Posted by: christinelaennec | December 11, 2010

Rendez-vous in Dundee

Fate smiled upon me yesterday.  The trains between Aberdeen and Dundee were running, albeit fitfully, for the first time in a week.  I was so happy to be able to go have lunch with one of my favy authors.  The train journey was beautiful, and despite the railways’ dire warnings that journeys might end at any point with no alternative transport provided, both train trips were uneventful:

View of the sunrise from the train. South of Stonehaven, 9:15 a.m. Friday 10th December 2010.

Before I tell you who my mystery author is, first let me show you a few things about Dundee.  Curiously, when I was growing up in Portland, Oregon, our family had a jar very similar to this one:

Dundee marmalade jar, no date (but "Pot made in England" stamped on the bottom).

So I knew that marmalade came from Dundee.  When I moved to Aberdeen,  just 60 miles or so to the north, I learned a bit more about Dundee:  it’s known as “the city of jam, jute and journalism”.  The second two in the list were just as important to Dundee’s history as the jam was.  The journalism Dundee is famous for is the D.C. Thompson cartoons, and the city celebrates this with a statue of Desperate Dan in the town centre:

Desperate Dan about to stride past a Dundee resident.

The jute industry dominated the city for a good century, from the start of the industrial revolution until it began to fall off in the 1920s.  Here is a stained-glass window commemorating the Dundonian missionary, Mary Slessor (1848-1915), who began life as a Dundee mill girl.  Look at the words to the left!

Section of a window commemorating the missionary Mary Slessor, McManus Galleries, Dundee.

If she was “game” it wasn’t for what the mill boys had in mind, that’s for sure!  Another Dundee landmark is R.R.S. [Royal Research Ship] Discovery.  This is the ship that Captain Scott and his crew sailed on their fateful 1911-1912 expedition to Antarctica.  On Friday, the snow still lying in Dundee made it easy to imagine that she was back in the South Pole.  Note the Christmas tree on her prow!

R.R.S. Discovery, Dundee

After a quick but delightful visit to the McManus Galleries, of which more in another post, I went to the café at the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre.  There I had a delightful lunch with the Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela.

I first met Leila when she was living in Aberdeen, about 10 years ago.  She left a few years later, for Indonesia and more recently the Middle East, but we have kept in touch.  She has been a great help to me in my writing, and although we have different faiths, this seems to matter less than the fact that we are both very interested in Faith.

Leila’s first novel, The Translator (1999), is about a Sudanese woman living in Aberdeen who falls in love with a non-Muslim.  Her story “The Museum” is set in Marischal Museum in Aberdeen and won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000.  It appears in her collection of short stories, Coloured Lights (2001, currently out of print).  Her second novel, Minaret (2005), is the story of a young Sudanese woman living in London.  And her third novel, Lyrics Alley, will be released this Thursday, December 16th.

Leila very kindly sent me an advanced copy of Lyrics Alley, which I devoured.  I’m not surprised that it’s in the Editor’s Picks of both Marie Claire‘s and Woman and Home‘s January issues.   Leila kindly allowed me to interview her about the novel;  I’ll post that interview on Thursday.  Here is a blurry photo of the two of us at lunch:

Meeting up with Leila Aboulela, 10th December 2010, Dundee.

We didn’t just talk about literature, though.  We also covered Christmas (is it still a Christian celebration?), today’s culture of entitlement, the internet, and of course our children.  It was a great day out, and I felt truly blessed in more ways than one.

If you’d like to find out more about Leila and her writing in the meantime, check out her website (where you can also read some of her short stories) as well as the recent interview in The Scotsman.  Lastly, if you’re in Britain you can hear Leila on BBC’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme on Thursday morning at 10:00 GMT.



  1. You lucky person to know such a distinguished writer. Loving all things African I had heard of her and read some of her work a while ago. It sounds as if you had a lovely day out and I am glad you made it there and back without having to have a sleep-over on the train.
    Love Heike x

  2. There’s a lot packed into this one post! More links to explore – thank you1

  3. What a great day – and what an interesting author. Looking forward to your interview. I hope you didn’t hurt yourself in your fall – it’s very dicey out there just now, although when I was young i would not have thought twice about sliding down the hill. I wonder at what age the sliding nerve is lost?
    I am still humming and hawing about this photo comp. i feel it is a bit x-factorish and very prone to rigging – especially as I discovered it is possible to post multiple votes on the same pc. i decided I would pass on the link to people who asked for it, so here it is

    Thank you very much for your lovely comment – I do appreciate it. xxx

  4. Dear Heike, Roobeedoo and Jacqui,
    I think you’ll enjoy reading the interview, each for slightly different reasons perhaps! Jacqui, I didn’t actually fall the other day, thank goodness. (Well, I did fall in the snow a few weeks ago, but didn’t blog about it – I was flat on my back before I knew it! Luckily my husband and daughter scooped me up once they’d ensured only my pride was injured.) Yes, I think when your centre of gravity is quite some way up from the ground, falling becomes less fun.

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