Duncan, Bill 1953-

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DUNCAN, Bill 1953-

PERSONAL: Born December 16, 1953, in St. Andrews, Scotland; son of Bill and Anna Duncan; married; wife's name Fiona; children: Scott, Niall, Grant. Education: University of Dundee, M.A. (with honors), 1976.

ADDRESSES: Home—5 Minto Pl., Dundee DD2 1BR, Scotland. Agent—Sam Boyce, Sheilland Associates Ltd., 43 Doughty St., London WC1N 2LF, England. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Teacher of English and media studies at a school in Tayside, Scotland, 1977—. Dundee Contemporary Arts, member of board of directors.

AWARDS, HONORS: Scottish Arts Council grant; Society of Authors award.


The Smiling School for Calvinists (short stories), Bloomsbury Press (London, England), 2001, Context Books (United States), 2003.

Contributor to books, including New Writing 11, Picador, 2002.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Air-Kissing in the North-East (tentative title), a creative exploration of Scottish language and culture through aphorism and essay; a novel; research on landscape and culture in the Outer Hebrides.

SIDELIGHTS: Bill Duncan told CA: "For me, the link between reading and writing has always been crucial: I've never met a good writer who wasn't also an obsessive reader. I started writing seriously (that is, for publication) when I was in my forties, but I think I had always been wired up for it, waiting for the switch to flicked to ON.

"Three writers I keep returning to are Jorge Luis Borges for sheer imaginative power and stylistic beauty, Flann O'Brien for surreal flights of comic genius and a startling juxtaposition of the erudite and the vernacular, and Cormac McCarthy for uncompromising bleakness of vision and dazzling linguistic power. Some commentators have been kind enough to remark that they see traces of the first two in my own work.

"I started 'serious' writing in my forties, but I'd always enjoyed writing, and I can remember composing elaborate narratives featuring a group of improbable characters, to keep my friends amused at school. I continued using writing as a form of entertainment when I started penning letters to my local newspaper, inventing characters and events from my city's history. I would occasionally reply to my own letters and, indeed, once wrote in to claim that I was, in fact, 'Birling Boab, the Dundee Street Dancer of the 1950s.' Bizarrely, because this stuff was in print, folk believed it.

"I mention these letters because, despite their apparently trivial status, they represent an early attempt to blur the mythical, the real, and the imagined, something I've been doing ever since in my work, and something that intrigued me in Borges's 'A Universal History of Infamy.' Something of the spirit of this collection pervades my first book, The Smiling School for Calvinists.

"I've just completed a short book of nonfiction provisionally titled Air-Kissing in the North-East, a creative exploration of the language, culture, and mindset of the area, analyzing, among other things, the contribution of religion, alcohol, and weather. It's an anti-Little Book of Calm, which will make you feel much worse after you read it. I'm interested in marginal voices, writing half in Standard English and half in Scots. Much of my work is voice-driven, lending itself to reading aloud, something I enjoy doing at readings. I'm particularly thrilled that The Smiling School for Calvinists will be published in the United States. I'm sure it will represent the first invasion of America by a Dundonian!

"I'm from a non-literary background: I was the first of my family to attend further education. Both my grandfathers were miners and fishermen and, strangely, the wider the temporal gap between the present and formative childhood experiences, the more I hear the voices of the dead. My work is a homage to these voices.

"One aspect of the reaction to my work which has pleased me has been the complexity of people's emotional responses. Some readers have said 'It made me laugh out loud.' Other have said 'It made me cry.' Sometimes these statements have referred to the same story."



Guardian (London, England), May 5, 2001, Nicholas Lezard, review of The Smiling School for Calvinists, p. 11.

Independent (London, England), June 2, 2001, Brandon Robshaw, review of The Smiling School for Calvinists, p. 9.

Scotland on Sunday, July 15, 2001, W. N. Herbert, review of The Smiling School for Calvinists, p. 16.

Times (London, England), May 30, 2001, James Eve, review of The Smiling School for Calvinists, p. 11.

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