Tag Archives: Barry Gornell

What Killed the Radio Star?

profiteroles-recadreAccording to the song playing in the restaurant in Angoulême on Friday lunchtime, it was Video. A strange coincidence, I thought, to hear that song today of all days. Radio killed the Tree Magic star, more like.

Luckily, I had profiteroles to cheer me up.

You know when someone makes a witty remark or asks you a difficult question, and you come up with some brilliant repartee – five minutes too late? Or how you leave an exam and forget everything except the questions you couldn’t answer?

helen-millarThat was exactly how I felt after my first ever radio interview. Helen Millar, the host of RCF Charente’s weekly English programme, AngloFile, had invited me to come and talk about my novel Tree Magic. Here’s a picture of her. She was a lovely host: friendly, reassuring and interesting. And there were no difficult questions. As she’d assured me beforehand, it was just a chat.

The thing is, on radio you have to keep talking. And talking is much more difficult than it sounds: talking coherently, in any case. As Barry Gornell recently said at the Cognac European literary festival, writers don’t talk: they listen and watch (though he actually spoke very well). I would include ‘think’ in his list of things writers do. I’d also add that if writers were good speakers, we wouldn’t go to all the bother of writing in order to communicate.

Helen talks admirably, which I guess is just as well for a radio host. But she is also a writer, which completely disproves the point I just made. Damn. I thought it was a good point, too.

Helen is known as Rosemary Mason for her professional writing. As Rosemary, she was a founder writer on East Enders. She has written stage and television plays, was a production assistant at the BBC and a screenwriter in residence for Thamesdown Borough Council. She launched a media writing degree, taught screenwriting and became Head of School at Southampton Solent University.

I should have been interviewing her!

Instead, a friendly technician, Fabrice François, set us up and we galloped through 26 minutes of air time, including me reading from Chapter One of Tree Magic. It passed so quickly that I forgot to thank my publisher (sorry, Impress Books). I forgot to say what Tree Magic is about, and that there is a prologue before the first chapter. I forgot to talk about the legend of Amrita Devi, on which the novel is based. But I did manage to refer to my writing groups and the Charroux and St.Clémentin literary festivals (well, OK: I did forget to say they are bilingual).

Not only is Helen a writer, she also runs an informal writing group near Marthon, to the east of Angoulême. This meant we were able to discuss a whole range of writerly issues, from inspiration to deadlines to short story competitions and writer’s block. We talked about how training as an engineer – which I did – can affect your language skills. And we chatted about the effect of nature on writing.

But each time I began to answer a question, we seemed to bifurcate right and left into fascinating themes such as what happens to hippies and punks when they grow up. Was it just an impression, or did I never actually answer a question she asked? Perhaps that’s just me being engineery…

In any case, it was wonderful to meet another local writer. The RCF (Radio Chrétienne Francophone) studio was a cosy, informal series of offices staffed with smiles. I was even offered a piece of cake. Once the red button stopped glaring at us (well, at me), we continued chatting about writing and Helen told me more about the family history on which she’s currently working. Writing certainly hasn’t killed this radio star.

logoYou can listen to AngloFile every Tuesday from 6:30-7pm and on Saturdays at 11:30am. My interview was first broadcast on Tuesday 29th November and will be repeated on Saturday 3rd December, as well as on Tuesday and Saturday during the Christmas break.

If this post hasn’t put you off, you can even click on the RCF web page here and listen to it now.

And if you’d like to pre-order Tree Magic, you can do so on Amazon and other online bookseller websites. Many thanks!

British Authors in Cognac

You did ask nicely, didn’t you?

In that case, as promised last month, I’ll tell you everything I know about Cognac’s forthcoming literature festival (Littératures Européennes, 17th–20th November 2016). Well, some of what I know. I’ll take questions afterwards.

Littératures Européennes is all about Europe (you know, the family us British are preparing to exit) rather than all about books. The aim is to explore European culture through literature. What I didn’t understand, in previous years, is that preparation actually begins months beforehand with the selection of the contending books.

The festival makes much more sense if you’re aware of the books shortlisted for the prizes, even more so if you take the time to read them. One of the conditions for a book to be selected is that the author must be present at the festival. So before reading a book, you know you’ll be able to meet the person who wrote it. This is particularly interesting for us English speakers – and an oasis in the literary desert for any non-French speakers living in France.

In February, the shortlisted novels for the big ‘Jean Monnet’ prize, chosen by France’s literary intellectuals, are announced. The shortlisted novels for the ‘Prix des Lecteurs’, voted by the region’s libraries, are announced in April. And in May/June, the books shortlisted for the school prizes are announced: the ‘Prix Jean Monnet des Jeunes Européens’ for lycées and the ‘Prix ALE!’ (Adolescents, Lecteurs et Européens!) for secondary schools. Other prizes are privately funded, such as the ‘Prix Bouchon de cultures’ and the ‘Prix Club Soroptimist’.

So, how can we find out what’s been shortlisted? The website is a good start. Even better is to go to the public presentation evening at the beginning of September to hear the festival organisers’ summaries (in French) of their favourite books. Or to go to the professional ‘Lire l’Europe’ event at the end of September (more about this in my next post).

If you can’t make these dates, the next best thing is to read about them – here, for example, bearing in mind that I may be hiding things from you, or exaggerating where it pleases me, or–

OK, OK, I’ll stop waffling and get on with my rough guide to the festival.

affiche-20162Here’s the poster, with its enigmatic ‘Délier les langues’ title. To save you scrabbling through your dictionaries, this could be translated as ‘Loosening Tongues’. Of course, in French, the word ‘langue’ refers both to language and the tongue…hence the (arresting, in my opinion) photo of the young lady sticking out her tongue. Shame it’s not pierced – that would be even more arresting. It’s a great poster, isn’t it? I like the way it focuses on a person, not on books.

The poster, which was unveiled (or rather, which fell off the wall while the public were taking their seats) on 8th September, refers to the way literature can help understand other languages or cultures; how writing can untie the knots caused by political taboos or childhood secrets; and how writers, particularly eastern Europeans, manage to write in languages other than their own.

You’ll also see the reference to 5 countries on the poster. The festival usually celebrates one country in particular – or one town (last year it was London, as I reported here). This year, marked by the celebrations for Cognac’s 1000th anniversary, the organisers have chosen to honour books from the European countries in which Cognac’s twin towns are situated.

What the poster doesn’t tell you is that the contending books not only come from Germany, Scotland, Spain, France and Slovakia, but that only the young generation of writers were considered. I’m not going to list all the books selected: you can find these on the website. I’ll just mention the ones written by English speakers.

Firstly, Jenni Fagan – named by Granta as one of the best young British novelists –  has been shortlisted for the Prix des Lecteurs with her book The Panopticon (in French La Sauvage). Unfortunately Jenni can’t come to the festival.

Secondly, we have Andrew O’Hagan, shortlisted for the Prix Bouchon for his book The Illuminations, alongside Barry Gornell‘s The Healing of Luther Grove. Andrew and Barry should both be at the festival, hopefully going into schools as well as meeting the general public. Andrew O’Hagan, renowned novelist and journalist, has won many awards for his work, including being on the Booker shortlist for Our Fathers. Barry Gornell is a novelist and screenwriter living in Scotland. Click on the links to find out more about them and their work.

A final word for Jana Benova, an English-speaking, Slovakian poet and novelist, who is in residence at Cognac during October and November. Her novel Café Hyène is only available in French at the moment, although it will soon be available in English as Seeing People Off. Winner of the EU Prize for Literature, she’ll be taking part in the festival and will also be present in several Poitou-Charentes towns in October and November. First comes Cognac on 6th October 2016. See the Littératures Européennes website for details.

The full festival programme, which includes round tables, exhibitions, workshops and film projections, will be available in mid-October. In the meantime, visit your local bookshops, such as the Le Texte Libre in Cognac or Livres et Vous in Ruffec, and order your books from the friendly staff there.