Show 016: February 2009

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In this month's show:


I’m always interested in the results of literary competitions whether it be the Costa or the Booker. I always keep an eye on the T S Eliot Prize for poetry because it nearly always produces an interesting result. This year it was Jen Hadfield with Nigh-No-Place, an interesting collection set in Shetland, where she’s lived some time, and sprinkled with Shetland dialect. I’m looking forward to reading it very much.

I’m spending more time working with adult writing groups around the country, as well as getting ready for the festival season soon to be upon us.

Book Review

This month I’m reviewing two books. First a collection of poetry by Elizabeth Alexander, whom some of you remember read a poem at the inauguration of Barak Obama. I think poets can come unstuck on these big political occasions. But I was interested to go and find some of her poetry, American Blue, and read her poems. She’s a great American poet. Read Ars Poetica from this collection and you’ll see what I mean.

My second book is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, written in the thirties and re-issued recently by Persephone Books this a is a charming and lovely book recently filmed with Frances McDormand in the main role. Marred slightly by the offhand racism of a previous era, it is charming and delightful and a lovely read.


This is an edited extract from my interview with Alison Penton Harper, whom I spoke to during her recent trip to India. Housewife in Love is published on the 6th February
Alison Penton Harper

It was just one of those things, the way I started writing. I was off work with flu and I saw Richard and Judy and they were running a writing competition in Autumn 2004. I wrote the first chapter of a novel which my eldest daughter sent in a month later. In February 2005, they rang me after receiving 46.000 entries, and they said I had been long-listed, and then I was short-listed and then I had a publishing contract. I had six weeks to write it.

I think I’ve always been a writer, I‘ve always written stories and kept journals. And I worked in advertising for a long time as a copy writer. I thought that writing fiction was something I’d do when my children flew the nest.

I’m a bit of a hermit and I’m not really like Helen my central character in the Housewife books. Though I believe that one’s relationships are the most important things in life. Everything else is disposable. Friendship is terribly important to me. I think the characters in my books are a series of alter-egos.

I’m actually working on the manuscript for the fifth Housewife book, Housewife in Trouble, while I’m here in India. India makes me feel connected in some way. My mother is Indian, and I’m also working on a manuscript set in India in the thirties.

I think luck has a lot to do with writing success, and I had a great launch platform, but I feel I’m serving a long apprenticeship. i wonder whether I will ever feel worthy to be a published author. If you can take criticism and improve and improve, and don’t give up, just remember there are some real stinkers published out there.

I like watching a movie when I forget I’m watching a film. I like the same-experience when I‘m reading, to lose myself in a book. The Housewife series are designed with this in mind, to be comedy light relief.

Poem of the Month

I’ve always been interested in the what T S Eliot called ‘the skull beneath the skin’. Here’s my take on mortality: the first poem in Coma Songs, which I have never read out in public before.

Read Skull.