Show 049: January 2012

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It’s been an interesting year in the world of books.

The inexorable rise of Kindle seems to have continued with many ‘senior’ ladies in my reading group in possession of them. I expect to see loads of them on my plane flights this January, and on the beaches when we arrive. It’s also been a year when the book chains are looking a bit shaky, whereas conversely I’ve noticed an encouraging rise in independent bookshops in small towns on my travels.

There has also been controversy around some of the book prizes, with the Booker being criticized for its judging criteria, and that very fine poet Alice Oswald leaving the T S Eliot prize because of its sponsorship by hedge-funds.

On a more personal note I have been asked by a major greeting card manufacturer if I could do some training with their editorial team. Whether or not it comes to anything, I smile at the possibility of running sonnet workshops with them

I suppose the biggest thrill is that a publisher is going to bring out a collection of my sonnets later in 2012.

Book review

A E Housman selected by Alan Hollinghurst
This month’s book is a very slim book of poetry. I came across it before doing a gig with the novelist Alan Hollinghurst. In my researches on him I had discovered that he had written lots of poetry as a young man. Looking it out on Amazon I found that I could buy one of his early works fro £1,300, or this collection of AE Housman’s verse competitively priced at £3.99. And rather like Shakespeare ,many of Housman’s lines have entered the language, for example Dennis Potter used one of his lines ‘Blue Remembered Hills for the title of his play not so long ago.

Like Hardy, Housman can sound very modern, some of the poems have the quality of First World War poetry even though written in the late 1890s. This is a great collection, small and immensely portable.


Here follows an edited extract from an interview with celebrated novelist Barbara Trapido, whose latest book Sex and Stravinsky is out now.

My first novel came out in 1982 and since nobody knew I was writing it, I dawdled over it a long time . I wrote in the middle of the night and got more and more tired and haggard. I began to write at 4am. I thought it rather presumptuous to say I was writing a novel. It was playing with words and reading them aloud. Characters produced themselves. I’m quite talky and my characters are too. I enjoyed jotting down dialogue and entertaining myself with that, and gradually got hints of what was happening.

I have a bit of a feeling that all of one’s characters are aspects of oneself. Whenever I sense that a character is close-ish to me I feel a bit embarrassed by them. In my last novel I noticed there are about seven versions of bad mother, and wondered if they were me. I don’t really like autobiographical writing but sometimes a decade later that I recognise a character from my life.

I think I realised a novel was being written when I showed a friend. I’d stuck the rudiments of a novel in a box. She said this is good, write some more, write it for me. I got so hooked on the act of doing it I could have gone on forever.

The novel which is closest to my heart is Juggling. I love to think of writing as taking risks and rather like tightrope walking, and this I think is manifest in this book. It has a pastoral magical quality in it. There’s a lot of difficulty and pain in in it. Juggling is the one where I started thinking about the nature of comedy, and I made this specific by getting the runaway Christina to right an essay on Shakespearean comedy.

I think in the case of Sex and Stravinsky I’m writing about contemporary South Africa. I got married very young and came to England in 1963 at a most horrible time in South Africa. I had always identified quite a lot with England and think I locked up my past as a box marked ‘Do Not Open’, and I write in the English Romantic form. It was only after apartheid was over that I felt that wanted to write about South Africa, my mother had just died and I felt like shoring up her life. I’d never wanted to tell my own stories before and it gave me quite a lot of pleasure and quite a lot of darkness. But I took Sex and Stravinsky all over the place to France, Milan and England.

The title Sex and Stravinsky was a very much an instant working title I seized on. I was asked for an extract for Waterstone's charity collection and I just happened to be working on a chapter where two of my characters are having a conversation about Stravinsky. By the time I’d finished the book I wondered whether I was too old for the title. But everyone under 35 was adamant that it was the right one.

I’m writing inside my head at the moment, but as I’m in the middle of moving at the moment, I have a plan to start putting it on paper at the end of January..’

Poem of the Month

This is a poem about hope at a time in the year that I find quite difficult when you get and up and got to bed in the dark rather like a mole.Read this month’s poem, And will there still be singing.