Show 014: December 2008

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In this month's show:


An interesting month where I met novelist Maggie O’Farrell at Haworth Parsonage and stand up, actor and writer Alexei Sayle for an event at Leeds City Art Gallery. I also did my annual lecture at the University of Leeds, Faculty of Education with graduates training to be English teachers. This has to be the scariest thing I do every year.

Book Review

Rather than a straight forward book review this month I’m recommending a list of books I’ve read this year which would be good Christmas presents or terrific reads over the holiday period.

Pippa Lee
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, is an intelligent exploration of mother-daughter relationships.

C.J. Sansom writes great Tudor crime novels with a fascinating detective, lawyer Matthew Sheldrake. The first in the series is Dissolution.

I’ve been reading the crime novels of Benjamin Black [aka Booker winner John Banville ] these are noir novels set in 50s Dublin. The first of the two [so far] is called Christine Falls.

A Bit of a Blur
Bit of A Blur by Alex James, of Britpop band Blur, and whom I know as a weekly columnist in The Independent, is a well-written and perceptive account of his life in a band.

Ringside, a treasury of boxing reportage, by Budd Schulberg, a great writer who wrote the film script for On The Waterfront and worked with Scott Fitzgerald in the thirties and forties. Anyone who enjoys good writing will love this book.

The Book of Common Prayer is my final recommendation. I bought the Everyman edition of the 1600s version, and found it fascinating and easy to read So much of our language and poetry seems to come from this book, the Bible and Shakespeare.


This is an edited extract of my interview with novelist Maggie O’Farrell.

Maggie O'Farrell

I’m trying to finish my fifth novel; I’m expecting a baby in about three months. which is a deadline I can’t ignore. My hormones are making me a bit doolally at the moment.

I started my first novel when I was twenty three or four, and a friend’s mother was throwing out an ancient Mac. As soon as I’d got it After You’d Gone seemd to come, but I didn’t really admit I was writing a novel to anybody.

I see writing novels as an alternative to the life I’m living. There’s not much of me in my writing, I just make it up.

I think I write the kind of novels that I, as a reader, would like to read, so I write to entertain myself first and foremost. I hate the idea of notional reader behind my shoulder, though occasionally there may be a joke or reference that a friend or my husband might get.

My writing is chaotic, I start with a scene of character and let it go from there. I think I would get bored if I had a plan.

I had the idea for Esme Lennox in the mid-nineties. It simmered in my mind. It was the first novel I had written after the birth of my son. I had less time to write, with am hour or so maybe twice a day, while he slept. But I don’t think I could have written Esme without having had a child. The whole thing is about motherhood or thwarted motherhood, about women who transgressed or were trespassed against.. All my research was done in Britain, but every culture of the time was treating women badly. I was always sure the novel was going to be in two parts, the history of Esme and the contemporary story of Iris.

I found it incredibly moving being in Haworth Parsonage [the home of the Brontes where Maggie O’Farrell and I did an event together recently] You can see the table where Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre and the sofa where Emily died. It’s heart breaking. I would never call them lucky, all that illness and death, but they were allowed to exercise their intellect and imagination and this saved them.

My latest book is about twice as long as Esme and it has two stories, one about a woman who has a baby but has no memory of giving birth, and the other about a girl escaping from her controlled upbringing in Devon to 1950s Soho.

I hope to carry on writing; it all depends on whether the voices in my head continue…..

Poem of the Month

I’ve often been struck by how dramatic and operatic are the tragedies we survive in our everyday life. Read the french have several words for it.