The Art of Conversation – Studs Turkel Archive

Basically, you need never be bored again.  An immense archive of  the great audio interviewer and social historian and researcher, Studs Turkel, speaking over 40 years with great thinkers, movers and shakers as well as people less famous – has been properly curated and placed online.  This is America, talking to itself, about its hopes and fears in the 20th Century.



Advice to novel writers

Just what we need for November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – or whenever the decision to first draft a novel strikes – some very useful writing tips recorded online.  BBC World Service radio has made available an entire series called “Writing Time” – each episode a 13 minute recording.

Topics covered include:

  • advice for aspiring writers
  • how to start writing a novel
  • developing characters
  • setting (how to decide where to set your book)
  • establishing voice (how to find your own distinctive voice)
  • dialogue
  • endings
  • how to find an agent


Sue Perkins on a Desert Island

Desert Island Discs is a classic UK radio programme which has the format of a biographical interview – and much more interesting than that sounds.  Each week, a different celebrity picks 8 favourite pieces of music and recollects their life around them. They’ve just hit a seam of gold with Sue Perkins last week – and now I see the next guest is John McEnroe.  Both have been interviewed, interviewed others, been commentators, lived public lives – for decades – and never said a boring sentence (at least on camera).

They speak eloquently, passionately, and thoughtfully on – well, life – and anything any interviewer throws at them.

“You’re a very quotable person, Sue Perkins” says the interviewer.


“Invisible College” – writing advice

The Invisible College” is a BBC series of programme, available free on i-tunes as podcasts, or listenable to on half-hour programmes.  They encourage creative writing and are now on series 2 (broadcasting Mondays, 4 pm, Radio4 FM).  Catch all previous episodes on BBC i-player, titled “Invisible College”.

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Dr Cathy FitzGerald – keeping it all lively and easy to understand

Brilliantly, the BBC are pulling on their recordings of all sorts of writers in many different styles, over decades, so it’s a mixed bag of voices and advice, ringmastered by Dr Cathy FitzGerald – we hear Maya Angelou, Eudora Welty, Ted Hughes, Susan Sontag, P G Wodehouse….. such a variety of writing genres and styles are covered.

The radio recordings are around 30 minutes each – but as podcasts (on i-Tunes) they are broken up into lessons averaging 10 minutes.  So you can learn a lot in pocket-sized parts of time!

This is the BBC doing what it does best: educating, informing and being entertaining while it does so.

Here’s a wee sample 2 minute extract – Ted Hughes advising on word choice:


The radio Series 1 episode 1 starts here:

Topics covered include: inspiration, routine, time off, concentration, character, plot and style, the importance of reading lots, choosing right words… and the joy, the joy, of writing and the written word.

UK favourite piece of music is….

Each week for 75 years, one radio programme has been broadcast on the BBC: Desert Island Discs.  The idea of the programme is to invite people of accomplishment (some of whom are celebrities, others experts in their field such as brain surgery, human rights lawyers) – to talk through their favourite 8 pieces of music, telling their life story and why they like each piece as they go.  Finally, they are asked to imagine that they will be cast away upon a desert island with only ONE of these piece of musics, only ONE book (as well as the Bible and Shakespeare) and ONE luxury.

When the public were asked their favourite piece of music, one came top: the Lark Ascending.  This is a classical piece of music, and makes me think that the audience asked were probably aged above 50 and confirmed BBC Radio listeners (as it has an entire channel devoted to classical music: Radio 2).

The BBC programme have put together a 5 minute animation about this poll and why people like the music piece – which is lovely – but unfortunately I can’t share it directly – just point here –

and say it’s worth going to see!

Separately, here is Nicola Benedetti playing the piece.


And in closing….

the funny and absurd humorous BBC Radio programme “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue” has got a unique way to sign off at the end of the programme – here are a few:

“Well with Mickey Mouse’s hand pointing upwards and Goofy’s tail pointing downwards……   I realize that my watch is not a Rolex”

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“Well as the burnished chariot of fate is wheelclamped by the the traffic warden of eternity….”

“… and so, as the frisky tomcat of fate confronts the scalpel of destiny and the precious natural woodland of time meets the motorway extension of eternity…”

“… and so, as the still-warm seat of eternity is lifted by the charlady of time, before she brandishes aloft the Toilet Duck of destiny….”

“and so, Ladies and Gentlemen, as the Steve Davis of time clambers over the table of eternity to reach another red, and the wine waiter of destiny asks him to leave the restaurant…”


(all these and more at the website

Is there a point to art

… when so much of the world is trying to survive war and disaster?  A good friend of mine asked me this today, inviting me to discuss it with her, on a podcast.

Within minutes of reading her question, I randomly came upon this 2 minute BBC radio snippet – of a programme where a human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands,  cited his favourite music – and said Leonard Cohen gave him hope.

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Then there was an audio recording of a concert in which Philippe and a friend were enthusiastically shouting out to the performer (they had front row seats), and Leonard responded with a few lines of his poetry, leading into his next song.

So much, packed into 2 minutes 17 secs.  I’m glad I heard it.