Show 047: November 2011

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News

The festival season is pretty well over now for me and I suppose the literary event of the moment is the announcement of the Booker winner. This year as ever the prize has been a bit of a gossipfest where people debated Dame Stella Rimmington’s call for readability and books ‘which just zip along’; the prize was won as you probably know by Julian Barnes, with ‘The Sense of an Ending’. And it was Julian Barnes who once described the Booker as a ’kind of posh bingo’.

I chaired a debate in Sheffield on the future of the book which seemed to come to the conclusion that the future might be a mixture of traditional books and the electronic variety. One member of the audience juat back from Africa pointed out that ebooks might be easier to access in more remote parts of the world.

Book review

Lives of the novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives by Professor John Sutherland
John Sutherland Lives of the Novelists
John Sutherland is now Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and known for his interest in the Victorian novel. This latest book is a wise, witty and very partial set of small biographies of the 294 novelists whom Professor Sutherland particularly rates. All the usual suspects plus the unexpected inclusion of folk like Jeffrey Archer. A marvelously, unsnooty collection from one well-versed in literature. Read from it on Jeffrey Archer, Patricia Cornwell, Charles Dickens with the concluding paragraph on Jeffrey Archer being particularly funny.

It does however way as much as two house bricks and costs £30 in a beautiful hardback edition. Buy it on Amazon for £16.99 or for £15.02 in kindle format.

Interview

Here follow two edited extracts from interviews with poets Paul Munden and Kate Fox.

asterisk-paul-munden
Paul Munden’s new collection ASTERISK*, sequence of poems inspired by Shandy Hall, [the extraordinary house in Coxwold that was once home to the writer Laurence Sterne] is out now.

I’ve always written poetry since school and later at university. I met a lot of poets then and started writing. It’s taken me a long time to get my first complete collection out; I was allowed by the publishers to have a very hands on approach to the production of the book.

I had written before about Castle Howard and then I became associated with Shandy Hall, the home of novelist Laurence Sterne, and recently it became National Association of Writers in Education registered office. It’s a fabulously quirky place, and it is very much a house that’s lived in. The title came about as Laurence Sterne was known as the Vicar of Stars, and his work is dotted around with asterisks. I lent one of my old computer keyboards to a friend and every time she pressed the return it produced an asterisk, and this led to the title poem Asterisk

In this book there is the chance to make a lot of crazy connections. Working collaboratively with photographer Marion Frith was great; it worked really well when I let her get on independently.

There’s not an official guidebook to Shandy Hall and I felt perhaps my book could act as a wacky guide to the place. The notes at the back of the book are playing with the idea of taking you in different directions, and some are fascinating irrelevances. But some give you information about Shandy Hall itself.



Kate Fox
Kate Fox is a regular on Radio 4’s “Saturday Live”, she has also recently performed her satirical poems on the Radio 4 shows; “You and Yours”.

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, and used to write lots of comedy poems. I then trained as radio journalist. I started writing poems again in my mid-twenties. In 2006 I got a Time to Write award and I got some money to tour Kate Fox News.

I do have an addiction to performance, and sometimes I think a poem doesn’t feel complete until I’ve read it out loud to an audience. You somehow get a reflection and amplification of your poem.

I was involved in a Radio 4 slam and the comedy commissioner for Radio 4 asked whether I could write poems quickly and to order. I went in and tried out and I’ve been one of their line up ever since.

I thrive on commissions ands deadlines. There might be the odd moment of feeling I can’t do it, but necessity is the mother of invention.

Kate Fox News was written to accompany my live show, and it went to press before I did the show. I suppose its about how news impacts on me and my life. I tried to scatter it with some poems that were not entirely comic. The title show my weakness for puns.

I was recently the poet in residence for the Great North Run: I had to write about my training and write a poem while I was actually doing the run. I really enjoyed the training, but the run was a bit crowded. If I have to write about something I think about it in a different way. So it felt all of me was involved in this project.


Poem of the Month

Read this month’s poem, Old soldier bleeds purple.

Show 046: October 2011

You can listen to the podcast here on the site or subscribe to it using iTunes. Subscribing is easy. It takes just two clicks your computer will download each month's new show automatically.

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Or play the MP3 version:

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News

It’s an interesting month ahead with the recent appearance of the Booker shortlist; Stella Rimmington as chair of the panel declared that she wanted a readable selection, and this she has certainly achieved with two debut novels amongst the chosen. Previous winners Alan Hollinghurst and Sebastian Barry both with books out are not shortlisted, and the final winner will be announced later in the month.

I have interviews with Alan Hollinghurst, Val McDermid, and Claire Tomalin [on Dickens] at the Ilkley Literature Festival among others, and I’m chairing a debate at the Sheffield Off the Shelf Literature Festival on the future of the book. All details of these are on my forthcoming events pages

I’m spending an interesting day at the Leeds College of Music on the 8th October as part of the Leeds Lieder project where nine poets and composers have got together to each produce a new classical song. I’ll be there to comment on the words the poets have come up with, alongside teachers of composition.


Book review

Book review: Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves

Hidden Depths
I interviewed Ann Cleeves sometime ago, since then her Vera Stanhope novels have appeared on ITV with Brenda Blethyn at the eponymous main character. Vera is not a beauty, slightly grumpy and drinks too much. People don’t see how sharp she is, and how she’s shaped by her own difficult past and relationship with her late father..

The book concerns a series of drownings which are accompanied by some extravagant, theatrical scene-setting. Ann Cleeves is terrific at describing life in small communities, and here she describes a small community of bird-watchers who live on the North-East coast, not far from where Ann herself lives.

Vera wins through in spite of her apparent stupidity, with a keen intelligence and quite a lot of bullying. She is a believably flawed and quite loveable human being. This book is third in the Vera series, and I read it with the extra frisson of knowing the author and loving her unflinching, but kindly, observations of the world about her.


Interview

Here follows an edited extract of an interview with Valerie Wood.
valerie wood

I was born in Castleford in the West Riding and came to East Yorkshire when I was 13, and then on marriage I lived in Holderness for over fifty years. My books start and finish in East Yorkshire, but I send my characters off all round the world. I. I was always in a writer in embryo. I wrote short stories for my children, never really taking myself until my daughter left home, joined a writers’ circle and became fascinated by the written word.

In 1989 I began my very first novel, which was a surprise as it started out as a short story. I started thinking about the folk who lived in Holderness a hundred years ago and the more I wrote the longer it became, and I realised that I was writing a novel.

The novel took me two and a half years to write. I was learning the craft of novel-writing. I sent it off to the first Catherine Cookson award, and it was shortlisted and then it won. It was a fairy story. And with the award was a writing contract for two books. That novel became The Hungry Tide and I was on the road to becoming a successful novelist, with my seventeenth novel coming out soon.

I think I was influenced by Little Woman, and I read it many times. It was the kind of book I wanted to write. I write about the nineteenth century when women were very put down; all my heroines eventually become strong characters. My writing is two parts imagination and one part research. I rarely plan, and that’s why I say I’m a story-teller.

Landscape and setting is important in my books; the landscape is big and empty in Holderness and you only have to be there at sunset to see how big and full the sky is.

In Homecoming Girls one my characters, Jewel, is half Chinese and crosses from Hull to America to find out about her mother; the girls travel across America on a train. Not only do they discover America, but also things about themselves which they hadn’t known before.

The Harbour Girl is set in Scarborough and Hull. It’s 1880 it begins with a big storm in Scarborough when a lot of ships went down in the harbour. It’s out in November, and I still feel a euphoria about a new book being published even though I’ve written seventeen books.

I read different different books from what I write. I like American authors, I love Isobel Allende, and Kate Atkinson’s latest books which are clever, amusing and intelligent. I love Sarah Waters, who is so controversial, and Margaret Atwood. I suppose I read better writers than I am myself.



Poem of the Month

Read this month’s poem, Silver Heart.