Show 050: February 2012

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Bowery Cafe Headingley
Oddly enough there seems to be a theme to this podcast, not something I usually strive for. The novel I review is set in Yorkshire, the poem of the month celebrates a ruined priory just outside Malton, and my head is full of recent David Hockney images of the Yorkshire landscape

I suppose the current literature news is all about competitions with Andrew Miller winning the overall Costa prize with his novel Pure, and I can still remember from over ten years ago the impact of his first novel IngeniousPain.

John Burnside won both the Forward Prize and the TS Eliot prizes for poetry with his collection Black Cat Bones.

On a more personal note for those of you who live in West Yorkshire, I am going to be running six week mini-courses in creative writing at The Bowery Café in Headingley. Open to anyone, from beginners to the more experienced writer, the courses will begin on Thursday 1st Match from 7pm to 9pm.

Book review

South Riding by Winifred Holtby
South Riding
This is book is a classic. I know it’s a classic because it says so on the side of the book, Virago Modern Classic. Written by Winifred Holtby it concerns life, death and the triumph of hope. South Riding is a mythical place, based around Rudston where Holtby was born, all the way down to Withernsea. I first read it when I was twenty and remember that I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t all pan out for the characters as I hoped it would.

Forty three years later I fall in love again with some of the characters, Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of the girls’ school. Midge Crane the troubled pupil. Local councilor, Mrs. Beddowes. What makes the novel so timeless is the fact that the issue that are explored in the novel are still issues to day, Health, Education, Benefits, and the potential corrupting nature of politics. But written while the author was dying of cancer, and yet somehow shot through with optimism and hope for the future.

Rather like the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy South Riding is a celebration of Yorkshire countryside and as a would be Yorkshireman I’m extremely glad to have reread it.


Anna Chilvers
Here follows an edited extract from an interview with novelist Anna Turner writing as Anna Chilvers

I teach a course for the WEA on writing fiction, When you break down writing into what you’re going to teach, it makes you look at your own work more closely.

Falling Through Clouds took about two years to write when I was on a writing MA; I had deadlines from tutors which was really useful. It was the first novel I had published, but not the first book I wrote. I guess that we have to practise before reaching some kind of professional standard. Writing a first novel can be like making pancakes, the first one, until you get the oil hot enough, can be awful and you have to put it in the bin.

I’m Reader Development Librarian for Calderdale, with a responsibility for the 65 reading groups in the authority, and putting on events and festivals to do with reading and writing. I have to make time for my own writing and decide that’s what I really want to do. So I write very early in the morning for an hour or two before I need to do anything else. The other thing that helps with my writing is walking with the dog. We live half way up a hill, and the uphill is pretty sleep. The landscape in my second novel is a fictional version of the landscape where I live, about eight miles from Haworth. I love the contrast between hilltop and valleys, the light and the dark.

I started my second novel as a series of short stories based around song-titles. I needed a couple of years after Falling through Clouds to sit down and write my second novel. I never thought, I’m going to have a space between writing novels, but that’s what seems to be happening. When I’m actually writing I like to disappear into it, and I don’t think of the process at all, I’m just living in the story.

I’ve always been a reader, and I can remember looking at children’s story books when I was small and wanting to be able to read the writing. I’ll read now when I’m cooking, walking down the street, and sitting on the toilet. I read absolutely everything.

Writers I’ve loved include Daphne du Maurier, George Eliot and Victorian novels where everything is connected. I respond very strongly to writers like Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver because their writing is very spare and yet descriptive.

My next task is to rewrite novel number two. My publisher Blue Moose are looking at the first draft on the understanding it’s a first draft. And we’ll see whether they will publish it. If they do it’s likely to 2013.

New writers should read a lot: you learn from the masters and see how they do it. Joining a writing class or group can be really useful; try and write every day even though it may seem to come out as nonsense.

Poem of the Month

This poem is set in East Yorkshire, written during a train ride last December to Scarborough where I saw the ruins of Kirkham Abbey just outside Malton. Read this month's Poem of the Month.