Tuesday, 15 October 2013

spoken on Radio 4

First of all, the Radio 4 discussion I took part in on The World Tonight last Thursday had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I had a couple of stories on Radio 4 back in August. 4 is a big, many-tentacled beast, and when the producers got in touch with me they didn't even know my name, let alone my history (such as it is) with the channel.

This is because the discussion I was asked to contribute to was about short stories (and specifically the impact of short story writer Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature) and so I was contacted via Liars' League. This happened at 2.34pm on 10th October, and by 8pm that evening - having dashed out of dinner with my parents - I was in the studio. So what was it like?

First off, the new BBC Broadcasting House building is nice. Really nice, all glass and light and smooth lines and slick futuristic sleekness. They may have got some Doctor Who set designers in, I couldn't comment, but however much it cost to build, you can see where the money went. It's also hilariously tight in terms of security, to the extent that I had to have a bag search to go to the loo. (I was waiting in the lobby to be collected at the time - I hadn't yet been admitted to the inner sanctum). The lobby is full of screens and interactiveness, but I was frantically reading a couple of short story collections I'd brought with me for inspiration.

My fellow guest was the very nice Alex Clark, who's a book reviewer for the Guardian and a regular guest on Front Row (my new ambition) and thus not remotely starstruck by appearing on actual national radio. She basically held my hand while we were waiting and told me what it would be like. Then we got ushered up to the somethingth floor by Audrey, the researcher who had previously done a mini interview with me over the phone (presumably to check I could speak coherently and actually knew what the hell I was talking about).

We were offered tea and/or water and left to sit for about ... ooh, a minute, and then presenter David Eades invited us into the studio, which looked a bit like the pic left, except with much darker decor. We had a mike and a set of headphones each, and in my case about three minutes to crap myself before recording started (the programme goes out at 10pm, but our bit was pre-recorded because Alex had to be elsewhere by then).

First David asked us both about the impact of Munro's win, and then they played a recording of Hemingway's six-word story "Baby Shoes" which led into a discussion of short stories in general and a nice plug of Liars' League events as fun and accessible ways into short fiction: hurrah! (Sidebar: I've often wondered how radio presenters know exactly when to jump into a discussion and, more importantly, how to shut their guests up: turns out it's all in the eyes. I knew when I was waffling or taking too long in my answer because of the glances David was sending in Alex's direction, as though desperate to get her to weigh in. Subtle and silent, but highly effective!)

I was feeling pretty smug at having discovered - on the first page, no less, of the Guardian Review Book of Short Stories borrowed off one of my students - a quote from Munro herself defining a short story as "a world seen in a quick, glancing light". I was pretty sure I could work it in somewhere, but I didn't count on how short our segment was going to be - 5min 40 sec in all, and it can be heard in full here (the first voice you'll hear is Alex's). So I showed it to David as I was leaving the studio, and to my unspeakable delight he used it in introducing our bit.

And though I didn't get to mention the fact that on the tube on the way to the studio, I actually heard a bloke ask his mate if he wanted to hear a story (Bernard Cornwell's Warrior Chronicles - I asked) I was also quoted at the top of the programme: something I'd said about how short stories are sometimes seen as the poor relation of novels and Munro's win would change this perception. FAME AT LAST!

Oh, and also, off the back of the broadcast we got several new LL submissions (none of whose authors had read the subs guidelines - sigh), an offer of a venue in Portsmouth and a call from Stylist to ask me - with my teacher head on this time - about the growing popularity of short story writing courses like the one I teach. Score.

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