In Writing with Hattie Crisell

By Hattie Crisell

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Journalist Hattie Crisell visits the studies of writers of all kinds – novelists, screenwriters, poets, journalists and more – to find out how they write, why they write, and what they can teach us about doing it better.

Episode Date
S4 Ep40: Shaun Usher, curator of correspondence
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The 40th episode of In Writing focuses on the art of letter-writing. Shaun Usher, who spoke to me last week from his home in Manchester, is the founder of Letters of Note, a blog that led to several very successful books and a star-studded live event (Letters Live). He has dedicated his career to finding the most brilliant, funny, insightful or poignant letters from all over the world and bringing them to a wider audience – whether that's a young Tom Hanks trying to charm the director George Roy Hill, or Albert Einstein's letter to a Sunday school class.

Shaun speaks to me about falling in love with his wife and the letter-writing tradition at the same time; the massive research involved in his job; and the very finest letters he's read.

Shop the Letters of Note series in the In Writing bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

Follow Letters of Note on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lettersofnote and make sure you have a look at Letterheady, Shaun's collection of wonderful letter heads: https://www.letterheady.com/
Nov 26, 2021
S4 Ep39: Liane Moriarty, novelist
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Australian writer Liane Moriarty joins me this week from her family home in Sydney. Liane has written nine novels, including her latest mystery Apples Never Fall, and has sold over 20 million books worldwide. She is perhaps best known as the author of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers, which were adapted into glossy TV series starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Melissa McCarthy. 

Liane talks to me about the dark turn that took her fiction from successful to stratospherically successful, her no-planning approach to plot, and how she and her writer sisters help each other navigate reviews.

Browse Liane's books and buy Apples Never Fall at the In Writing bookshop, where 10% of your money goes towards the making of the podcast: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing
Nov 19, 2021
S4 Ep38: Craig Taylor, oral historian
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Today's interview is with the writer and editor Craig Taylor, who dials in from an island shack off the coast of western Canada. Once a Guardian contributor, with his column One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (which became a book and a play), Craig has since become known for oral histories including 2006's Return to Akenfield and 2011's Londoners. For his latest book New Yorkers, he collected and edited over a million words of interviews with residents of the Big Apple; this week it won a Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize.

We spoke in May, when he told me all about his quiet island life, the routines he uses to keep himself productive, and how he pulled together his ambitious portraits of London and New York.

Buy New Yorkers here: https://uk.bookshop.org/a/5954/9781848549708

Craig is also the editor of the literary magazine Five Dials: https://fivedials.com/

And read the Guardian piece on handwriting vs typing here: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefits-handwriting-decline-typing


Nov 12, 2021
S4 Ep37: Meg Mason, novelist
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It's wonderful to have novelist Meg Mason on the podcast this week. On holiday in June, I got more hooked on her novel Sorrow and Bliss than I have been on perhaps any other book of this year. 

Speaking to me from Sydney in August, Meg talked about her complicated feelings about the memoir she published in 2012 and the unpublished novel she completed just before Sorrow and Bliss. She gave some useful advice on characterisation, and shared the daily exercise she used to boost her confidence when writing was a struggle.

Buy Sorrow and Bliss and other books by guests of the podcast here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

Read Meg's very funny Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life at The New Yorker here: https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/gift-ideas-for-the-writer-in-your-life

And browse the best of her pinboard here: https://megmason.com/credits

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Use code INWRITING20 for £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Go to http://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to find out more.
Nov 05, 2021
GUEST EPISODE: The Offcuts Drawer with Laura Shavin
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Not a normal In Writing episode today, but a wholehearted recommendation for something new. This is a guest episode of the excellent podcast The Offcuts Drawer with Laura Shavin, on which successful writers share the contents of their bottom drawer – the bits of writing they never finished, had rejected or just like to hold on to for nostalgic reasons. Actors perform these pieces and the writer chats to host Laura Shavin about the stories behind them. In this episode, Laura meets Chris Lang, writer of the ITV detective drama Unforgotten (and lots more projects along the way).

Do subscribe to The Offcuts Drawer with Laura Shavin – it can be found here: https://offcutsdrawer.com/ – and follow Laura on Twitter at https://twitter.com/laurashav

I'll be back with a new episode of In Writing with Hattie Crisell on Friday.

Nov 02, 2021
S4 Ep36: John Crace, journalist
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This week's guest is The Guardian's John Crace, writer of satirical parliamentary sketches, as well as a personal diary column. For a long time John also wrote the paper's Digested Read, in which each week, he summed up a new book in a few funny paragraphs. He's published several books himself, on topics as varied as football, cricket and Shakespeare, as well as collections of his columns, including the new A Farewell to Calm, which is out on 4 November.

I visit John at his home in south London and nose around his study (which is full of interesting things), and he talks about the inner workings of a politics sketch; what it's like to be a journalist at Westminster, and navigating anxiety and depression alongside a demanding job.

Pre-order A Farewell to Calm and browse other books by John Crace in the In Writing shop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

Read John's politics sketches here: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/johncrace and his piece on recovering from heroin addiction here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/mar/25/how-i-overcame-my-heroin-addiction-and-started-to-live

And listen to his wonderful episode of How to Fail with Elizabeth Day here: https://howtofail.podbean.com/e/how-to-fail-john-crace/
Oct 29, 2021
S4 Ep35: Christine Rose, joke writer
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This week I sit down with Christine Rose at her home in London, to find out all about a job that most people aren't aware exists. Christine works behind the scenes in comedy and entertainment, writing jokes for shows including Have I Got News for You and 8 out of 10 Cats; chat-show monologues for the likes of Graham Norton and Alan Carr; and funny host scripts for awards ceremonies like the BAFTAs and the Brits. 

Christine won Best TV Comedy Writer at the Funny Women Awards last year, and in this episode she talks me through the making of shows like HIGNFY, what it's like trying to get jokes approved by awards-show organisers and celebrity hosts, and why she had to regretfully let go of a brilliant gag involving Joaquin Phoenix and Boris Johnson.

Browse books by guests of this podcast at the In Writing shop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing
Oct 22, 2021
S4 Ep34: Amer Anwar, crime writer
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This week, armed with tea and Jaffa cakes, I speak to the writer Amer Anwar at his home in west London. Amer is the author of Brothers in Blood and Stone Cold Trouble – crime thrillers set in Southall, populated by British Asian gangsters, and peppered with punch-ups, Punjabi swear words, and cunning plans. 

Before Amer had even finished a draft of his first book, it won the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award – but nevertheless, he struggled to find a publisher. In the meantime, he hatched his own cunning plan to publish and promote the book himself; he made it to the shelves of Waterstones and garnered such good reviews that the book was ultimately picked up by the publisher Dialogue Books.

You can buy Amer's novels and lots more at the In Writing bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Use the code INWRITING20 for £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Go to http://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to
find out more.
Oct 15, 2021
S4 Ep33: Elif Shafak, novelist
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I'm thrilled to be back for a fourth series, and to be kicking it off with such an interesting guest. Elif Shafak is a British-Turkish novelist who has published 19 books including 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, The Forty Rules of Love and Three Daughters of Eve. Her most recent book is The Island of Missing Trees, which is a twisty tale of love and war, told in part from the perspective of a fig tree.

Elif spoke to me in August from her home in London, and we discussed the important work of literary translators, the experience of being sued for 'insulting Turkishness' in her fiction, and how she navigates anxiety and self-doubt as a writer.

You can buy The Island of Missing Trees and browse books by Elif and other guests of the podcast here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing 10% of your money goes to support independent bookshops, and another 10% to support the making of this podcast, so thank you.

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Use code INWRITING20 for £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Go to http://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to
find out more.

Oct 08, 2021
S3 Ep32: Graham Norton, novelist
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This is a bonus episode with a writer who, in a way, has carved out a bonus career: Graham Norton. Long-established as a hugely successful presenter and comedian in the UK, he published his first novel, Holding, in 2016, and has followed that with 2018's A Keeper, and most recently last year's Home Stretch. They are well-plotted, sensitively written novels that turn the spotlight on small-town Ireland. I spoke to Graham in April, when he was at his home in London, and we discussed how fear of the first book's reception stopped him from over-writing it; why he has tried to keep his two careers apart; and how he's learning to trust the reader.

Home Stretch is now out in paperback, and I would also highly recommend Graham's second memoir, The Life and Loves of a He Devil. You can find his books and those of other guests of the podcast here, along with a selection of books on writing that I've found helpful: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Use code INWRITING20 for £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Go to http://curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to find out more.
May 14, 2021
S3 Ep31: Maggie O'Farrell, novelist
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In the final episode of the third series (thank you for listening!), Maggie O'Farrell joins me from her home in Edinburgh. Maggie is the author of eight novels, including After You'd Gone, This Must Be The Place and Hamnet, which last year won the Women's Prize for Fiction. She also wrote the unsettling 2017 memoir I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. She describes the Victorian greenhouse-turned-studio where her books take shape, and talks about the difficulty of knowing where to begin; the laborious but valuable experience of getting her first novel published, and why she loves it when a manuscript veers off course.

You can find Maggie's books and those of other guests of the podcast here, along with a selection of books on writing that I've found helpful: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing
Apr 02, 2021
S3 Ep30: James Acaster, stand-up comic
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James Acaster joins me this week to talk about writing stand-up comedy. James has filmed five stand-up specials – the first four make up the series Repertoire, available on Netflix, while the most recent, Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999, arrived on Vimeo earlier this month. He was also nominated a record-breaking five years in a row for Best Comedy Show at the Edinburgh Fringe, from 2012 to 2016. He talks me through how he writes a set; the structure of stand-up, and the art of a well-placed callback; and how he reconciles the inherently stressful dynamic of his job with his efforts to protect his mental health.

James also wrote the bestselling books James Acaster's Classic Scrapes and Perfect Sound Whatever, which can be found alongside other books by guests of the podcast here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

I'd also recommend Steve Martin's Born Standing Up for anyone interested in the construction of stand-up comedy (even though James has been given three copies of it and still hasn't made it to the end). I can't find it on Bookshop.org so here it is at Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/born-standing-up/steve-martin/9781847391483

Watch Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 here: https://www.jamesacaster.com/cold-lasagne/

And listen to James's podcasts here:
James Acaster's Perfect Sounds: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p089rgkp
Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster:
https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/off-menu-with-ed-gamble-and-james-acaster/id1442950743?mt=2
Mar 26, 2021
S3 Ep29: Wendy Erskine, short story writer
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This week I'm joined by Wendy Erskine, author of the remarkable Sweet Home, an award-winning short story collection set in modern Belfast. I have a personal connection to Wendy – she was my English teacher in the mid-nineties, and is still a teacher today. She talks about how she found her way to publishing an acclaimed collection in 2018; how her 'imagination headphones' allow her to work at the kitchen table with family life unfolding around her; and how drafting and redrafting leads to her stark, fearless prose.

Wendy's second collection will be published by Stinging Fly and Picador in February 2022. In the meantime, read her latest short story Gloria and Max here: https://stingingfly.org/2021/03/03/gloria-and-max/

Buy Sweet Home and other books by guests of the podcast here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing

And let me know what you think of this episode on Twitter (@hattiehattie) or Instagram (@hattiecrisell), or share your thoughts with the hashtag #InWriting.
Mar 19, 2021
S3 Ep28: Will Storr, longform journalist and author
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Back in early November 2020, Will Storr spoke to me from a solo writing retreat in Spain, where he was working, sleeping and doing nothing else. This turns out to be Will's process: he also tells me about his zero-distractions writing routine at home, which involves a black-out blind and total immersion.

I first discovered Will's work through the brilliant book The Science of Storytelling; he's also the author of Selfie, The Heretics and Will Storr Vs The Supernatural, plus the novel The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone – and several very successful ghost-written autobiographies. Will also won the Amnesty International Award and a One World Press Award for reporting on sexual violence against men. In this episode we discuss his method for creating a three-dimensional character; how he approached interviews in Uganda on the highly sensitive subject of sexual trauma; and the indispensable writing advice he once received from Jon Ronson.

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Use code INWRITING20 for £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Go to curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to find out more.

Buy Will's books at https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing – your purchases support independent booksellers, and help me to keep making this podcast.

And to continue the conversation about writing, find me on Twitter (@hattiehattie) or Instagram (@hattiecrisell), or share your thoughts with the hashtag #InWriting.
Mar 12, 2021
S3 Ep27: Cressida Cowell, Children's Laureate
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The writer and illustrator Cressida Cowell joins me this week, with a backdrop of birdsong from outside her writing shed. Cressida wrote and illustrated the Wizards of Once series, and the How to Train Your Dragon series, which became a highly successful Dreamworks franchise. She also wrote the Emily Brown picture books, and is passionate about getting kids into reading, and showing them that whether they're good at school or not, they're still smart. She talks about her quest as Waterstones Children’s Laureate, and about what it's like to write a book that becomes a global hit on the big screen – plus everything she learnt from her wild childhood on a Viking island.

Buy Cressida’s books and other titles by guests of this podcast by visiting https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing – when you buy from my shop, 10% of your money supports the making of the podcast, and 10% goes to independent bookshops.
Mar 05, 2021
S3 Ep26: George Saunders, short story writer and novelist
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This week I speak to George Saunders: author of 11 books including the 2017 Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo; regular contributor of short fiction to The New Yorker for almost 30 years; and creative writing teacher at Syracuse University. George's new book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, uses classic Russian short stories to analyse good writing and storytelling. His special skill, other than writing, is in demystifying the subject and providing comforting, encouraging, practical advice to students, readers, podcast listeners... and me.

This episode of In Writing is sponsored by Curtis Brown Creative. Listen for a discount code to get £20 off one of their four, six, or ten-week online writing courses. Visit curtisbrowncreative.co.uk to find out more.

Buy George's new book and other titles by guests of this podcast by visiting https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing – when you buy from my shop, 10% of your money supports the making of the podcast, and 10% goes to independent bookshops.
Feb 26, 2021
S3 Ep25: Grace Dent, restaurant critic and columnist
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Grace Dent – Guardian restaurant critic, columnist, author and Masterchef star – joins me from her bed this week. With a string of young adult novels under her belt (including the Diary of a Chav and Diary of a Snob series), Grace has most recently written Hungry: a memoir of food, family, and conquering the London journalism scene as a working-class northerner. Recording in November 2020, we chat about the harsh realities of restaurant reviewing; how Grace navigated writing about her father's dementia; and why when it comes to getting your writing done, a Premier Inn is better than an Italian villa.

Support the podcast and independent bookshops by buying Hungry and other books by guests of In Writing here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing 
Feb 19, 2021
S3 Ep24: Brandon Taylor, novelist
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Brandon Taylor, author of the novel Real Life, joins me from Iowa this week. At the end of a whirlwind year in which his debut was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Brandon talks about how he emerged as a novelist from an illiterate family; why he objects to the idea that it's easy for black writers to write black characters; and why 'It's only a draft' can be a game-changing thought.

Support the podcast and independent bookshops by buying Real Life or other books by guests of In Writing here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing 

And read Brandon's excellent essay on empathy at Literary Hub: https://lithub.com/there-is-no-secret-to-writing-about-people-who-do-not-look-like-you/
Feb 12, 2021
S3 Ep23: Hannah Reid, songwriter
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In this bonus episode, I speak to London Grammar‘s Hannah Reid, songwriter and vocalist. Ahead of the release of the band's third album, Californian Soil, Hannah talked about the value and risk of vulnerability in songwriting.

Californian Soil is out on 9th April, and you can hear singles Baby It’s You, Californian Soil and Lose Your Head now.

To continue the conversation about writing, come and find me on Twitter (@hattiehattie) or Instagram (@hattiecrisell), or share your thoughts with the hashtag #InWriting.
Feb 10, 2021
S3 Ep22: John Lanchester, novelist
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This week, John Lanchester joins me from his writing shed at the bottom of the garden. John has just published a new collection of spooky short stories – Reality & Other Stories – and has also written five novels, including Capital (which became a BBC series) and The Wall. He's a winner of the Whitbread First Novel Prize and the E.M Forster Award, among others, and is also a journalist and writer of non-fiction. He talks about writing his first few books on index cards; why fact is allowed to be more outlandish than fiction; and how to cope when you're in the 'tunnel' of a manuscript and not entirely confident you can reach the other side.

To buy John's books, or browse some of my recommended books on writing, visit https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing – your purchases support independent booksellers, and help me to keep making this podcast.

This episode is sponsored by Papier. Listen out for a discount code for 15% off your first order.

And to continue the conversation about writing, come and find me on Twitter (@hattiehattie) or Instagram (@hattiecrisell), or share your thoughts with the hashtag #InWriting.
Feb 05, 2021
S3 Ep21: Lucy Prebble, playwright and screenwriter
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Season 3 is here! My first guest is Lucy Prebble, playwright of A Very Expensive Poison and Enron; showrunner of the Sky series I Hate Suzie; and part of Jesse Armstrong's writing team on the HBO drama Succession. Lucy lets us into the secrets of that writers' room, sheds light on the relationship between writers and actors, and reflects on what she learnt from quitting her first TV success, Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

To buy Lucy's plays, or any other books mentioned on In Writing, visit https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/in-writing – your purchases support independent booksellers (and this podcast).

This episode is sponsored by Papier. Listen out for a discount code for 15% off your first order.
Jan 29, 2021
S2 Ep20: Jon Ronson, storyteller
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My final guest of the second series is Jon Ronson: journalist, documentary-maker, screenwriter, and author of wonderful narrative longform non-fiction. Jon’s books include The Psychopath Test and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and he tells me about the complicated legacy of the latter. In his work he’s delved into some murky worlds, including the Ku Klux Klan, the pornography industry and the Church of Scientology, and found the humour and pathos in subjects that most of us would overlook. In this conversation he explains why he appears as a character in his own work, the years of research that go into each story, and why empathy is the key to it all.

Jul 17, 2020
S2 Ep19: Kit de Waal, novelist
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Kit de Waal, whose books include My Name Is Leon, The Trick to Time and the new short story collection Supporting Cast, joins me this week from her home in the West Midlands. Kit started writing in her mid-forties, and remembers being stunned by how hard it was. In our chat she reflects honestly on that time, the stories that worked, the novels that didn’t, and how getting too interested in her characters tripped her up. She also spills the beans on her plotting spreadsheet, her knack for tackling heartbreaking subjects with lightness and warmth, and how she cracked the problem of description.

Jul 10, 2020
S2 Ep18: Robert Popper, comedy writer
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TV writer Robert Popper joins me for a chat this week, fresh off the sixth series of his Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner. Robert has been involved in some of the best British comedy of the last 20 years; he co-wrote the cult favourite Look Around You, a spoof science documentary series that ran from 2002 to 2005, and worked as a script editor on Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and The IT Crowd. He is also the alter ego of Robin Cooper, author of The Timewaster Letters. He tells me how he made an artform out of writing insane things to strangers; the unorthodox way he broke into the television world (it also involved letter-writing); and why in comedy, the story must always come before the jokes.

Jul 03, 2020
S2 Ep17: Mhairi McFarlane, novelist
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Mhairi McFarlane is the author of six great novels in the genre of romantic comedy/chick lit (delete as preferred), including her most recent, If I Never Met You. This week she speaks to me from her front room – she does not have or want a study – about the process of rewriting her first book, You Had Me At Hello, and what she learned along the way, plus the essential components of a good romcom.

Jun 26, 2020
S2 Ep16: Will Harris, poet and essayist
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This week I chat to Will Harris, a London-born poet and essayist of mixed Anglo-Indonesian heritage. Will’s debut poetry collection RENDANG came out in February; previously he was perhaps best known for the essay Mixed-Race Superman, which was published in 2018, and which The New York Times called “A zany, exuberant and highly original meditation on what it means to come of age as a mixed-race person in a predominantly white world.” He spoke to me about how engaging with his family history helped his poetry, the value of therapy as a writer, and why in his work, the political can’t be separated from the personal.

Jun 19, 2020
S2 Ep15: Alexandra Shulman, editor, novelist and memoirist
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Alexandra Shulman joins me this week to talk about life on both sides of the divide: editor and writer. At the helm of Vogue, she spent 25 years herding journalists. Now she has a column in the Mail on Sunday and has this year published a book that blends memoir with fashion history, Clothes and Other Things that Matter. We talk about the article that changed her career, the challenge of writing two novels with a full-time job, and the value of storytelling in journalism.

Jun 12, 2020
S2 Ep14: Robert Webb, writer and performer
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This week, from my living room in London, I speak to Robert Webb in his loft study (also in London). By the time Robert published his memoir How Not To Be A Boy in 2017, he’d already achieved huge success as an actor and performer (memorably, of course, in Peep Show). We discuss that book and his new novel Come Again; how his instinct to entertain translates from the screen to the page, and how years of writing comedy sketches gave him insight into characterisation.

Jun 05, 2020
S2 Ep13: Kiley Reid, novelist
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Kiley Reid joins me for this episode of In Writing, recorded when she visited London in February to promote her bestselling debut novel Such A Fun Age. Kiley is a graduate of the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she shaped this novel, and we talk about how the feedback of other writers helped her hone it, how to flesh out fiction with well-researched fact, and why it’s essential to “write to your obsessions”.

May 29, 2020
S2 Ep12: Hugo Rifkind, columnist
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This week’s guest is the sharp and funny Hugo Rifkind, award-winning columnist for The Times. In the attic of his house in north London – not long before recording a podcast in person started to look like insanity – we had a great discussion about his journalistic career, how he approaches the (nightmarish) challenge of a weekly opinion column, and what he’s learnt about writing satire from his very funny diary series, My Week.

May 22, 2020
S2 Ep11: Curtis Sittenfeld, novelist
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The second series of In Writing is here in the midst of a pandemic, and while going into writers’ workspaces may not be practical for a while, that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. This week, from my duvet fort in London, I speak to Curtis Sittenfeld in her small, distraction-free study (which she likens to Harry Potter’s under-stair bedroom) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Curtis is the author of five bestselling novels, including Prep, American Wife and Eligible, and a book of short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It; she’s now promoting her sixth novel, Rodham, which tantalisingly imagines what might have happened if Hillary Clinton had decided not to marry Bill. In our interview, she shares her insight into structuring a book (and why that process is so crucial); the value of a well-placed sex scene; and how to “set yourself up for writing success” with some serious time management.

May 16, 2020
S1 Ep10: Charlie Brooker, screenwriter
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In this last episode of the series, Charlie Brooker – the man behind Black Mirror, the BBC’s Wipe shows, Dead Set, Nathan Barley, TV Go Home and more – invites me into his messy, makeshift study. We talk about his unique career trajectory, the process of writing a Netflix show, and the ongoing, necessary pain of taking feedback on your work.

Logo by Ben Neale

Jan 24, 2020
S1 Ep9: Anna Hope, novelist
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This week, in a garden cabin in Sussex, I speak to Anna Hope: the author of two historical novels – Wake and The Ballroom – and Expectation, one of the most talked-about books of 2019. Anna was an actress when, in her early thirties, she started taking creative writing courses; she reflects on that transition, the struggles she went through before being published, and how she found her flow as an author.

Logo by Ben Neale

Jan 17, 2020
S1 Ep8: Andrew Billen, feature writer and interviewer
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For a while I’ve been looking for a chance to pick Andrew Billen’s brain about how he writes his insightful, revealing profiles of celebrities and politicians for The Times, and in this episode I visit him at his family home in Oxford to do just that. Andrew looks back on 30 years of interviews, talks me through his ‘essay plan’, and reveals some of the most and least successful encounters he’s had in his career.

Logo by Ben Neale

Jan 10, 2020
S1 Ep7: Emma Jane Unsworth, novelist and screenwriter
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The author of Animals and Adults – and winner of Best Debut Screenwriter at last year’s British Independent Film Awards – Emma Jane Unsworth welcomes me into her twinkly Brighton flat. She talks about how to overcome the moments of self-loathing that come with any creative project; postnatal depression and recovery; and why she never gets the ending right on a first try.

Logo by Ben Neale

Jan 03, 2020
S1 Ep6: Andre Aciman, novelist
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Author of Call Me By Your Name and its recent sequel Find Me, Andre Aciman tells me what it’s like to see your novel get a second life in film (and the new flock of young fans who followed); why he has no interest in realism, and why it’s valuable to read all your reviews.

Logo by Ben Neale

Dec 27, 2019
S1 Ep5: Holly Bourne, young-adult fiction writer
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Holly Bourne invites me into her study/spare room to talk about her prolific career as a YA writer – and her recent novels for adults, including the bestselling How Do You Like Me Now?. She explains why her writing is a kind of activism, and why being honest about life – including all the sex and swearing – is the only way to get through to readers in the most vulnerable moments of their teenage years.

Logo design by Ben Neale

Dec 20, 2019
S1 Ep4: Sathnam Sanghera, journalist, memoirist and novelist
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I sit down with The Times’ Sathnam Sanghera to talk about the three strands of his work – how a competition run by Michael Jackson propelled him into journalism; how he came to write an acclaimed family memoir in his twenties; the challenges of fiction; and why writers’ block is “something posh people have”.

Logo design by Ben Neale

Dec 13, 2019
S1 Ep3: Wendy Cope, poet
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Wendy Cope invites me into her book-filled house in Ely, Cambridgeshire. Wendy started her career as a highly successful outsider to the poetry world – seen by some as an interloper – and is now one of its most respected talents. She tells me about the backlash to her first bestseller, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis; how she pushed through it, and what she’s learnt.

Logo design by Ben Neale

Dec 01, 2019
S1 Ep2: David Nicholls, screenwriter and novelist
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David Nicholls – bestselling author of five novels including One Day and Sweet Sorrow, and BAFTA-winning screenwriter – has me over for a cup of tea at the surprisingly peaceful inner-city office where he does all his writing. He talks me through his process (and how it’s differed with every book); how he turned Edward St Aubyn’s five Patrick Melrose books into five perfect hours of television; and why it was letter writing that kicked off his career. 

Logo design by Ben Neale
Dec 01, 2019
S1 Ep1: Elizabeth Day, novelist, memoirist and journalist
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Host of the podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day; author of the memoir How to Fail; a novelist with four books under her belt, and a journalist and columnist too – talented Elizabeth Day is the perfect guest for the first episode of In Writing. I visit her “room of one’s own” to talk about how she moves between genres, how the discipline of journalism has honed her writing, and why learning to be herself has been the best professional lesson of her life.

With thanks to Laura Gallop for early editing (though any errors can be attributed to my own later edits...); to Maria Williams for invaluable advice, and to Ben Neale for logo design

Dec 01, 2019