Keats-Shelley Prize 2020 - Songbirds: A Conversation with Simon Barnes - Part 2

21Dec

Part two of our conversation with Simon Barnes, the award-winning sportswriter, revered birdlover and Chair of 2020's Keats-Shelley Prizes

Our annual theme is 'Songbirds', to mark the composition 200 years ago of PB Shelley’s To a Skylark and the publication in book form of John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, which made Simon the perfect choice as Chair. 

In which Simon discusses the repertory singers that are skylarks and nightingales, how and why they sing (and does this make them sexy), whether Keats' nightingale could sing and fly - and does that spoil the poem? 

After this, we move onto the extinction threats looming over both birds - not to mention the planet as a whole - and whether poetry can help sharpen our awareness of humankind's mortality? 

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Keats-Shelley Prize 2020 - Simon Barnes Reading: on closely-observed gannets

21Dec

Reading from the blog on his own website, Simon Barnes describes the close attention required and inspired by bird-watching, and the almost poetic empathy that can result.  Keep reading →

Keats-Shelley Prize 2020 - Songbirds: A Conversation with Simon Barnes - Part 1

14Dec

In this first of two episodes, I talk to Simon Barnes, the award-winning sportswriter, revered birdlover and Chair of 2020's Keats-Shelley Prizes

Our annual theme is 'Songbirds', to mark the composition 200 years ago of PB Shelley’s To a Skylark and the publication in book form of John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, which made Simon the perfect choice as Chair. 

We talked, among other things, about his own changing relationship with nature, how he fell in love with birds and birding, what birding means in the 21st century and its relationship with writing in general, and Romantic poetry in particular. We even address the question of John Keats' wonky nightingale.  Keep reading →

Keats-Shelley Prize 2020 - Simon Barnes reads from The Meaning of Birds

14Dec

Simon Barnes is unique in the world of literature. How many revered sports writers are also revered nature writers too? Off the top of my head I can think of one: Simon Barnes himself.  Keep reading →

Episode 142 - Amanda Coe: Part 1

8Jun

Amanda Coe is an English novelist and screenwriter, whose credits include the BAFTA-winning adaptation of John Braine's Room at the Top, and her highly-praised thrillers What They Do in the Dark and Getting Colder. This Writing Life met her at Waterstones Piccadilly to talk about everything from her excellent new novel Everything You Do is Wrong to her childhood in Canada and Doncaster, her student days at Oxford, her formative love of George Eliot and PG Wodehouse and the challenge of being busy.

Part 2 to follow.

Episode 141 - Leila Slimani - Lullaby: Part 4

18Mar

The final part of This Writing Life podcast's chat with Leila Slimani begins with a question about racisial abuse of Muslims in France. From here we discuss her relationship with Morrocco, with sexual politics in that country, between her fiction and her activism, and finally about the future: movie adaptations of her global smash-hit Lullaby and that next novel.

Episode 140 - Leila Slimani - Lullaby: Part 3

13Mar

Part three of This Writing Life's podcast with Leila Slimani, author of global smash-hit Lullaby, moves towards more personal territory. We talk about her family, her background and her views on everything from the French language to women wearing the veil.

Along the way, Leila discusses her role for President Macron promoting the French language and ponders whether whether it is courageous to speak out on issues like Islamic fundamentalism that might put her in danger. During this, I accidentally stumble into terrain explored by her current work-in-progress.

The final part to follow.

Episode 139 - Leila Slimani - Lullaby: Part 2

23Feb

Part two of Leila Slimani's conversation with This Writing Life podcast about her new novel Lullaby begins with a discussion of objectification: in this case, of the nanny who cares for the children of the Masse family. Slimani talks about her own vexed relationship with the woman who cares for her own children, about the power struggles in that interaction and finally about the idea of tragedy in the novel. We talk Mary Poppins, Mrs Doubtfire, and why Lullaby refuses both visions of modern childcare.

Part three to follow.

Episode 138 - Leila Slimani - Lullaby: Part 1

15Feb

Leila Slimani's second novel Lullaby is a phenomenon. Having sold over 600,000 copies and won the Prix Goncourt in her adopted homeland of France, the book is now spreading around the world in various translations. A movie has begun filming in France and there are rumours of a Hollywood adaptation as well. The reason for the fuss is a plot that grips like a thriller and prose that dissects contemporary life like the most acute literary novel. The nanny of the well-to-do Masse family murders the two children in her care. From this terse, shocking opening, Slimani rewinds to examine the pressures that led up to the tragedy.

In Part One of our conversation at her London publishers, Slimani talks about titles, tragedy, modern parenting, the challenges of being a nanny and how families rely on women from across the world to facilitate their lives.

Part two to follow.

Episode 137 - Lynn Shepherd: Part 4

7Feb

Lynn Shepherd was the first ever This Writing Life recorded. The final part of our conversation begins with a discussion of social media and publicity, and the part both play in her writing life. From here we zoom through the joys and trials of writing novels: bad days, bad reviews, and how her close friends and confidents help her through. We end by looking to the future, and by asking: what has Lynn learned from her writing life so far.

Lynn's website can be found: here.

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