Douglas Dunn

Lessons from the School of Night

Nowadays if I sit down before a blank page, nothing happens
— Douglas Dunn

Sean Robinson met with Douglas Dunn at St. Andrews’ School of English in the spring, while Dunn was promoting a collection of short stories, The Bagpiping People (Turnpike, 2017). They spoke candidly about the experience of growing old as a writer; discussed teaching and playwriting as ways for a poet to earn a living; and reminisced about the offence caused by his first book, Terry Street, and Phillip Larkin’s role in getting it published.

Dunn reads two poems from his new collection, The Noise of a Fly (Faber, 2017): ‘The Teacher’s Notes’ at 10m02s, and ‘Thursday’ at 24m10s.

Apologies for poor sound quality at points. 

Note: We are currently moving our files from Soundcloud to another system. Please bear with us – the ‘Lessons from the School of Night’ will be back soon!

Music: Luvva by Heman Sheman. Image: chuttersnap

Douglas Dunn was born in Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, in 1942 and lived there until he married at the age of twenty-two. After working as a librarian in Scotland and Akron, Ohio, he studied English at Hull University, graduating in 1969. He then worked for eighteen months in the university library after which, in 1971, he became a freelance writer. In 1991 he was appointed Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews. As well as ten collections of poetry, including Elegies (1985), The Year’s AfternoonThe Donkey’s Ears (both 2000), and New Selected Poems 1964-2000 (2003), Douglas Dunn has written several radio and television plays, including Ploughman’s Share and Scotsman by Moonlight. He has also edited various anthologies, including Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry (2006). Douglas Dunn has won a Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and has twice been awarded prizes by the Scottish Arts Council. In 1981 he was awarded the Hawthornden Prize for St Kilda’s Parliament. In January 1986 he was overall winner of the 1985 Whitbread Book of the Year Award for his collection Elegies.


Sean Robinson is a poet and writer from London, currently living in Leith. He is studying for an MFA under Don Paterson at the University of St. Andrews. Before turning to poetry, he studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, then worked with the civil service. He hosts and produces the podcast Lessons from the School of Night.


Lessons from the School of Night are an irregular series of video or audio interviews and tips from poets and writers who visit St Andrews. 

The School of Night – inspired by the group which included Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh – is Topping & Company Booksellers’ Year-Round Poetry Festival in St Andrews. Curated with the help of Don Paterson and playing host to poets as varied as Paul Muldoon and Lorraine Mariner, Simon Armitage and Annie Freud, it is anchored to a regular fixture on the last Tuesday of the month. The School of Night offers the chance to explore and discuss the work of some of the best poets on the contemporary scene. For more details on these and other events, please visit the Topping & Company website.