Angela Readman Kills The Witch …

… Or does she?

“Hansel still swears it was the sweetest cottage he ever saw, and the peeling paint on the door looked like frosty angelica. I’m not so sure.”

Script and red radio. [Photo by Angela Readman]

Script and red radio. [Photo by Angela Readman]

These words are spoken by Gretel, and come from Angela Readman’s forthcoming radio story, The Night We Killed The WitchUnlike many re-workings of fairy tales, this relies on neither a shift to the present nor to a fantasy future. (Thankfully, Hansel And Gretel: Witchhunters this ain’t.) Instead the setting is timeless and the language connects entirely naturally with the living earth: it reaches out, albeit from a distance, to the spirit of the Brothers Grimm version, or even the medieval tale – developed out of the Great Famine – that some believe was their original source. Equally, you can find modern resonances in tales of refugees, and the story is shot through with a contemporary emotional intelligence.

I’ll give you a small spoiler: Hansel and Gretel’s parents – usually depicted as a weak father and evil stepmother – more closely resemble the rest of us, except that they are caught between a large granite boulder and well-hard hard place. To find out the rest, please listen.

Angela Readman first blinked on our radar a while ago when she submitted a story for our Time Being new writing showcase. She was earmarked for broadcast, only for the series to be decommissioned. But a reading of the title story from her recent collection Don’t Try This At Home – in which a woman subdivides her boyfriend like a worm under a sharp spade – was enough to be reminded that her radio debut was long overdue.

Photo by Wolf Marloh. [By permission of Bryony Hannah]

Photo by Wolf Marloh. [By permission of Bryony Hannah]

The Night We Killed The Witch is read by Bryony Hannah. As I’ve said before – Bryony is already a byword for reading excellence, as her previous work with us more than demonstrates (Closer by C.D.Rose; The Last Train by Jo Baker; No-one Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson). Here, she not only grasps Angela’s emotional intelligence but adds another layer of her own.

At a time when more (not less) is more; when the world seems to be dominated by those who shout or those who respond to the shouting, it has never been more important to defend small things like the short story and to keep our ears pricked for the softer sounds of quiet intelligence and heart. Whether with live radio or using iPlayer I hope you’ll ring-fence a quiet space to listen to this, and let two superior storytellers transport you.

The Night We Killed The Witch – specially-commissioned by Sweet Talk Productions for BBC Radio 4 – goes out on 3 March at 3.45 pm and is available thereafter on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.


Posted in Angela Readman, BBC, Brothers Grimm, Bryony Hannah, C.D. Rose, Don't Try This At Home, Hansel and Gretel, Jo Baker, Miranda July, No-one Belongs Here More Than You, radio, Radio 4, Shirley Jackson, short stories, storytelling, The Last Train, The Time Being, Uncategorized, We Have Always Lived In The Castle | Leave a comment

Room Service by Heidi Amsinck



A blizzard sweeps across Copenhagen. Warm and secure in the hotel kitchen, Bent spends his night shift as he always does, mostly drunk, mostly asleep – until something disturbs him from his boozy slumbers …

Add an antique rotary telephone, some old portraits and Lobster Thermidor into the mix and you have most of the ingredients for ‘Room Service’, Heidi Amsinck’s latest radio story.

2588334987_1fd075ec13I thought Heidi’s last series of stories – Copenhagen Curios in 2015 – were her best radio work to date. But ‘Room Service’ – only a one-off tale, sadly – is every bit as strong. The world is familiar: the cobwebbed elegance of ‘Old Europe’, minimal daylight and that inherent creepiness which can make an oak-panelled room sinister simply because it’s an oak-panelled room. But with every outing, Heidi’s storytelling increasingly matches the elegance of her settings.

Tim [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Tim [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Tim McInnerny has read a number of Heidi’s previous stories and ‘Room Service’ was written specifically for him. Not only does he tell the tale with his usual class but he is better at being a Danish old lady than any actual Danish old lady.

Old ladies? Oh sorry, forgot to mention that earlier. Yes, there’s one of Heidi’s old ladies (albeit with a difference.) You have been warned.

Happy New Year.

‘Room Service’, a Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4, broadcasts on Friday, 6 January 2017 at 3.45 pm. Available thereafter for 30 days on BBC iPlayer.


See also: Wonderful, Creepy Copenhagen: the stories of Heidi Amsinck


photo credit: ccaviness <a href=”″>Lobster Thermidor at Andre’s, Las Vegas</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a>photo credit: ccaviness <a href=”″>Lobster Thermidor at Andre’s, Las Vegas</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Posted in BBC, Copenhagen, Copenhagen Curios, Heidi Amsinck, radio, Radio 4, Room Service, short stories, storytelling, Tim McInnerny, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Annika Speaks! (Reprise)

Do not mess with this detective [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Do not mess with this detective [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

‘Vertigo’, the last story from the third season of Annika Stranded, goes out tomorrow at 7.45pm on BBC Radio 4. Thereafter you can catch the whole series on BBCiPlayer. In case you missed it when it first appeared on the Sweet Talk Productions Facebook page, below is a short interview with the voice of Annika, Nicola Walker.

How did you react when you read the scripts for the first series of Annika Stranded?

I fell in love with Annika immediately. She just jumped at me off the page! Straight away it was obvious that Nick [Walker] had created this woman who was fabulously complicated, funny and totally unique. And she’s ‘difficult’ in the most appealing way, I love difficult women.

In the bubble of the studio, the boundaries between where Nicola ends and Annika begins seem ever more blurred. In what ways do you identify with Annika Strandhed?

Annika is definitely my fantasy alter-ego! Her work and her private life are mashed up together and she’s never anything less than true to herself. She’s far bolder than me, far less concerned about other people’s opinions, I love that about her. And I love her attitude to the darker, difficult parts of her job and her life. I found similar traits in Stellan Skarsgard actually, he would greet a tricky filming day with a shoulder shrug, a smile and a murmur of “it is what it is, Nicola, it is what it is”.

Annika Stranded evolved out of Nick Walker’s love of ‘Scandi-crime’. In recent times as well as Annika you’ve been DCI Stuart in Unforgotten and Stevie in River. Do you enjoy crime fiction/crime drama as a ‘private citizen’, and if so, what?

When I watch tv crime drama now I’m always trying to suss the end, from the opening credits on, I’m shouting at the telly to the great annoyance of my family. I watched a lot of police documentaries for ‘Unforgotten’, like ’24 hours in police custody’, I’m now addicted to them. But I’ve always admired Gordon Burn’s work, both factual and fictional. And you have to go a long way to beat Joan Smith’s collection ‘Misogynies’, which contains one of the most brilliant and shocking essays on murder crime I’ve ever read.

What are the pleasures of working in radio compared to TV?

Radio is my favourite medium! You can be anyone, do anything and go anywhere. You are not confined by visuals – the possibilities are endless. I sit in the studio on one side of the glass running between three or four different mike stations often and the world is conjured up by three brilliant people on the other side of the glass. There are no physical limitations, we can cross oceans, climb mountains, visit the Reindeer Patrol and then be inside Annika’s head in an instant.

What are you working on now or will be working on soon?

I’m doing more audio drama at the moment, playing Liv Chenka in a new Big Finish Dr. Who story. There’s a Tango Christmas special coming on soon which, as you would expect from Sally Wainwright, is fabulously dark and funny. Then Unforgotten 2 goes out early next year, with Cassie and Sunny handling a completely new case.
After that I am crossing my fingers and toes that we find a way to do more Annika. I miss her already.



Posted in Annika Stranded, Annika Strandhed, BBC, Big Finish, Dr Who, Gordon Burn, Joan Smith, Last Tango In Halifax, Liv Chenka, Nick Walker, Nicola Walker, Oslo, Oslo Police, Oslofjord, radio, Radio 4, River, Scandinavian crime drama, Schumann, short stories, Stellan Starsgard, storytelling, Sweet Talk, Uncategorized, Unforgotten, vertigo | Leave a comment

Annika Speaks!

Annika [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

You can find a short Q & A with Nicola Walker, the voice of Annika Stranded, about the series here on the Sweet Talk Productions Facebook Page.


See also: Reindeer Police Are My Weakness; Motherhood Becomes Her … Sort Of; Annika Stranded.

Posted in Annika Stranded, Annika Strandhed, BBC, Nick Walker, Nicola Walker, Oslo Police, radio, Radio 4, Scandinavian crime drama, storytelling, Sweet Talk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Rage Explained

‘In December, 1987, a few weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday, I settled into my seat for my flight to Kingston, Jamaica. As the stewardess smiled and checked my seat belt, I still hadn’t decided if I should embrace my father or kill him.’

So begins Alex Wheatle‘s A Rage Explained. To find out how this conflict resolves you’ll have to listen to the piece. But it isn’t just about father-son dynamics but a wider tale about identity, in which Alex, born and raised in South London, visits Jamaica for the first time. The sights, sounds and smells of that first exposure to the land of so many of his heroes are brilliantly evoked. And reader Anthony Welsh does a fine job in bringing out the mix of wonder, anger and confusion at the heart of the piece.

A Rage Explained was due to broadcast this afternoon, but has since been moved (see below) to accommodate a tribute to the late William Trevor. But it’s already online and available to listen to NOW on the BBC website.

Last week, Alex won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016 for his YA novel Crongton Knights (there’s a good piece about Alex here). But he’s also written adult novels such as East Of Acre Lane and has been a DJ andperformance poet. As such, he is not easily labelled. Neither is this piece: strictly speaking it’s autobiography, but it’s constructed like a well-crafted short story. Or is it ‘creative non-fiction’?.

Personally, I’ve never been that bothered about labels: I would just listen and enjoy.

A Rage Explained is a Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4 and will now be broadcast on Sunday 27 November at 00.30 a.m.


Posted in A Rage Explained, Alex Wheatle, Anthony Welsh, BBC, Crongton Knights, East Of Acre Lane, Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Jamaica, radio, Radio 4, storytelling, Sweet Talk, William Trevor | Leave a comment

Reindeer Police Are My Weakness: Annika Stranded – Series 3

Annika [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Annika [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Earlier this year, the last episodes of Swedish TV’s loose adaptation of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö‘s Beck introduced Steinar, a Norwegian detective, to Stockholm’s homicide division. Steinar (played by Kristofer Hivju) is a huge, hearty Viking of a man who, in the best traditions of TV detectives, breaks the rules if he has to. If you weren’t distracted by very occasional violence towards people who frankly had it coming, you might even say he was a mensch.

Steinar took a job in Stockholm to be nearer to his teenage daughter from a previous marriage, but before that he’d been a policeman in Oslo. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d ever crossed paths with Annika Strandhed. On balance, I thought probably not – I doubt the Oslo murder squad would have been big enough for both of them – but I did wonder whether Steinar did his early, hard yards with the Reindeer Police, for whom Annika, as we will hear in the third season of Annika Stranded, still has a weakness. 



To avoid self-repetition, I checked back on posts for previous series (Annika Stranded and Motherhood Becomes Her …) I see – duly repeating myself – that I said: “For some in the UK the Scandinavian crime ‘bubble’ has already burst – ‘it isn’t great and actually it’s just boring’ – but this isn’t a view I share. For one thing, I don’t think it’s a bubble. [… ] Scandinavian crime drama has settled down to take its murky place in our everyday viewing culture, just as American crime has for decades.” A few years on, I still believe this. True, the first season of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) remains unchallenged as one of the finest things I’ve ever seen on TV, period. Beck, as it happens, while perfectly watchable, was nowhere near in the same league (and personally I think Radio 4’s adaptations of the original novels, The Martin Beck Killings, were much better.) But that said, we’re all still hoping that Saga Norén will slip into her leather trousers for a fourth series of The Bridge, and the recent offering from Iceland, Trapped, was right up there with the very best.

The Funicular Railway at Bergen

The Funicular Railway at Bergen

Meanwhile, on the wireless, Annika has maintained her status as Queen of the Boat Patrol and leading light of the Oslo Murder Squad. Like Steinar – and despite or because of her idiosyncratic approach to detective work, her problems with heights, confined spaces and her father – she remains a mensch. This is part of her enduring appeal.



So what to say about Annika Stranded (Series 3) which hasn’t been said about the two previous series? Writer Nick Walker and Nicola Walker as Annika are once more at the top of their games. Mikel, Annika’s forensic photographer, is just as put-upon and just as inaudible. Jon Calver has done another playful job with the sound design. First Aid Kit and Hildur Guðnadóttir still provide most of the music although, since Series 2, the Söderberg sisters have released a new album, some of which features in Series 3, and Hildur’s haunting cello has added a very dark layer to the atmosphere of Trapped.

The stave church at Borgund

The stave church at Borgund

What is slightly different about Series 3 is that circumstances conspire to take Annika further and further away from her comfort zone of crime on the Oslofjord. The first story, ‘False Signals’ takes place on the island of Ostøya – familiar enough – but the second, ‘Forty Words’, brings her to the naval base in Bergen, and echoes Nick’s earlier, non-Annika drama, Messages To A Submariner. In ‘Traffic’, Annika’s navigational abilities are challenged by spending a lot of time in the boot of a car. The final story, ‘Vertigo’, takes place in the mountains of the Trolltindene, and Annika’s young son Tor shows a flair for church restoration in the stave church at Borgund.

Do not mess with this detective [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Do not mess with this detective [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Existentially, the darker moments of Series 3 are perhaps the darkest yet. But they are, in Saul Bellow’s phrase, the dark backing of the mirror, which make Annika’s vitality shine all the brighter.

But unfortunately, Annika never quite starts a relationship with a member of the Reindeer Police …

‘False Signals’, the first of four stories in Annika Stranded (Series 3), is a Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4, starting Sunday, 20 November at 7.45 pm and thereafter on BBC iPlayer.


Photo Credits

1. Ostøya

photo credit: Espen Klem <a href=”″>IMAG0568</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=“”>(license)</a>


photo credit: IngolfBLN <a href=”″>Fløibanen Bergen</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=“”>(license)</a>


photo credit: Dieter Gora <a href=”″>Trolltindene</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=“”>(license)</a>


photo credit: gerdragon <a href=”″>Borgund Stave Church</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;





Posted in Annika Stranded, Annika Strandhed, BBC, Beck, Bergen, Borgund, False Signals, First Aid Kit, Forty Words, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Jon Calver, Kristofer Hivju, Maj Sjöwall, Messages To A Submariner, Nick Walker, Nicola Walker, Oslo, Oslo Police, Oslofjord, Ostøya, Per Wahlöö, radio, Radio 4, Reindeer Police, Saga Norén, Saul Bellow, Scandinavian crime drama, short stories, storytelling, Sweet Talk, The Bridge, The Killing, The Martin Beck Killings, Traffic, Trapped, Trolltindene, Uncategorized, vertigo | Leave a comment

The Power


I’m guessing that lately we’ve all given a little thought to the nature of power.

Some of it – whatever conclusions you’ve drawn – will have focussed not just on global or party politics but sexual politics, too. So you might conclude that Naomi Alderman’s new novel, The Power, couldn’t be more timely. And you’d be right, although to bind this unruly book too tightly to mere events would be to diminish it.

The Power is a historical novel with a difference in that it’s written 5000 years in the future. We meet Roxy, a tough London girl from an underworld family; Tunde, a young Nigerian man who is studying to be a photo-journalist; Allie, a mixed-race girl from Jacksonville whose foster parents use their religion to hide some very dark practices; Margot, an ambitious New England politician and her troubled daughter, Jocelyn.

Their world is much like ours until The Day Of Girls: teenage girls now find they have an electrical power coursing through them – they can harm at will, causing excruciating pain or even death.

This is ‘the power’. And it changes everything.


Naomi Alderman (by permission of the author)

Beyond this, you’ll have to listen to Book At Bedtime this week and next or read the novel, or better still, do both. Naomi has written an elegant précis on her website and far better to direct you there than regurgitate it clumsily here. Instead, I’m going to say a bit about the challenges of putting The Power on air.

Naomi describes The Power as a piece of ‘feminist science fiction’, which it is, but the first thing to hit us when reading an early proof was that it was a complex and compelling piece of storytelling, for which the old cliché ‘I couldn’t put it down’ was absolutely designed. And it was achieved with a framing device of correspondence between the ‘writer’, Neil Adam Armon (with a letterhead from the Men Writers Association) and another writer, Naomi, who is clearly more established and respected. Neil describes his novel thus: ‘Not quite history, not quite a novel. A sort of ‘novelization’ of what archaeologists agree is the most plausible narrative [… ] I’ve put in some terrifically troubling stuff about Mother Eve . . . but we all know how these things work! Surely no one will be too distressed . . . everyone claims to be an atheist now, anyway. And all the ‘miracles’ really are explicable.’

Who is Mother Eve? You’ll have to listen and/or read to find out.

There were also drawings of archaeological finds from the past. Transcripts of 5000 year old government documents. And a main story told from the points of view of six different characters. Some may describe the narrative as sprawling: I prefer to think of it as multi-dimensional and, as above, ‘unruly’. All the same, it would have been very easy to say ‘I love this book, but I don’t think we can make it work.’

But we couldn’t do that.

So how do you tell this story on radio with only a fifth or sixth of the book to work with? You have to concentrate on the ‘historical novel’: so no Neil, no futuristic Naomi, no drawings (obviously!) nor transcripts. Our version focusses on the stories of Roxy and Allie, with Tunde (the most significant man in the book) often acting as a kind of chorus. Margot and, especially, Jocelyn, have been somewhat short-changed. (This was inevitable, but a pity, as Jocelyn’s story chimes with so many of the pressures of girls/young women – and boys/young men – face today even without electrical powers.)

The next challenge was to find a reader who could not only handle diverse and multiple voices (Nigerian, London, Moldovan, American x 2 …) but Adjoa Andoh has done, I think, a fine job not only with these but in keeping the over-arching, geo-political story together.

Whether our version – and with this book it can only be ‘a version’  – works in its own terms is for the listener to judge.

The Power is both entertaining and wise: so what’s not to like? I’m possibly not a stereotypical man of my age (early fifties) but nevertheless I am one. And I have a fifteen-year-old daughter. Many passages in this book made me look in the mirror and feel uncomfortable in, I hope, a constructive way. I hope that men, many men – not just those who read literary fiction – will encounter this book.

The Power by Naomi Alderman, is on BBC Radio 4, Monday to Friday, 14 – 25 November, 2016. And for 30 days thereafter on BBC iPlayer.


Postscript: One of the scenes we’ve omitted involves Margot reacting in an extraordinary way to a bullying and patronising male opponent in a televised gubernatorial debate. I said in my recent post Why I Don’t Blog Anymore … that some subjects didn’t belong in this space. All the same, and I don’t know the correct answer, I can’t help wondering what would have happened if in any of her debates Hillary Clinton had heard, like Margot did, a voice saying: ‘As it is written. “She cuppeth the lightning in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.”‘ and reacted accordingly …


‘Lightning’ photo credit: Brittany N. Johnson <a href=”″>the bolt behind the trees</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Posted in abridgment, Adjoa Andoh, BBC, Book at Bedtime, Hillary Clinton, Mother Eve, Naomi Alderman, radio, Radio 4, Rosalynd Ward, storytelling, Sweet Talk, The Day Of The Girls, The Power, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Postscript: Rosemary’s Baby

I forgot to mention this yesterday. And no, I haven’t sorted my own issues by embracing Satanism. But for Radio 4’s Fright Night, Kim Cattrall will be reading Ira Levin’s cult classic Rosemary’s Baby, abridged, but in one hit (i.e. no episodes, which I found quite difficult to handle!)

I haven’t heard the finished version myself yet – but I did gatecrash a bit of the studio and Kim was holding the tale together superbly. Where appropriate, Karen Rose (producer) has used Christopher Komeda’s film score. I guarantee it will be creepy.

Sleep … well (?)

Rosemary’s Baby, Saturday 29 October, 22.00 pm – 00.00 am, BBC Radio 4 (and for 30 days thereafter on iPlayer.)


Posted in abridgment, BBC, Book at Bedtime, Christopher Komeda, Ira Levin, Karen Rose, Kim Cattrall, radio, Radio 4, Rosemary's Baby, Sweet Talk | Leave a comment

Why I Don’t Blog Anymore …

img_4896… Or haven’t until now.

1. The Explicit F

This, from The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury. It’s the mid-70s. Howard Kirk, radical sociology lecturer, has been savaging the work of a hapless, young-fogeyish undergraduate called Carmody. Carmody has protested to Professor Marvin – head of department – and asked him to re-mark his essays:

“‘You mean you think Carmody’s essays are good?’ asks Howard. ‘No,’ says Professor Marvin, ‘they’re bad and problematic. The trouble is they’re evasive, they don’t meet the tests you’ve set the man. But they also have intelligence, shrewdness, and cultural insight. The problem is to assess the level of the badness of the failure.’ ‘I see no problem,’ says Howard, ‘they’re outright, failing bad.’ ‘I’ve read each one three times, Howard,’ says Marvin. ‘Now markers frequently disagree, and have learned ways of resolving their disagreements. My impression is simply that you’re not using our elegant marking scale, with its plusses and minusses and query plus minusses, with quite the delicacy you might. So I found, reading them, that I often had here the sense of a C, there an intimation even of lower B, where you go for the full punitive weight of the outright and explicit F.'”

Every year, we see a form of this in the early weeks of Strictly, when weak but popular contestants outstay their welcome at the expense of better dancers. Darcey, Len and Bruno may sense a four, possibly a nuanced five. Craig will go for ‘the full punitive weight of the outright and explicit’ two. (To be fair, he has his reasons.) It’s a running gag of the show, and mentioning The History Man every time it happens is a tired running Dad-gag in our household.

Strictly is entertainment, nothing more. But is seems we are ever more ready to reach for our well-thumbed two or scrawl a big red F whenever we engage with the world at large, and in our communications with each other.

This has been a very strange year, with so much to drive us to cart our furniture and granny’s piano to the end of the street to reinforce the barricade. If we climb over the top and explore the neighbouring streets we find much the same thing. Each of these barricades presents us with a simple choice: to man it, or storm it. Not only is this unsurprising, quite often this simple ‘pass or fail’ approach has been the only rational course open to us. So much right now is ‘outright, failing bad,’ and it’s right to call it. Trouble is, the same combative mindset can contaminate all aspects of our thinking. Everything becomes a battleground. We hector and are hectored in our turn and to hell with nuance. Before we know it, we’re demanding on Facebook that anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with our views on Jeremy Corbyn or Bob Dylan or putting the milk in first should unfriend us immediately. These days, when e-texting by whatever means so often replaces talking to someone we can see and hear, nuance is in short supply. We fear it in others, suspicious that it maybe sophistry in disguise. And we fear it in ourselves, reluctant to expose ourselves to charges of ‘deviation’ or worse. But the moment we lose nuance is the moment we lose understanding. And when we lose the will to understand, we stop listening.

What has this to do with not blogging? There have been private pressures, too, but lately I’ve found it difficult to free myself from the real or imagined barricades to dwell on the simple pleasures of radio or long-lost albums by Ralph McTell. I’ve been busy feeling hectored or hectoring in my turn, awarding punitive Fs left, right and centre on social media. And the F doesn’t only stand for fail. In short, I’m as f***ed off as everyone else and I haven’t trusted myself not to carry the feeling into this space.

2. What’s The Point?

When so much around you seems to be ‘outright, failing bad’ why would you waste time writing about smaller things? It’s completely unimportant whether you blog or not, especially when your posts are a) unremarkable and b) read by few. Why add your tuning-fork hum to the background, when others can back themselves with symphony orchestras or Marshall amps?

It’s hard to argue against this.

And in my case, ‘What’s the point?’ is also one of the great ‘Hey Jude’ choruses of depressive illness.

3. ‘Sleeve Notes’

It’s nearly a year since I wrote anything about radio. And like picking up the phone to someone you’ve lost touch with, it gets harder the longer you leave it. Guilt builds up, too. The feeling that to break the silence would be unfair on all the people you didn’t speak about before. However …

As it’s still available on iPlayer, I’m going to encourage you to listen to Agnieszka Dale’s A Happy Nation, read by Daniela Denby-Ashe. And not just because it’s a good radio story.

And in a spirit of redress, here’s a list – alphabetical and not distinguishing between writers, actors and radio professionals – of the talented people I’ve been lucky enough to work with directly, or with whose work I’ve engaged, during ‘the silence’:

Matthew Abbott, Alaa Al-Aswany, Lorraine Ashbourne, Jon Calver, Morven Crumlish, Lucy Durneen, Amir El-Masry, Peter Firth, Polly Frame, Bryony Hannah, Sophie Hannah, Tania Hershman, M.J. Hyland, Shirley Jackson, Rob Jarvis, Sohm Kapila, Martina Laird, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Toby Litt, Alison Macleod, Adnan Mahmutovic, Sinead Matthews, Tim McInnerny, Nafisa Muhtadi, Peter Nicholls, Emerald O’Hanrahan, Ben Pedroche, Claire Powell, Raad Rawi, Farshid Rokey, Karen Rose, Daniel Ryan, Julian Simpson, Holly Slater, The Soundhouse, Anita Sullivan, Thom Tuck, Sarah Tombling, Hannah Vincent and Nicola Walker.

img_4894This is an attempt to clean the slate. It still doesn’t matter at all if I don’t blog. Equally, ‘t’aint nobody’s business if I do.’

And maybe it’s time to get an additional hat …


Posted in A Happy Nation, Adnan Mahmutovic, Agnieszka Dale, Alaa Al-Aswany, Alison MacLeod, Amir El-Masry, Anita Sullivan, BBC, Ben Pedroche, Bryony Hannah, Claire Powell, Daniel Ryan, Daniela Denby-Ashe, depression, Emerald O'Hanrahan, Farshid Rokey, Hannah Vincent, Holly Slater, Julian Simpson, Karen Rose, Lorraine Ashbourne, Lucy Durneen, M.J. Hyland, Malcolm Bradbury, Martina Laird, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Morven Crumlish, Nafisa Muhtadi, Nicola Walker, Peter Firth, Peter Nichols, Polly Frame, Raad Rawi, radio, Radio 4, Radio 4Extra, Rob Jarvis, Sarah Tombling, Shirley Jackson, short stories, Sinead Matthews, Sohm Kapila, Sophie Hannah, storytelling, Strictly Come Dancing, Sweet Talk, The Door In The Wall, The History Man, The Soundhouse, The Time Being, Thom Tuck, Tim McInnerny, Toby Litt, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Clown’s Shoes

[photo by Jeremy Osborne]

[photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Last time, I said there would be more about Rebecca F. John in my next post. This is that next post.

On Saturday, Parthian Books launched Rebecca’s debut collection of short stories, Clown’s ShoesYou can hear some of them on Radio 4Extra throughout the week.

This has been a big – some would say ‘breakthrough’ – year for Rebecca. Earlier in the year ‘The Glove Maker’s Numbers’ was shortlisted for the prestigious Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, and in October she won the PEN International Award For New Voices (for writers under 30) for ‘Moon Dog’. Both tales are in the Clown’s Shoes collection.

Rebecca and Richard Lewis Davies at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Rebecca and Richard Lewis Davies at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

So what will you hear this week? The series begins on  Monday with ‘Bullet Catch’. Set in Vienna in the 1920s, Victor, an expatriate showman, seeks to sex up his cabaret act in the manner that the title suggests. Tuesday and Wednesday are devoted to a two-part version of ‘The Glove Maker’s Numbers’. As a general rule, we don’t like splitting short stories over two programmes, but this one was too good to leave out of the mix. Set in Victorian Britain, Christina – traumatised by the early death of her brother – believes she was spoken to by the Devil and has been confined to a sanatorium. She finds, if not solace exactly, at least an understanding of sorts through mathematics, sometimes conceptually but most often visually in the shapes of the numbers she sees. On Thursday we’re in Warsaw, in 1943 – ‘Matchstick Girls’ is a stark, beautiful tale about two young sisters trying to survive in a city where this is very hard to do. The week concludes with the title story, ‘Clown’s Shoes’: set in a theatre in 1930s Soho and narrated by a reluctant member of a tableau vivant.

Ruth Gemmell [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Ruth Gemmell [photo by Jeremy Osborne]

Lloyd Hutchinson, who reads ‘Bullet Catch’, expertly picks up the darker, obsessional aspects of the story but also captures the showmanship with considerable brio and ‘schving.’ The remaining tales are read by Ruth Gemmell. Suffice to say that Ruth is one of the best readers I’ve worked with, and if you listen this week you’ll probably understand why.

In conversation with Richard Lewis Davies at Saturday’s launch, Rebecca confessed that structure wasn’t her strong point. The knee-jerk response was to agree: after all, the most striking thing about her work is the power of the voices. But on reflection, I don’t think this is entirely true. It’s intuition more than applying ‘rules’, but the internal structures of these stories – the progression of thoughts and emotions – are very secure.

Four of the stories are being broadcast, but there are fifteen in the collection. I hope you will listen and read all of them.

Clown’s Shoes is on Radio 4Extra all week (9-13 November) every day at 11 am and 9pm, and thereafter on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.


IMG_3972A postscript prompted by music. For ‘The Glove Maker’s Numbers’ we used The Song Of The Birds, a traditional Catalan Christmas tune for no good reason beyond liking its mournfulness and its vibrations. I only learned of this beautiful piece last year. Privileged to attend the memorial service for the late, great Deborah Rogers at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, I heard it played on the ‘cello by Steven Isserlis. (So Deb, this one’s for you.) Since her death, the Deborah Rogers Foundation has been set up, including a Writer’s Award of £10,000 for “a first-time writer whose submission demonstrates literary talent and who needs financial support to complete their work.” You’ll have to be good – Deborah was always synonymous with quality – but if you are an emerging writer reading this, click on the links and …


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