed from literature that is completely ingrained in the society you come from?

These ideas might make you wonder what will be in use in everyday language in the future. Will muggle become an everyday term? And if so, what would it mean? What other words, phrases and ideas might become the norm in the future?

Visiting speaker: Peggy Hughes, City of Literature

November 17th, 2012 by Aija | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting speaker: Peggy Hughes, City of Literature
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The delightful Peggy Hughes amused the Publishing studies 2012/2013 class  with her lively presentation on the UNESCO badge of City of Literature  – a designation, which was bestowed upon Edinburgh back in 2004. The City of Literature Trust  is head by Peggy herself and her boss Alison Bowden.

Why Edinburgh should be designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO, you might ask. Well, when a group of prominent figures in the literary scene having a post-prandial discussion they came to the surprising conclusion that as Edinburgh was “brilliant at books,” something should be done to make sure this would become general knowledge. Simply because Edinburgh has a huge literary heritage, and has a vibrant contemporary scene – already hosting some of the world’s most well-known and largest poetry and literature festivals and events.

Organisations from grassroots up to government level Edinburgh worked together to create The Bid, an audit of all Scottish literary accomplishments in two volumes – talking about putting things in a nutshell – We Cultivate Literature on a Little Oatmeal. It took a bundle of Scottish treats (whiskey, haggis, bagpiper among others) to convince the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Among her lively and very fast paced presentation, the class was entertained with best bits of past events that had aimed to hold Edinburgh to its badge of honour as well as a selected few spoilers over the upcoming events. Working together with other Edinburgh literary events and organisations, the City of Literature has proven to be worth every bit of the designation, more than holding its own among the others with its goals of establishing partnerships, promoting participation, learning as well as advocating awareness towards Edinburgh and keeping the focus on creativity, bringing people together in literature.

Thank you to Peggy for the grand insight into the Scottish literature scene and its uniqueness, and I’m sure the class cannot wait to see the ‘Stache-mob or join the Literary Salon.