Harriett Gilbert is one of the most wonderful interviewers and presenters I know – I could listen to her for hours. She has an amazing way of putting her guests at ease and drawing out interesting and authentic responses.
Harriett has been presenting books and general arts programmes for BBC radio since the early 1990s. Currently she presents the BBC World Book Club on the World Service and A Good Read on Radio 4. Before radio, Harriett was a print journalist, including, in the 1980s, being Books Editor of the now defunct City Limits magazine, followed by several years as Literary Editor of the New Statesman. She is also a novelist: Hotels with Empty Rooms and The Riding Mistress, and the author of several non-fiction books.
It has been such an honour to be given a little glimpse into Harriett’s world – enjoy!
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
What do you love most about being a ‘literary’ radio presenter?
Reading books; talking about books – the latter not only with writers but readers.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
The occasional long-haul flight.
What kind of child were you?
Anxious; bossy (the eldest of seven); a tom boy; a hungry reader.
Where do you most love reading?
In the garden on summer evenings (with a glass of wine to hand).
Who’s been your favourite writer to interview?
John le Carré, because he was the subject of my first long author-interview and, when he saw how nervous I was, he went out of his way to be helpful and relaxing.
Which writer do you wish you’d interviewed – perhaps one that got away…?
My grandfather, the poet, playwright and novelist Bernard Gilbert. He died 20 years before I was born and, among other things, I’d like to ask what precisely he thought he was doing abandoning my grandmother with four small children and no money.
Do you have a favourite drink or snack you turn to when you’re reading?
In the evening, wine. Otherwise, no.
Are there any writing tics that make your toes curl?
Too many to list. My toes curl easily.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
There hasn’t been just one highlight. But, recently, recording World Book Club with Anne Tyler in her Baltimore home was pretty excellent.
Tell us something quirky about the broadcasting industry that most people wouldn’t know.
There’s an editing process called “de-umming”: in other words, with
Prerecorded interviews, removing a speaker’s ums and errs before broadcast.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?
What’s your favourite word (in English or any other language!)?
Today it’s “thrash”, for the sound of it.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
You can’t live another person’s life for them.
Who or what inspires you?
Seeing someone – anyone – being generous, kind, courageous.
What’s your Desert Island book?
Assuming there’s no Internet access, it’ll have to be a good encyclopaedia.
Tell us about an exciting interview you’ve done recently?
In September, the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov talked on World Book Club about his dark, disturbing and very funny Death and the Penguin. We recorded him, in front of an audience, in Kiev, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s old house. It was exciting and enlightening.
What do you do when you’re not reading or interviewing?
What three tips would you give aspiring writer?
- Write only if you have something to say or a story you need to tell
- Be truthful
- Don’t waffle