According 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?
That 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.
You 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!