Show 003: November 2007

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This year’s Booker Prize, always contentious, was won by Ann Enright for her brilliant novel The Gathering;  won for the first time, I felt, by someone who was ploughing a slightly different literary furrow from the usual.  I found the sense of an Irish tradition in her writing, from Joyce through Sean O’Casey to Flann O’Brien, fascinating for someone, like me,  with an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature.    I have only one thing to say about the novel;  you must read it. 

Alice Sebold
I recently met and interviewed  Alice Sebold, American writer of The Lovely Bones, Lucky and The Almost Moon, her latest book. We talked for an hour in front of an audience in this outpost event of the Ilkley literature Festival.  I had long had a feeling that she must have had a background in poetry, and was delighted to hear from her in conversation that indeed she had started out as a poet. 

Since October I have become involved with a new project at York to work with science teachers, putting something creative and language based, (using new technology, blogging and podcasting) to engage young people’s interest and to bring out the stories in the science curriculum. 

On the 13th of December I’m appearing at Meltham Library for an event which has a certain Noel Coward ring to it,  An Evening With James Nash.  It starts at  7.30pm and will finish about 9pm. As well as reading from my own work, both poetry and prose,  I hope to find out from audience members what book and poetry recommendations they have.  If you’re in that neck of the woods [just outside Huddersfield, in West Yorkshire]  it would be great to see you there. 

Book Review

The Speed of Dark by Ian Duhig

The Speed of Dark
This month’s book is The Speed of Dark, a poetry collection by Ian Duhig, which makes a change from the novels I have reviewed previously.  Ian is an internationally known poet who has won the National Poetry Competition twice. He’s lived in Leeds for many years, and the city can be glimpsed briefly in several poems in the collection. Based on a reworking of the medieval satire Le Roman de Fauvel, his poems touch on themes ranging from Johnny Cash to suicide bombers.  Ian is the subject of the December interview of the James Nash podcast.


Sarah Waters 

Sarah Waters

This is an edited extract from an interview with Sarah Waters, whose novels Tipping the VelvetAffinityFingersmith and The Night Watch have a world wide audience. I caught the celebrated writer on a rare visit to Sheffield. 

Fundamentally I’m interested in writing about human relationships, about what makes people tick, and the subterranean impulses in peoples’ lives. I’m interested in characters on the fringes, or margins, but specifically my interest has been in history and returning to periods we think we know better than we actually do, like the Victorian period or the Forties.   I access the periods by looking at texts that aren’t in the foreground of people’s minds; for the nineteenth century I turned to pornography for example.  The period is supposed to have been an extraordinarily prim one, but  pornography was big business then.  In the forties, for The Night Watch, I looked at  lot of diaries, like the journals of a young gay man Denton Welch, and a memoir of the period by Barbara Bell called Just Take Your Frock Off; she was policewoman who use her status to pick up girls.  She’d go to gay clubs in uniform, apparently to keep an eye on what was going on, and then return the next night as a customer. 

Wartime must have been very exciting as well as frightening.  You were mixing with people you would never have met in peace-time.  The period became more interesting to me the more research I did for The Night Watch;  I love the films of the time , and it was very nice to turn off my computer and watched films like Brief Encounter in the afternoons as part of my research.  I didn’t intend to write about the war as such, but I soon realised what a fascinating time it was to explore, with so much to examine below the surface. 

I had a crack team of elderly readers who were able to comment on the authenticity and details of the book. I wanted to get the mood of the times, so I read novels like The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen and The Charioteer by Mary Renault, and Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, which showed some of the intensity of wartime relationships. I think of all the characters in the Night Watch, I felt closest to Kay; in any situation I knew what she would say, and  I was sorry to giver her up at the end of the book. 

Four novels in, and on my fifth now, I’ve got to grips with the craft of writing more, though I don’t think you ever feel utterly confident in your writing.  I loved writing as a kid, and wrote pastiches (rather as I do now).  I would like my writing to continue, and have loads of ideas for other books. It’s a pretty nice way to make a living, writing fiction.


Poem of the Month

Anyone who knows me well , will be aware that I have always had cats and dogs in my life.  They have been important constituents in how I live.  I don’t often write about them, and if I do I try to avoid sentimentality.   Read 'Spray', this month's Poem of the Month.