Show 038: January 2011

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2010 has been a jam-packed work year for me. one of the nicest albeit one of the smallest projects was working with Year 10 students at Allerton High School in Leeds to produce a collection of stories called ‘The End of Childhood’.

I have finished my teenage novel and am at present redrafting it, and writing a synopsis, so that I can send it off to an agent in the New Year.

On a professional note I’m looking forward to the Scarborough Literature Festival in April 2011, where old friends Sarah Waters and Barbara Trapido are appearing along with many other eminent writers.

Book review

The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble
The Pattern in the Carpet
In October of 2010 I interviewed Margaret Drabble for the Ilkley Literature Festival. I knew her from her early novels like A Summer Birdcage and The Millstone, but we were there to talk about this latest book a memoir and a history of the jig-saw. Apparently she thought this book would be entirely academic and might sit ion the shelves in Museum shops as a kind of stocking-filler, but the way jigsaws intersected with her family life formed the book into more of a memoir. Covering territory already explored in her novel The Peppered Moth, she writes about growing up in Sheffield where her father was a lawyer, and going to school in York. It looks at he special relationship she had with her aunt who was a primary school teacher.

Some readers have complained that there is too much information about jigsaw in the book. This was not a problem for me, having grown up in a family where jig-saws were done at family gatherings. I think it might be the perfect winter read. A lovely trip down a nostalgic lane.


Blake Morrison
Here follows an edited extract from an interview with poet and novelist Blake Morrison whose most recent novel is ‘The Last Weekend’.

I thought I might become an academic and write poetry on the side, but I didn’t expect to become a journalist and book reviewer, and then a Professor at Goldsmith’s in London.

My first two volumes of poetry were Dark Glasses in 84 and the Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper in 87. After my second book of poetry I had a time without writing. I began to write again when my father died. For a time it seemed the only thing in the world, and what else would I write about. I never thought these private writings would become my memoir ‘When Did You Last See Your Father?’. I showed the typescript to my mother and she said I must tell the story. Some English people feel that to be written about is an act of aggression, but I was lucky with my family. But of course many of the stories in the book were well known to them.

My parents were doctors and were very matter of fact about illness and death. Perhaps that made me readier to deal with death and violent death in my writings. In their different ways Peter Sutcliffe and the Bulger case [‘As If’] haunted me, and I wanted to explore what happened there.

I ran out of family members to write about, so I thought it was time to turn to fiction. My first novel was broken off to write about my mother; but it did teach my to write fiction. It was an historical novel but after that I returned to the modern day in my writing. ‘South of the River’ was an attempt to write a state of the nation novel. I took five characters to say what it was like to live through the first five Blair years. I found it hard to leave those characters behind, but I had to say to goodbye to them and move onto something else.

The Last Weekend was written very quickly. I didn’t think to myself that I was writing a thriller, but I was thinking very hard about narrative pull. I wanted to write about confinement and claustrophobia, in a small group of people who were not on their home territory. In such a situation dark things could happen. I mostly write in the first person and here the narrator is man called Ian, a primary school teacher, who is not me.

The writer I go back to again and again is Philip Larkin. I go back to Hardy and Auden, but Larkin I found for myself. I also return to Joyce and Lawrence, and First World poetry who were front-line writers sharing the pity and terror of their experiences.

For me the writer’s job is to give a sense of what it’s like to live through a particular time.

Poem of the Month

Hardy Perennial from ‘Coma Songs’.

A poem with a kind of winter feel to it. I was reminded of it earlier this week when I saw a photograph of a Russian woman swimmer bathing in an icy, wintry sea.