Literary Smorgasbord: Calum Colvin

The Literary Smorgasbord is primarily about writers, but there’s more than one way to tell a story and for this most recent set of interviews I have invited a handful of visual artists to take part. I met Calum Colvin when we were students at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. Though he’s long since become a well-established artist, I still get a kick every time I see one of his creations hanging in a gallery.


Your work has a strong narrative feel, with images layered upon images, and stories hidden within stories. How does that process begin? 

I suppose there is an element of storytelling in there. I begin with an image, or an idea gleaned from a book, or simply a title. Then there are the ‘objects’ or props which inhabit the set and provide a framework for the picture. It kind of spirals from there!

 My work tries to evoke the worlds of the painter, the sculptor and the photographer. The combination of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ are what interests me and (I believe) constructed photography is a particularly apt way of exploring this. The objects in the photographs are ‘real’, they have their own history which interacts with the narrative of the painted element, which often has it’s own historical resonance (given that it is often a re-interpretation of an existing artwork/painting). I pursue themes and ideas in my photographs that very often relate directly to issues of ‘identity’, fine art practice, popular culture, crypto-political connections, and every variety of arcane symbolism meet in a collision of ideas and associations such that a kind of kaleidoscopic’ vision is created.

Do you have a clear image of how the finished piece will look, or does the picture emerge as you work?

I think the final image is a kind of accommodation between myself and the camera – we reach an impasse, or maybe a truce! The camera lens does not see the world in the same way as the human eye does. I try to make what I have in my mind fit what the camera sees, and we usually meet somewhere in the middle.

Themes of Scottish history and identity run through your work. Was that a conscious decision or natural evolution?

See above. I lived in London for a decade or so from the mid 80s during the Thatcher years, and this certainly made me aware of a growing political gulf in the UK. However I was reminded on a fairly regular basis of my linguistic ‘otherness’. There is a sense of an evolution in these concerns in my work specifically: simply because, like most people, my opinions and views have been shaped by experience of the political climate and by an increasing engagement with Scottish culture over the decades.

How much of yourself do you expose in your work?

Often artists both reveal themselves and hide within their work. In that respect I am no different from the rest, except sometimes I am physically present in the work – although always in the shadows and sometimes in disguise!

Have you ever been deeply into a piece only to realise that it isn’t working?

Not that I’ve been prepared to admit! I am nothing if not persistent!

How do you know when a piece is finished?

When I decide I can’t make it any better, or I run out of time, or puff.

Is there any piece you are particularly happy with?

No. I think the next one might be better.

We first met as art students in Dundee. I have a particularly vivid memory of you, me and Andy Crummy huddled around the fire in Andy’s basement flat, eating slices of cheese from a block of cheap cheddar. Oh, the glamour. I think it was the only thing any of us had to eat that day. You are now a Professor of Fine Art Photography at Dundee University and Andy has created the Great Tapestry of Scotland – changed days indeed. Looking back, what does the journey from student to professor look like?

I don’t think about life journeys and such too much. I tend to be too busy dreaming up the next wheeze. I’m still partial to a bit of cheddar.

What, if any, are the differences between art students then and now?

I think it is all a bit more professional now. Teaching is much more sober and structured, for better or for worse. Interdisciplinarity is encouraged in a way that was never before, and I would like to think I have been a part of that change. Students work very hard, and I am very proud of their achievements at Duncan of Jordanstone, which is now part of the University of Dundee. I went to the same institution at the age of seventeen and see the similarities and transformations most days.

What are you working on at the moment?

As ever, I’m juggling half a dozen or so short term and long term projects. Some of them will go by the wayside, and some will evolve. We’ll see.

I’m definitely making a commission for the British Academy in London. A group portrait of eight Honorary Academicians, past and present. A big job.

What advice would you give the young Calum Colvin?

None. I wouldn’t have listened.

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

Robert Burns. A walk in the country, a meal, a drink.

Who would play Calum Colvin in the film of your life?

I’ve no idea. I wouldn’t watch it. Maybe Jacques Tati?

A few short questions to finish. Favourite book:

Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns 1786.


Philip Roth


Malt Whisky – any. I’ll play the field.


Cheese. Unless it’s Andy’s Cheddar.


It’s a Wonderful Life

TV show:

Mad Men


Elvis Costello


Diego Velasquez

Work of art:

Las Meninas

Thanks, Calum. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

Burns Country by Calum Colvin

You can find out more about Calum Colvin at his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Lübbe, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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Thrillers With Attitude Literary Smorgasbord: Ross Beattie

If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big, robust circles, to tiny, stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce.

Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.

My guest this week is poet and radio presenter, Ross Beattie.  

Hi Ross, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord.  Please tell us a little about yourself – what were you like at school?

I’d given up on school by the time I was 14 as other more important things in my life took over.

When did you start writing?

If I’m going to be completely honest in this interview I best start now. I began writing while on a flight from London to San Francisco during a time in my life when I was taking a lot of drugs and the 12 hour flight was a struggle so I started writing that struggle down.

Do you define yourself as a writer, and if so, at what moment did this first happen?

I only define myself as a writer when I write.

Why do you write?

I mainly write as a form of therapy and in a hope I’ll write something I’m happy with.

How deep do you dig when you are writing – how much of yourself do you expose?

I’m more exposed in my writing than at any other time.

You publish your poems online – how do you feel about the response you get?

Honestly it’s a really nice feeling if someone “Gets” my work. To receive a message from a complete stranger telling me that I’ve helped them feel less alone makes me feel like my writing matters.

Are you inspired by any writers in particular?

Camus and Bukowski

Best writing moment so far?

The next one hopefully.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve got hundreds of unfinished poems so I’m always kinda working on them. Plus all the new lines that creep up on me unexpectedly.  You can find some of my poetry at Black Poem Blues although it’s a bit of a mess as I’m not good at keeping on top of things.

What are your ambitions, writing wise?

Just to be proud of my own art.

What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?

Didn’t a great man once say “Write drunk, edit sober” ?

Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?

I write when I can’t not.

How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, quill and ink?

Black pen in note books or on my phone if I’m out.

Any writing habits – music, particular place to work?

Music always helps everything so music is never not playing in my house.

What inspires you to write?

Music, reading, memories and pain.

Any advice for aspiring poets?

Keep writing and write what you know.

If there was one person, contemporary or historical, you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why?  How would you spend the day?

Neil Young because he is a God and we’d hopefully spend the day getting stoned on his ranch. If I was in complete control of everything we get to do I’d ask him to play me all the tracks from his album, On The Beach.

A few quick questions to finish with.  What is your favourite book?

The Outsider, Albert Camus.


Charles Bukowski


Endless amounts as I’m a huge film fan !

Radio programme?

I’m gonna be a wanker and say Too Rare To Die on Lochbroom FM 102.2 or 96.8 on Thursday nights at 9:30pm or listen again on Mixcloud. This is my radio show.


So much music! I only play stuff from my record collection on my show so go listen!

What are you reading right now?

Journals Mid 50s (1954-1958) by Allen Ginsberg

It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Literary Smorgasbord, Ross.

Ross Beattie

Ross Beattie

You can follow Ross on Twitter and Facebook and read his poems at Black Poem Blues.

Confession time – I’m a fan of Too Rare To Die, the programme Ross produces and presents for Lochbroom Radio. If you have any music in your soul you will love it, so treat yourself to a listen on Mixcloud.

LG Thomson is the author of Boyle’s Law, Each New Morn, and Erosion.