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A Wellsian assault on Dundee

By Dr Daniel Cook | Senior lecturer in English, University of Dundee

We wanted to know a bit more about the phantasmagoric fearfest at our 2017 University of Dundee hub. Based on the works of author H G Wells, their offering includes an autopsy on Dundee's first alien specimen, a subversive stroll through Dundee promising to be a 'bravura feat of storytelling', and a graphic anthology of Wells inspired stories created by local artists and members of the public. In this post, Dr Daniel Cook ('Overlord' of Dundee's hub programme) talks about the highlights and inspiration behind one of the festival's most creative series. 

What inspired you to act as a ‘hub’ for Being Human 2016?

The feedback for our Mary Shelley’s Dundee series of events for the previous Being Human festival centred on one lovely, positive message: more, please!

How did you come up with your theme for this year?

Oh, this was the easy bit. We recently launched a taught postgraduate degree in Science Fiction; we have a resident H. G. Wells expert in the shape of our colleague Keith Williams; and this year is the 150th anniversary of his birth (Wells, not Williams). We thought the author of The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and countless other works would be the ideal case study in this year’s highly enticing theme, 'hope and fear' – from the hope of the Time Traveller to the fear created by the invading Martians, and much more besides.

Can you tell us about a few highlights from your programme? What can people look forward to?

The event everyone is talking about is a Martian autopsy set to be performed by Professor Dame Sue Black, the UK’s leading forensic scientist, who happens to be based at the University. For the past few weeks a selection of graphic-design and animation students (Monica Dunne, Mitchell Gillies, Craig Barbour, Tao Shi, Grace Cunningham, and Mark McGinty) at the University’s art college have been working with Dame Sue and Keith, as well as local playwright Eddie Small, artist Gary Cowans, and others, on building the model itself. The level of detail is truly astonishing.

Other major highlights include a wickedly subversive walking tour (The Time Machine: A Walking Tour) with the puckish Herbert Unwells and friends. Matthew Jarron has also curated a month-long exhibition of digital and fine artworks inspired by Wells’s unique imagination. And there will be a whole roster of lectures and workshops. Oh, and we’re producing a graphic anthology featuring the work of local artists and members of the general public side by side. There will also be film screenings, and much more besides

What will people in Dundee get out of coming to these events?

If you join us in Dundee during the festival you’ll get the chance to witness a Dame slicing open a Martian modelled on Wells’s imagination. Sure, you can watch the live-stream and post-event videos – but those lucky few sitting in the lecture theatre will have all of their senses assaulted. During the walking tours you’ll also get the chance to discover a fantastical side of the city at a time of substantial civic regeneration. At the comics workshops you’ll be able to watch local artists bring their ideas to life in front of your very eyes – and you’ll get to join in, too! Beyond hearing about Wells, you can also discover, and discuss with us, the works of Scotland’s own Robert Duncan Milne, a pioneer in Scottish-American Scifi that deserves far more attention.

What do you think the legacy of your hub will be?

Above all, we’re hoping to raise awareness about the life and works of Wells and other creative people, from Robert Duncan Milne (a contemporary of Wells’s) to living and breathing artists and actors. Not only do we hope to showcase creativity, we hope to inspire it in others – whether it’s tomorrow’s forensic scientists, comic artists, playwrights, or teachers, and the like. As for future events, we already have yet more ambitious plans for next year – again involving a major literary figure set to celebrate a major anniversary. But it’s under wraps for now.

Finally, there’s been a lot of fearfulness in 2016. Please tell us about one thing that makes you hopeful for the future.

The indefatigable creativity that floats around us is a source of great hopefulness. Working with Dame Sue in particular has been an amazing experience: she has been so keen to engage with Wells’s work that it has been a joy to behold. We’re always saying the humanities and the sciences should be talking more, after all. Watching the art students thinking through the limits of possibility, let alone the logistical problems, has been so rewarding for me personally. I’ve even surprised myself – anyone is capable of creative thinking once you have a common goal in sight.