My milkman hears me on the radio

I appeared on a Radio Leeds programme last Wednesday evening.  Hosted by the bubbly and charming Shourjo Sarkar, it was a programme of music and conversation. The other guest was Sue Bellamy, a very funny woman from Halifax, who has a lingerie shop in Brighouse called Brief Encounter.  Between records Shourjo encouraged us to tell amusing stories about ourselves, and our lives, as well as to talk about things that were important to us.  Sue was an old hand, having been on the programme before, and was never anything other than relaxed throughout the two hours we were chatting.  

I had my mobile on silent, and received a few texts from friends.  Apparently they found out stuff about me they didn’t know;  that I’d been a prison minister for ten years and that I had once been a naked Mr. January in a charity calendar. There was also an opportunity for me to talk about my website and podcast.  My milkman heard me on the radio;  when it came to paying my bill last week, I could see him looking at me with new eyes.  I ‘m not sure whether I had gone up or down in his estimation.

Ilkley Literature Festival Review

I ‘did’ fifteen events in almost as many days at Ilkley Literature Festival this year. They ranged from chairing an ‘in conversation with’ the mischievous and beguiling Fay Weldon whose stylish satire The Spa Decameron had me chuckling for several days. Poet and children’s writer Kevin Crossley-Hollland kept his young audience enthralled as he talked about his latest book Gatty’s Tale, and nature writer Richard Mabey enthused about the secret lives of beech trees to a packed audience.

Oddly the only event that made me nervous was with Libby Purves; not because she was scary, quite the reverse. She was absolutely lovely with a fund of interesting and funny anecdotes. I think it was because I found myself interviewing The Interviewer whose voice had been part of my life for so many years on Radio 4.

Iain Banks, Blake Morrison, Adam Thorpe and John Julius Norwich were all fascinating , as were Virginia Nicholson and Rupert Christiansen, and rarely have I heard an audience laugh quite so much as when I chaired Dom Joly and John O’Farrell.

But two of my favourite events were my conversation with Sue Townsend whose funniness and political engagement and passion were a beacon of inspiration, and then the dramatic magic created by actor Joe Williams and his trio of young players in their re-creation of the world and writings of eighteenth century freed slave and abolitionist Olaudah Equinao. Pure sorcery.

Peter James: crime novelist and all-round good guy

I’m going to write about my Ilkley Literature Festival experiences at more length later in the week, but I need to say something about Peter James the crime novelist, with whom I did an event last Tuesday, and whom I interviewed for the second show of the James Nash Podcast earlier today. We hit it off immediately at Ilkley (I had interviewed him for Northern Exposure on the telephone a month or so ago) and started chatting in the dressing room with the ease of old friends. The event itself was a lovely, friendly hour of the best conversation, with Peter talking about how he had come up with his detective, Roy Grace, and why writing in the crime genre gave him so much pleasure. In the podcast interview Peter James is as charming and insightful as he was before an audience. Check out the podcast on Thursday 18th October, to see what I mean.

Creative Kids

I spent the afternoon at the University of Leeds working with nine Year 10 pupils, and one sixth-former, all from Temple Moor High School. I’m involved with a number of schools, and English PGCE students, as Writer in Residence for the Faculty of Education, where I act as mentor to both pupils and teaching students throughout the year. This was the first writing workshop.

The young people produced knock-out poetry of high quality; they were shy to start off with (who wouldn’t be, with a large, bald man asking them to play slightly eccentric word games) but they gained confidence quickly, and suddenly it all took off and everyone produced something of which they were proud, and which also surprised them.

The teaching staff also had a go, writing alongside the young people making it a very special workshop, full of fun and creativity.

Peter Robinson - Crime Writer

Sometimes you meet favourite writers and they disappoint; their real personalities don’t match up to the charm and intelligence of their writing. This has not been my experience in the last week.

Last Thursday I introduced the crime writer Peter Robinson to a packed audience at Leeds City Art Gallery, sparkling in its new incarnation, with freshly hung pictures and the Tiled Hall completely resplendent. Peter Robinson, though now living in Canada, was born and brought up in Leeds before going to the university to study English. He was utterly charming, talking fascinatingly about his Inspector Banks books, and the settings in North Yorkshire and Leeds, before reading the chilling opening to his latest novel Friend of the Devil, and taking questions from the floor.

More later about Fay Weldon, Kevin Crossly-Holland, Richard Mabey and John Julius Norwich