Durham Town Hall
Review by Chloe Waterhouse
Cultural comparisons come to light as a sensational quartet of writers undertake a Literature Exchange Project, courtesy of New Writing North: a project where writers take residence in each country, and create new work inspired by their tumultuous currents and harbours. We’re introduced to writer Mattias Hagberg from Sweden, poet and translator Oddifiour Rasmussen from the Faroe Islands, and Icelandic writer Haukur Ingvarsson, as they recount their experiences traversing the North East coastline for a week alongside local writer Michael Chaplin. The talk is held in an extremely intimate room in Town Hall and it feels more like a personal gathering than an event.
Their adventures around North-Eastern heritage sights were particularly fascinating, arriving at Bamburgh to view from afar the sights of Lindisfarne, an area rich with historical turbulence. Mattias recollects the significance Lindisfarne holds with the Vikings, with the Scandinavians facing a devastating famine and being forced out to sea to plunder wealth from nearby Monasteries, vulnerable to invasion. They are told stories of the valiant lighthouse keeper Grace Darling, and subsequently stop at Housesteads to admire the Roman Wall. These sites had a profound impact on these writers, and has inspired their ongoing written pieces.
Michael Chaplin urges these writers to contemplate whether we, as a human race, are really trying to connect with nature. Haukur begs to differ, discussing issues about the upsurge of tourism in his country, and the pollution emitted from invasive cruise ships tarnishing their landscape. He passionately argues that people are losing their identities, feeling a larger connection to movie stars than their local community and industry. With a wry humour, Mattias chips in to discuss the pungent Herring plant in his village, which repelled tourism until the 1980s.
They humbly read extracts of their work, written throughout the week. Mattias begins with an ongoing writing progression, sharing mesmerising descriptions of fragmentation and imaginary seas, centered around a fictional ocean in 1862. It is a truly captivating piece. Oddifiour shares pieces of published work and poems completed during the week about the River Tyne, laced with stunning, almost spiritual imagery, as ‘Gods finger pierces the night’. Haukur approaches his writing with a more personal mentality, talking about an economic turmoil in Iceland, and the deterioration of his Grandpa with emotional intensity.
It is clear to me that New Writing North’s project is a roaring success, and in its continuation will provide some remarkable pieces of writing in the future.
Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit review.cuckoowriters.com.