Show 036: November 2010

You can listen to the podcast here on the site or subscribe to it using iTunes or other podcatching software. Subscribing in iTunes is easy. It takes just two clicks then computer will download each month's new show automatically.


Or play the MP3 version:

Download the MP3 version


The major news of the moment in literary circles has been the winner of the Booker Prize, Howard Jacobson and his novel The Finkler Question. There was a moment where it seemed that Peter Carey might have won it for the third time. It was a very good short list, but Howard Jacobson is a great novelist and had been in line for it before.

On a more personal note I’ve just come to the end of many events at the Ilkley Literary Festival amongst the highlights of which were interviews with Audrey Niffenegger, Helen Dunmore, Margaret Drabble and a particularly interesting event with Michele Roberts and Helen Simpson both of whose new books were collections of short stories.

Book review

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry
Many will know her as the writer of The Time Traveller’s Wife, a hugely successful Hollywood movie, and I think that with her second novel she faces the difficulty that Alice Sebold had after the huge success of The Lovely Bones, carrying the weight f people’s expectations. I think it is a really well-written book. It has the intriguing setting of Highgate Cemetery where Audrey Niffenegger worked for a time as a tour guide in her research fro the novel. It is the story of American twins who are left a flat overlooking the cemetery by an aunt and come to London to visit it and stay for a time, and what happens to them in their discoveries of the their aunt’s life. It is a novel full of mystery in a Henry James kind of a way, with touches of Wilkie Collins.

If you like a chill when you read, this book will not disappoint. Buy it on Amazon.


Here follows an edited transcript with poet Gaia Holmes.
Gaia Holmes

I was borne and bred in Halifax; I leave and I keep coming back. The views and landscapes are quite intoxicating. The landscape is very enticing for writers.

When I was six I made little books full of stories and pictures, but I had artistic parents , a potter father and an artist mother. I felt that poetry allowed me to be more eloquent. With Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed I had grown up a bit and took ideas from things I experienced and saw.

Sending poetry off to poetry magazines is what we all have to do but it’s very scary. Rejection is horrible but it’s how you get known as a poet. It’s lovely and strange to see your work in magazines.

The title of the collection came from reading about James Graham’s bed which was supposed to cure everything, and it came to me about halfway through getting the collection together. It reflects my inner landscape of about four years.

The cover of the book represents some of the way I work as a poet. It is a photo of my bedroom which contains lots of objects from my past like my mother’s wedding dress and my gran’s patchwork quilt.

I taught creative writing part-time at Huddersfield University for four years and am now trying to work in a self-employed way. I run a writing course called Igniting the Spark where I’m trying to get people inspired, I bring in a lot of props in and get them really thinking. I always bring in biscuits too because I make them work so hard they need some rewards.

My next collection Occasional China is due out at the beginning of next year from Comma Press, but I’ve got lots of ideas for novels so I might be due for a change from poetry. I’ve always written prose, in a raw and unedited way. A lot of my poetry comes from these notes.

If you have never read out your poetry in public before you should come to the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge, on the first Monday of every month from about 8pm, It’s a chance try you poetry out with a very warm and encouraging audience.

Amongst the writers I like I always go back to Edna O’Brien. I love Elizabeth Smart’s novel By Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. In poetry I’ve always loved Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. Elizabeth Simmonds, and Roddy Lumsden are amongst the newer poets I read.

Poem of the Month

A poem with lots of poetry references; anyone who spots them just email the answers and there will be a complete set of Audrey Niffenegger books as a prize... Read Murder.

Show 035: October 2010

You can listen to the podcast here on the site or subscribe to it using iTunes or other podcatching software. Subscribing in iTunes is easy. It takes just two clicks then computer will download each month's new show automatically.



October is full of the Ilkley Literature Festival, both with the large number of books I have to read, and the fascinating people I get to meet. The festival for me begins with an interview with Horatio Clare and Tim Dee, and ends with me in conversation with iconic writer Margaret Drabble. Visit Ilkley Literature Festival for a list of the many events.

In November I am running a series of writers’ retreats at Woodlands a country house in North Yorkshire. Check out the details on

Book review

The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison

The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison
I’m interviewing Blake Morrison at Ilkley this year where we talk about this book. I loved his last novel South of the River, but this is quite different. The publishers talk about it as ‘a chilling story of rivalrous friendship’, and ‘dark haunting tale’, and all of this for once is true. We know Blake Morrison from his wonderful memoir of his father, ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father’, his work as a journalist, and his great poem, ‘The Ballad of The Yorkshire Ripper’. In ‘The Last Weekend’, a deceptively quick read, rarely have I seen the rivalry between two men better portrayed.

Narrator Ian becomes more complicated the more you read the book, and his friendship with the golden couple becomes more troubled. As the book continues we see that Ian is having a bumpy ride in his career, and that some of his troubling compulsions are emerging. I can say no more about the plot, and no more about the narrator because I’d give too much away. Just read it, it’s dark and chilling fun.


Simon Hall, TV Detective
Here follows an edited extract of an interview with Simon Hall, author of the TV Detective series of crime novels.

I’ve always wanted to write but the catalyst for me was I was the environment correspondent for television down here in the South West and was then pitched into a new job as crime correspondent. I was the new kid in town. My solution was to shadow the police for some time, and that’s what happens in my book with Dan. Then there is the transformation from him being scared and intimidated by this new world, and then being drawn into it.

I was really trying out writing in The TV Detective; there’s this world you’d like to try but it is daunting. Is your writing any good, or nonsense? And then you have to show people what you’ve written, and that’s very scary. When you write a book you’re really shining a little light into your soul and your being.

One of the things I’ve found hardest to deal with in my TV job is to interview victims of crime. These people are so dignified and conduct themselves so well. You come away so impressed with the strength of the human spirit.

The greatest recommendation a writer can have is word of mouth: this is more effective that any posters in getting people to read your books.

My new book is just two weeks old. It’s already getting feedback; it has a terrorist theme and people are already telling me that they are finding it quite chilling. But there are bits of humour in my book, and my website designers tell me that one of the regular searches which people are making and ending up on my site is for ‘witty detective novels’.

The local police have been delighted by my books and help me with authenticity, and also suggesting plots. Wherever I look there are ideas for books, a walk on Dartmoor, it could be a newspaper story, something in my local pub. But I always carry a notebook with me.

My characters talk to me, and if i don’t write about tem they start nagging at me to write about them. If they don’t live for me how are they going to live for other people.

I’m old fashioned in my crime reading. Crime should be conceived in the mind, without too much science, gore I love Sherlock Holmes, and i love Agatha Christie…Her plotting was brilliant. In terms of what’s my favourite book, it’s a competition in my mind between Tess of the D’urbervilles and Great Expectations particularly in the scenes with Miss Havisham in her wedding dress with.

I’m already drafting ideas and thoughts for the next book…lots of weird and madcap ideas already coalescing in my mind. Writing is a hobby which is becoming a job.

Poem of the Month

Sometimes poetry is written as a response to the natural world..a response to the political; world we inhabit and are part of. This is a very simple poem born out of anger. Read Those Low Down Democracy Blues.