Show 037: December 2010

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Literary news of the moment is the Costa prize. I like this prize because prizes are awarded to more than one category of book, from first novels, to biography to poetry, with an overall winner from any of the categories. Last year it was won by a poetry collection, ‘The Scattering’ by Christopher Reid. I’ve already been prompted by the short list and long list to read a few of the titles from authors I’d not heard about before.

Book review

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a classic; I’m reading it for the first time in about 20 years. Written in 1860 and published as a serial in one of Dicken’s magazines it has at its heart all sorts of issues that were troubling people of the time, from the rights of women to own property, to mental health care and many others. It is a very large novel containing about five narratives from various observers and characters in the action of the story. But the whole novel contains a mystery which fairly pulls us along.

We have an attractive hero in Walter, a clever heroine in Marianne, and the put upon Laura whom Walter falls in love with. And in my opinion The Woman in White has the best villain ever in Count Fosco, almost a Bond villain in his creepiness. Many folk would argue that Sir Percival Glyde is the villain but Fosco outdoes him in his ability to chill our blood.

I’ve about one hundred pages to, and like the best books can’t wait to find out the ending.


Here follows an edited extract from and interview with writer Tiffany Murray whose second novel ‘Diamond Star Halo’ is out now.
Tiffany Murray

There’s been a lot of interest in the memoir that’s embedded in the latest book. I grew up in a rural place that was a famous recording studio. I had clear memories of the setting, and the famous stars who would come to record. All that is a canvas on which the story is placed.

The reviews were great, and there was a beautiful half-page review in the Guardian by Alfred Hickling. To be reviewed in any way for a second novel is a great piece of luck.

I came to writing very late. I started when I was in new York in my mid-twenties when I was a doing a PhD thesis. My brain was knotted by all the academic language, so I sought an outlet in creative writing.

It took four years for Diamond Star Halo to be written. It spans so many years, and straddling all the time and trying to define the time by musical genres was a big thing. Of course there are lots of droplets of me in the writing, but I don’t know what’s going to happen when I stand in the shoes of my characters.

There has always been a soundtrack to my life; I grew up in a musical environment. My father introduced me to music and made me listen to his music. When I was a teenager the mix-tape gesture was absolutely part of my life; it was showing someone who you were.

My character Fred is the boy you fall in love when you’re a seventeen year old girl. He’s Heathcliffe. He’s the boy you know you can never have a long-term relationship with. But with Fred I tried to make him sympathetic. He’s a bit Jack White from the White Stripes.

My reading passions are in the book too. Diamond Star Halo started off with Wuthering Heights. Throughout the book I’m having a dialogue with myself about books I love, it’s a kind of layering. All sorts of books are embedded in it, amongst them one of my favourites, I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith.

I’m about five chapters of editing from sending my next novel off to my agent, and it’s a ghost story that’s been haunting me since I was a child. It’s set in 1955 charting the friendship between two boys. It was wonderful to research, and I hope it will be out in 2012.

When I think of favourite books I think of books that still make me shiver; one of them is ‘In Youth is Pleasure’ by Denton Welsh. It uses a third person which feels like a first person. The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving also resonates with the way he writes wonderfully about families.

Poem of the Month

I wrote ‘Lovely, Lovely Boy’’ about twelve years ago and it’s a free-verse poem, based on a story that was told to me.