Book programmes on TV and radio

An officer and a spyRobert Harris, author and chair of the Costa Book Awards judging panel, has said that the BBC should show more programmes about books. What do you think?

He said. “In the 1970s, when this prize was launched, there were two books programmes on British television: The Book Programme with Robert Robertson and Read All About It with Melvyn Bragg. If I remember rightly, The Book Programme was on BBC Two and Melvyn Bragg was on BBC One. Imagine that: a books programme on BBC One! Both were running at the same time when we only had three channels. We now have 300 channels but we don’t have any dedicated books programmes. It’s a serious point. I do wish the BBC would fulfil that bit of its charter remit and give books what they used to, because there’s nowhere to go. Is it too much to ask?”

Robert Harris is a best-selling author himself, as well as being a former journalist with the BBC. His books include-Fatherland, Pompeii, The Ghost and Archangel which was adapted as a BBC drama starring Daniel Craig.


He also made a joke about rival Man Booker Prize, saying that the Costa was “not a prize for books that people think they ought to read, but for books that people want to read. Some winners of other literary prizes are books that “the public don’t quite get…This is a book that I think everyone will like. The judges’ brief is to select a well-written, enjoyable book that they would strongly recommend anyone to read. It’s not the Booker Prize, it has its own particular stamp. It goes for good quality writing.”

The BBC say they have programmes like Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’ and BBC Four’s The Secret Life of Books, run the BBC National Short Story Award, and introduce millions to new books through adaptations like Wolf Hall, the Casual Vacancy and Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James – review

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Emma Hooper is a natural storyteller and describes her novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James as“A love letter to my homeland, the Canadian prairies.” The book may follow in the footsteps of 2014’s big debut novels ‘The Miniaturist’ and ‘Elizabeth is Missing’.

“One day Otto wakes to find his elderly wife Etta has gone on a pilgrimage to see the sea for the very first time, walking hundreds of miles across Canada to get there. Although her reasons are unexplained, it probably has something to do with the beloved sister who died near the sea during Etta’s childhood.

James is both her sister’s stillborn son and the talking coyote who keeps Etta company on her trek. Otto’s best friend Russell is as devastated as Otto to find Etta gone.

Both men have loved her ever since they were teenagers and she became their village school teacher. The story flashes back and forth between the present and the past, in particular Otto’s experiences during the First World War while Russell, disabled by a childhood farming accident, stayed behind with Etta.

In the present, Otto tries to fill the long, lonely days by cooking Etta’s favourite recipes and, when Etta’s cross-country pilgrimage makes her a local celebrity and her photograph appears in the local newspaper, Otto bulk buys the paper, cuts out her photograph and fashions papier-mache animals from the leftovers which brings its own celebrity.”

Hooper moved to England in 2004, and wrote the novel around lecturing at Bath Spa University and “a full-time gig” as a violist doing touring and session work. She has played WOMAD Festival with Peter Gabriel and Glastonbury with various indie rock and folk bands, and also plays the viola in The Stringbeans. A solo music project, named “Waitress for the Bees”, involves  singing, playing the accordion, glockenspiel and a musical saw.


H is for Hawk wins the Costa book of the year

H is for hawkHelen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk has won the Costa book of the year award worth  £30,000. The biography had already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in November.

‘In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecats. Bigger, yes, and also bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much, much harder to see. Birds of deep woodland, not gardens, they’re the birdwatchers’ dark grail.’

As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T.H. White’s tortured masterpiece, ‘The Goshawk’, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. This book is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.

Novelist Robert Harris, chair of the judging panel, said: “It was brilliantly written, muscular prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk. It was a very clever, accomplished bit of writing that wove everything together. H is for Hawk has already had great success and has been acknowledged as a modern classic,” Mr Harris said. Several of the judges “felt very passionately it was a book that haunted them and they would never forget it”.

Music Books due out in 2015

Love & death: the murder of Kurt CobainKurt Cobain – ‘Montage of Heck’ will be a companion book to a documentary about Cobain 21 years after his suicide and is named after a mixtape he made. The documentary has taken eight years to make and will be screened in UK cinemas after its TV broadcast in the US in May. And if you’re a fan

Love & death: the murder of Kurt Cobain by Max Wallace & Ian Halperin published last year. Did Nirvana rock icon Kurt Cobain commit suicide on that fated day in April 1994, or was he brutally murdered?

Gareth Murphy’s ‘Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry’ about to be published

Grace Jones – Her memoir ‘Miss Grace Jones’ is to be published in September

Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon – ‘Girl in a Band’ due out 24 February

Patti Smith’s – ‘Just Kids’ is a memoir about her time with Robert Mapplethorpe

Bedsit disco queen: how I grew up and tried to be a pop starTracey Thorn from ‘Everything But the Girl’ has written ‘Naked at the Albert Hall’ which examines singing, stage fright etc. due out 30 April. Highly rated previous books include Bedsit disco queen: how I grew up and tried to be a pop star


Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death ofJacket Image Lynyrd Skynyrd’ by Mark Ribowsky due 1 April.

Philip Glass, composer, has written a memoir, ‘Words Without Music’ due out 2 April spanning his works and times. It will “recall his experiences working at Bethlehem Steel, travelling in India, driving a cab in 1970s New York and his professional collaborations with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ravi Shankar, Robert Wilson, Doris Lessing and Martin Scorsese”.

Ray Davies’ volatile relationship with his brother Dave will feature in Johnny Rogan’s biography ‘Ray Davies: A Complicated Life’ due 5 March.

Sandy Denny, brilliant singer of the British folk-rock movement in late 1960s has been written about by folk rock fan, journalist/-biographer Mick Houghton in ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny’ due out 5 March.

Finally, ‘How Soon Is Now’ by Richard King looks at independent record shops “combining memoir and elegiac music writing”.

Branford Boase award longlist is announced

Bone Jack

City of halves The longlist for the 2015 Branford Boase award has been published.

It includes the YA Book Prize-shortlisted Trouble by Non Pratt and Half Bad by Sally Green.

The Branford Boase award is given every year to the author and editor of a debut children’s novel. 60 books were submitted this year- when the prize was launched 15 years ago, they only had a dozen entries.

Chair of the judging panel, Julia Eccleshare said “It’s been hugely encouraging to watch the submission numbers grow. The children’s book market today is extremely vibrant, and this longlist features 18 very varied books by interesting new authors.”

Bone Jack by Sara Crowe, edited by Charlie Sheppard and Eloise Wilson – paranormal

A Room full of Chocolate by Jane Elson, edited by Naomi Greenwood . A story of friendship, family and pot bellied pigsHalf bad

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss, edited by Jane Griffiths 5* rated story

Cowgirl by Giancarlo Gemin, edited by Kirsty Stansfield Set in Wales, growing up on an estate

Half Bad by Sally Green, edited by Ben Horslen – 5* again Paranormal

Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall, edited by David Fickling and Bella Pearson. Historical fiction, Robin Hood

The Executioner’s Daughter by Jane Hardstaff, ed. S Paskins. Adventure, set in Tower of London

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen, edited by Carmen McCullough and Lauren Buckland. Scifi-ish story of being trapped in a tower block

City of Halves by Lucy Inglis, edited by Imogen Cooper. Paranormal

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, edited by Sarah Hughes. Scifi

True Fire by Gary Meehan edited by Sarah Lambert Fantasy

Trouble by Non Pratt, edited by Annalie Grainger & Denise Johnstone-Burt. Story of pregnant school girl

Leopold Blue by Rosie Rowell, edited by Emily Thomas – eBook version South African fiction

The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis, edited by Jane Griffiths Story of trying to lift a curse from a homeless man.

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott, edited by Alexandra Antscherl

These will be ordered:

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D. D. Everest ed. by Alice Swan and Toni Markiet

Broken Strings by Maria Farrer, edited by Helen Thomas

Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens, edited by Rachel Leyshon

Mortdecai – have you read the books yet?

Don't point that thing at meAnyone been to see Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow in the film ‘Mortdecai’?

You might be interested in reading the novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli on which the film is based and which have been reissued by Penguin (The Mortdecai Trilogy and The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery).

Sometimes compared to P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster novels for their humour but altogether darker (Mortdecai has a thuggish sidekick called Jock and Mortdecai himself is more cunning than Bertie Wooster), the author’s wife also said Bonfiglioli owed a debt to Kipling.

Mortdecai says of himself: “I am in the prime of life, if that tells you anything, of barely average height, of sadly over-average weight and am possessed of the intriguing remains of rather flashy good looks … I like art and money and dirty jokes and drink. I am very successful. I discovered at my goodish second-rate public school that almost anyone can win a fight if he is prepared to put his thumb into the other fellow’s eye.”

We’ve got one title in stock and we’re ordering  more.

Don’t point that thing at me by Kyril Bonfiglioli -Portly art dealer and seasoned epicurean Charlie Mortdecai comes into possession of a stolen Goya, the disappearance of which is causing a diplomatic ruction between Spain and its allies. Not that that matters to Charlie … until compromising pictures of some British diplomats also come into his possession and start to muddy the waters.

Would you like to write for BBC Radio 4?

Opening LinesThe BBC Radio Drama Readings Unit is looking for submissions from writers new to radio for their annual series, Opening Lines which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The closing date is 13th February 2015.

Three successful writers will have their stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and be invited to the BBC in London to see their stories being recorded. As well as broadcasting the three strongest stories, the BBC publish transcripts of the best stories submitted within this period on the Opening Lines website. (You can read previously published stories), A longlist is published on the BBC Drama Readings website by 15th May.

Stories should be between 1,900 – 2000 words and can cover a broad range of subject-matter (nothing too dark, harrowing  etc. as the programme is aimed at a wide audience). Submissions should be one story per writer. You can read all the terms and conditions and more detail about what is required here