Show 001: September 2007

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In this month's show:


September used to be the beginning of a school term, and oddly my year still runs in those ways. I will be starting work in Leeds schools pretty soon, as well as working at the University School of Education with PGCE English students and cohorts of high school students around Leeds. I am also taking up a post at Wakefield Prison as a Writer in Residence working with inmates who are keen to improve their writing skills. But I suppose the big thing on the horizon is working for the Ilkley Literature Festival and Sheffield Off the Shelf Literature Festival. Ilkley is a small market town in North Yorkshire but has the second oldest literature festival in the country. All sorts of writing luminaries come to Ilkley to talk about their books and writing, so this year I will be talking to Iain Banks and Fay Weldon, amongst many others, as well as doing an ‘ in conversation’ event with Sarah Waters as part of Off The Shelf Festival.

Book Review

In this section every month I will be talking about a book I’ve read. Now over the last ten years my attitude to reading has changed enormously. As someone with two English degrees tucked under my belt, I used to be quite snobbish about what I was reading, or would allow people to think I was reading. Now I’m much more inclined to judge a book by ‘whether it does it for me’. This month I am going to talk about The Middle Sea, a history of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich. I was reading out my usual preferred genres when I read this book; I usually read contemporary fiction, crime fiction or poetry. But I took it off on holiday to Marrakech with me, and it was fascinating to read about Moorish culture in Spain and the Berber tribes of Morocco and have it all in front of me. At 600+ pages it totally took up the three and a half hour flight each way from Manchester.

John Julius Norwich is an erudite writer, who wears his learning lightly. Like the best teachers he tells you stories that keep you enthralled. My knowledge of history is limited. But JJN ties up many, many loose ends for me. A history of the part of world where many of out civilisations had their beginning. I can unhesitatingly recommend this book. With great illustrations and good maps, I particularly enjoyed the family tree of the Savoy family. Who knew that one of Europe’s royal lines was named after a cabbage?


Milly Johnson

This is an edited extract from an interview with Milly Johnson on her debut novel The Yorkshire Pudding Club, set in her home town of Barnsley.

When I got pregnant at the same time as two of my friends, that's when I thought 'this is my story'. A former boss once said to be that Barnsley was a joke town, and I thought that if I ever do get around to writing a book, I'm going to set it here and show you the Barnsley I know -  a place with nice countryside up the road,  a place full of wit and warmth and kind people.

I started The Yorkshire Pudding Club in 1998 but abandoned it after a long struggle.  I picked it up again a few days after my 40th birthday in 2004 and decided that I needed to finish writing it.  By that time, I knew I was too far down the road to accept failure and if it didn't get taken on, I'd keep trying until I succeeded.  I was half-way through writing another book when I heard that I’d got a publisher. Of my three main characters in the book, I'm probably closest to Elizabeth - fiercely loyal, soft-hearted, with rubbish taste in men, overly independent and so off the wall, she's not to everyone's tastes.  

Right now I'm very much enjoying the status of 'author', it gives me a great buzz after so many years of coveting it.   It's incredibly mad and exciting. My second book will be out Feb / March 2008 and is called The Birds and the Bees.

If I have any advice for new writers it’s to read loads - but for fun.  Try and write every day; set yourself a minimum of, say a page, but get that done.  Read Stephen King's 'On Writing' which I thought was full of great advice (even though I don't do 'help' books). A book deal doesn’t means instant fortune because  things move so slowly in publishing!  Eighteen months is average from book deal to bookshelf. Don't give up - it took me fifteen years to get here, but it was worth EVERYTHING.

The Yorkshire Pudding Club is out now in paperback, from Pocket Books.
The Birds and the Bees is available on pre-order (publication March 2008).

Poem of The Month

The artist Kevin Hickson gave me an old battered trumpet which I kept in my office for some time, just knowing I was going to use it in some writing sometime. I was looking for something to use as a symbol, or a metaphor for a broken relationship, and the poem ‘petals’ came into being.
Read this month's poem.