Show 005: February 2008

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I’d like to talk about the TS Eliot Poetry Prize which was awarded last month to Sean O’Brien for his book The Drowned Book. But I was particularly interested to noe that two of my interviewees, Ian Duhig and this month’s Sophie Hannah, were both short-listed for the prize and attended the prize-giving in January. I can only recommend Sean O’Briens book; it’s intelligent, cogent and very much of the time.

A very interesting new journal polluto came out last month, produced in Leeds for world-wide distribution, by a phenomenally young editor, Adam Lowe, it celebrates the counter-culture, and more details of this brave and ground-breaking venture can be discovered on the website

The final bit of news is about my first interviewee, Milly Johnson. Her second book is out now, entitled The Birds and The Bees. I read it in four and a half hours. I can think of no better recommendation.

Book Review

This month’s book review is The Secret River by Kate Grenville who won the Orange Prize some time ago with her novel The Idea of Perfection. Set in the early days of Australia, it is dedicated to the aboriginal people of Australia. Grenville takes us to Australia with her central character when he and his family are transported after a petty crime in 19th century London. The book is concerned with themes of home and territory. It’s an even handed novel, dealing with the Thornhill’s experiences, and Kate Grenville herself admits that she wrote the book out of some family guilt. A great novel, which makes you care.

Interview: Sophie Hannah


I’m talking to Sophie Hannah whose latest collection of poetry Pessimism for Beginners, and latest crime novel Hurting Distance are out now.

‘I’m interested in writing about the psychological side of crime fiction. I write crime novels about people and relationships and the ways that situations can go wrong and can get twisted; things that go wrong because something goes awry in people’s personal lives. I’m not interested in organised crime etc. I prefer to write psychological thrillers of the sort written by Nicci French, and Barbara Vine.

I wanted to blend the police procedural genre [with regular characters that crop up in every book], with a first person, visceral ‘woman in peril’ story. The crime matters in my books because of this first person narration. I always have two story lines in each book, one which concludes at the end of the novel, and the police story which carries on from book to book.

I’ve always been a huge fan of mystery stories, since reading Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. I find it difficult to read to the end of a book that doesn’t have a mystery in it. My favourite book of last year was The Thirteenth Tale by someone called Diane Setterfield, and another recent favourite was We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I always knew that I wanted to write crime; when I was eighteen I wrote two novels which didn’t get published because they were hopeless. My first crime novel was Little Face which was published in 2006. It’s always very exciting when I start a book, and write a plan. It gets harder and more complicated when I gets going. At the moment I’m writing the fourth, and am at the stage where I’m tying up the loose ends. There’s always a stage at about page 200 when I worry that it might not tie up.

I’m obsessed with titles, Hurting Distance is based on the idea that the people who are closest to you are the people who might do you the most harm. If it’s someone who’s close to you, it’ so much worse. The book is all about betrayal at close range. I had the idea for twist at the end of Hurting Distance before I thought of anything else. I had to work backwards from that.

The crucial thing about my books is the story; I didn’t want people to be distracted from the story by setting it in a real place. I wanted to invent my own place and make it exactly as I wanted it to be. It’s kind of a tribute to Ruth Rendell, my favourite writer of all time, who created her own place. It’s also to get away from cliché’s about the North because I’m based in the North. I wanted to get away from regional connotations.

People are already asking for the next book, which is great, but quite daunting. I’m probably always going to write crime-novels and I’m pretty sure I will be always writing poetry.

My latest novel is called The Point of Rescue, and it’s out now.

Poem of the Month: Male Bonding

I’ve always been interested in writing about families, about parents and teachers. I’m also interested in writing about masculinity. This poem is set in the gym that I go to.