Show 030: May 2010

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In March I asked for feedback from you all on the podcast so so that we could improve on it and make it one that i would enjoy doing and you would enjoy listening to. You seemed to want more contemporary and classical fiction. You really liked the interviews with writers but also suggested that I might interview organisers of literary events too. Pleasingly you seemed to like me reading the Poem of the Month [whether mine or somebody else’s work] in preference to other writers reading theirs.

I have just been at the Scarborough Literature Festival doing two events with both Belinda Bauer, whose book I review this month, and acclaimed children’s writer Tim Bowler.

I was asked to edit and order a collection by Holmfirth Writers of their writing. This collection ‘Reflections from Holme’ will be launched in June. I’m also collecting in work from six West Yorkshire schools for a publication that will also be out at the beginning of next month.

I was pleased to be asked to contribute a selection of my work as guest writer to The Scribe magazine which is the student arts magazine of the University of Leeds.

I would like to note the death of Peter Porter, a prize-winning poet whose work achieved greatness. I met him at the Ilkley Literature Festival for an event celebrating the life and work of Vernon Scannell. He was a lovely bloke!!

Book review

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer
This month’s book is Blacklands by Belinda Bauer. This is Belinda Bauer’s first novel. The setting is Exmoor, but Bauer has used some of her shocked and empathetic responses to the Moors murders, of parents not know what has happened to their children, to create the brooding undertow to this book.

Although Blacklands can be seen as a crime novel, it is actually much more. The nature of family and friendship is put under the microscope, and we see an ordinary family under extraordinary pressure; Steven and his family still suffering from a distant crime, and Avery sitting in prison, waiting for a last shot at what makes him happy and fulfilled, killing children.

Bauer builds horror without horrific detail, though the book is exciting it is also an uncomfortable read. We know that Avery is a monster. Characterisation is deft and spare; we get enough information about the other characters to more than fill out a picture of them, but we live in the heads of Avery and Steven. Highly recommended and, I hope, the first of many.


Here follows an edited transcript of an interview with Nicola Upson, author of An Expert in Murder.

I started off writing a biography of Josephine Tey. I read The Franchise Affair about fifteen years ago, and loved the fact that these books were different from everything else being written at the time, and they were also different form each other.

She also had written a play under the name of Gordon Daviot, ‘Richard of Bordeaux’ which was a huge public success. I was interested in how he could be so successful in two branches of literature and how we knew so little about her. My partner suggested that I just made up the story of her life, and put it in a completely fictional crime novel. This woman Elizabeth Mackintosh had two different lives ; she looked after an invalid father but she also came down to London and had a great time. She lived her own life on her own independent terms.

Theatre in the thirties had a sense of adventure, and it was nice to bring my theatrical knowledge to my description of the scenes at the end of the run of ‘Richard of Bordeaux’. The atmosphere of jealousy and resentment was the perfect closed community for what is essentially a classic detective story. Part of the fun for the reader I hope is spotting the real-life characters amongst the fictional. If you see a character with a real name in one of my novels, you can be pretty sure that they won’t be the criminal. The further I go with Josephine Tey in my fictional books the harder it gets to write, to be truthful to what I know about her. As the books go on, as I become less self-conscious, and it becomes easier to write.

Miss Pym Disposes is my second favourite of her novels next to The Franchise Affair. What I love about this book is how authentic it is. Female institutions were a theme of her life; she understood the intensified emotions of that kind of world. The ending of that book is very daring, and thought provoking. And very modern.

I’m a late developer in discovering the work of Barbara Pym; I’m working through the whole list. If you want to know how to write about people, she provides a masterclass in it. My favourite so far of her novels is A Glass of Blessings. ‘

Nicola Upson’s second novel Angel with Two Faces is set in Cornwall at the Minack Theatre, and the third, Two for Sorrow, is out this summer. Her fourth novel deals with the meeting between Hitchcock and Josephine Tey when the great director was filming one of her books.

Poem of the Month

This month’s poem is called The Voyage Out. will appear at the beginning of my friend Milly Johnson’s next book, in spring 2011.