I found the BBC World Book Club when I took a year out from teaching to write full time. As part of the writing process, I spent an hour trudging round the fields near my house, listening to literary podcasts. I filled up my phone with all those gorgeous BBC programmes I love: A Good Read (also by Harriett Gilbert), Open Book, Front Row, The Radio 4 Book Club and, as I was searching, I came across this hidden gem: a one hour book club that brought writers and readers together from around the world.
I got hooked and have listened to over a hundred podcasts from the most amazing international authors. Listening to these interviews played a huge part in motivating me to keep going in pursuing my dream of becoming a novelist.
And then, one day, I clocked onto the fact that the book club met live, once a month, at BBC Broadcasting House in London. I went onto the website, shot off a request to join them and have been a loyal member of the club ever since.
Harriet, and her talented producer, Karen Holden, have followed me on my personal and writerly journey, just as I’ve followed them on their literary travels around the world. At my first recording, I asked Javier Marias a question about his presentation of marriage in A Heart So White: I was in that headily in love, recently engaged stage of my life. Harriet noticed my engagement ring glinting on my finger and got a wonderful exchange going between me and Marias. He talked about how marriage was a form of imprisonment and that it was much better to love freely whilst I told him I was getting married in three months! You can listen to the interview here…
I kept going to the book club while I was pregnant. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I waddled up to London and sat on the front row listening to Christos Tsiolkos answering his questions about his bestselling novel, The Slap. His story charts the experience of a number of broken families and troublesome children. I was already nervous about how being a mother and although I loved Tsiolkos (this was one of my favourite interviews – you can listen to hit here), his book didn’t do much to reassure me!
I’ve had the huge, huge privilege of listening to, asking questions of and meeting authors like Mark Haddon, Jhumpa Lahiri, P D James (shortly before she died), Richard Ford, Marian Keyes, Deborah Moggach (interview coming up next week) – and so many others.
There were a few I missed (sadly, there isn’t a maternity unit at the BBC), and there are a few I wasn’t able to join because, occasionally, Karen and Harriett zoom off to do recordings abroad. I begged Karen to hide me in her suitcase when she went to Baltimore to listen to Anne Tyler, but I gather it was already a huge coup for them to be able to interview this hugely private novelist, so I had to settle for listening to the interview in podcast form on one of my walks, and what an interview it was!
All this to say that the BBC World Book Club holds a very special place in my heart and I am delighted to be able to to recommend it here. I have recommended it to my literature pupils, my writing class my family and my friends and so it thrills me to share it with my readers, too. Anyone who is interested in reading, writing and ideas will love these interviews.
Below are some of the things I think makes the BBC World Book Club so special, but first, here’s an endorsement from the producer, Karen Holden. Here’s what she said when I asked her why she loves this book club so much:
The thrill of World Book Club is being able to introduce the world’s most exciting writers to listeners across the globe and knowing that we are indeed the planet’s largest Bookclub!
Karen Holden, Producer, BBC World Book Club
What makes the BBC World Book Club the best book club on the airwaves?
- International authors:
In the UK, our publishing industry and our bookshops are hugely Anglo-centric. The BBCWBC introduces us to the most wonderful authors from around the world, many of whom we wouldn’t easily come across on our own.
- An International audience
It’s wonderful to sit in the BBC studio or to listen to the podcast and to share the interview and the book with readers from around the world. Questions are phoned, tweeted or emailed in from America one moment and then Norway and then Egypt the next. It feels like being part of the most inclusive and diverse club in the world. Some readers stay up all night to call in their question live.
- A warm, wise, knowledgeable presenter with an incredible producer
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Harriett Gilbert. She is a dream presenter and, together with Karen Holden, her wonderful producer, they make just about the best team you could hope for. They are as knowledgeable and talented and professional as they are humble. They make us feel as though they are readers alongside us and its this informality that makes the club feel so inclusive.
- The format
The hour long programme has a lovely balance of readings, questions and discussion. The readings are done by the authors themselves, which also feels like a real privilege, and although some of the questions are planned ahead, many are spontaneous and some of the back forth between author and reader is very special.
If you want to find out more about Harriett, do read my Twenty Questions with Harriett Gilbert interview and if you want to find out more about the awesome BBC World Book Club, start downloading your podcasts now!