Show 015: January 2009

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In this month's show:


My computer had been standing reproachfully unused for a few weeks; broad band down, I hadn’t wanted to work on it. Now back online, I‘ve had some time to myself and have written many thousands of words of my redraft of my teenage novel, The Champion.

I also have had a lovely visit to Allerton High School in Leeds at the end of a short-story writing project I started with pupils in year 10, now in Year 11, in the summer of 2008. See my blog for more details.

Book review

Fat Chance
Fat Chance by Simon Gray. I’m a late comer to Simon Gray’s writing, with such memoirs as The Last Cigarette and The Smoking Diaries. This book deals with Simon Gray’s experience of the production of his play Cell Mates in the mid-nineties with Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall. This was the play where Stephen Fry decamped at the last minute and the book deals with Simon Gray’s response to what happened as a result of this, of how it felt for him, and is beautifully written with his usual honesty.


Jasper Rees
This is an edited extract of my interview with writer Jasper Rees, whose recent book ‘I Found my Horn’ about his experiences of taking up the instrument again after many years, is now a play in the West End

The French Horn is the orchestra’s most difficult instrument. I stuck at it for seven years, and then dropped it. I guess I had a mid-life crisis when i was about forty, and I was feeling professionally rather unfulfilled. I thought I was going to have an adventure, so rather than buying a Harley Davidson, I plucked my french horn out of the attic where it had been gathering dust for twenty two years and took it to the annual gathering of the British Horn Association.

At the end of the weekend everyone gathered on the stage and they had what they called a mass horn blow. I said to myself that I was going to come back in a year’s time to play a solo on the stage in front to of all these other horn players. I had a great year wandering around the horn world, and in the middle of the year I signed up for this thing in America called Horn Camp. That was a gift for a writer. At the beginning of the quest I didn’t know I was going to write a book, though I did write an article at the very beginning.

The one thread going through all my books is that the research has been great fun, whether it was Blizzard: Race to The Pole, the book on Arctic exploration, or for the Arsene Wenger book, Wenger: The Making of a Legend.

I was doing a degree in English in Oxford and one of my tutors recommended that I contact one of his friends in journalism, and I started writing for a glossy magazine. It took out a long time to work out how to be a good interviewer. I don’t think I have a novel inside me, if I have one, I haven’t found it yet. I have had great fun doing the books I have done, particularly the horn book, which was read on Radio 4 as book of the week. I was contacted by an actor who had heard it on the radio and who also wrote plays. He was also an ex-horn player, and we got working on the play of the book together, and we have now opened in a small fringe theatre in the West End. It’s selling out very night.

It was deeply strange to watch my story on the stage but very exciting. Having written about the theatre for years, and having had my nose pressed up against the glass, to be allowed into the sweet shop, and to find out from the inside how the thing works, was great.

I do have a new idea for a book, but to use a mixed metaphor I heard a football manager use recently, ‘I have plenty of irons in the fire, but I’m keeping them close to my chest.

Poem of the Month

This poem was written in response to the boastful round-robin letters and emails that proliferate at this time of year. Read 'New Year's circular letter'