Wednesday 11 September 2019 5:40pm
Celtic Life International, a popular Canadian magazine, carried a feature on CISS's Celtic Noir festival in its October 2019 issue.
The text of the article is reproduced below.
Liam McIlvanney has been at the forefront of Celtic crime fiction for several years. With a number of acclaimed books to his name, his best-known work – Where the Dead Men Go – won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best New Crime Novel. After years of writing, as well as plying his trade as a Professor of Irish and Scottish Studies (CISS) at the University of Otago in New Zealand, the 50-something scribe – who was born and bred in Scotland – wanted to push both his passion and his profession to new places.
The result is Celtic Noir, an Irish and Scottish Crime Fiction Festival set to take place this October.
As McIlvanney explains, the two-day gathering is a way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the University’s CISS program, while fostering a growing commitment to the study.
“Given that the acclaimed Scottish crime writer Val McDermid is a Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction at CISS, and that I myself write crime novels, we thought it might make sense to mark our Centre’s tenth anniversary with a festival of Irish and Scottish crime writing,” he explains via email.
“As well, public engagement is an important element of our remit at CISS, and Celtic Noir cements our Centre’s relationship with the local community. We are fortunate to be partnering with the good people at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival to deliver this event.”
McIlvanney believes the gathering is important for a number of reasons.
“Events like Celtic Noir give the community a chance to celebrate the city’s Celtic heritage. It is also a great way to experience some of the finest crime writers that Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand have to offer.”
Although still a relatively novel concept, Celtic Noir will include a variety of activities for visitors of all types.
“The festival features readings, author interviews and panel discussions involving a number of local and visiting crime writers. There are also workshops and several masterclasses for aspiring crime writers.”
Along with McIlvanney, the weekend will host five of the genre’s finest writers, including Irish authors Liz Nugent and Adrian McKinty, Scotland’s “Queen of Crime” Val McDermid, and New Zealand’s own Dame Fiona Kidman and Vanda Symon.
His position requires him to wear many hats, but McIlvanney says none of this would have been possible without a little aid from his colleagues.
“I have received invaluable help on logistical matters from both Laura Hewson at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival and from my own Research Assistant, Kate Tilson.”
Overall, he continues, the festival has come together quite smoothly, with only a few minor setbacks.
“Given the increasing importance of book tours and promotional events, it’s always tricky getting a group of crime writers in one place for an event like this.”
“Fortunately, we finally managed to hit on a weekend that suited everyone.”
The payoff, he believes, will most likely be worth all the time and effort.
“The biggest reward will be giving our local community the chance to see a number of world-class crime writers in Dunedin.”
As a Scotsman living in New Zealand, McIlvanney is happy to see the area’s strong commitment to its Celtic heritage.
“Dunedin was founded by Scots settlers in 1848, so Celtic culture has always been a strong element in the city’s cultural make-up. There is a vibrant pipe band scene, and Irish and Highland dancing remain popular. The city is also home to several Clan Societies, the Caledonian Society of Otago and the Dunedin Burns Club. Our Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies runs a yearly program of public lectures and academic symposia, and we also host visiting Scottish writers through our University of Otago Scottish Writers Fellowship.
“Personally, I would like to see more focus on the revival of the Gaelic language in Dunedin,” he adds. “At CISS, we have periodically offered summer school courses in Scottish Gaelic, but it would be good to have the capacity to offer such courses year-round.”
As it stands, McIlvanney notes that Celtic Noir is likely to be a one-off event.
“Who really knows at this point?” he asks. “I mean, if it goes very well then we may consider making it a permanent fixture on Dunedin’s Celtic events calendar.”