Backlisted

Hosted ByJohn Mitchinson & Andy Miller

The literary podcast presented by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller. Brought to you by Unbound. Visit www.backlisted.fm


All Episodes

Gaining Ground by Joan Barfoot

Author Rose Ruane (This Is Yesterday, Birding) picks Gaining Ground AKA Abra (1978) by Canadian feminist writer Joan Barfoot. One day, seemingly on a whim, a woman walks out of her home and her marriage, forsaking her family for a life of near-solitude and self-sufficiency. Many years later, her daughter, now grown-up, comes to find her and to ask a simple question: why? But there are no easy answers… In a long and distinguished literary career, Barfoot has won the Marian Engel Award and been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, for Critical Injuries (2002). Her debut novel, however, seems to have vanished almost as thoroughly as its female protagonist; as you will hear from our discussion, we think the book richly deserves to be rediscovered.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the subject of this episode of Backlisted. Dr Martin Shaw and Dr Laura Varnam (hwaet Laura!) join Andy and John to discuss this late 14th-century chivalric romance – or subversion thereof – written in Middle English alliterative verse, author unknown. We discuss the poem’s chequered history and a variety of translations by Simon Armitage, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marie Borroff and Dr Shaw himself. We also take a look at some of the film, TV and radio adaptations of the poem, the most recent of which is The Green Knight (2021), starring Dev Patel. This show was recorded in front of a live audience at Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London, on 12th June 2024. Locklisted subscribers will be able to hear more Gawain chat next weekend, including some terrific contributions and questions from members of the audience. In other words, it’s a bumper bonus Backlisted bonanza from the blokes and broads who brought you Beowulf. Bye!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts by Douglas Adams

The work of Douglas Adams – comic genius, futurologist and erstwhile hitchhiker – is the subject of this episode of Backlisted, in particular The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Original Radio Scripts, first published by Pan Books in 1985. H2G2, as it is known to fans, was a cultural phenomenon in the true sense of that degraded term: first a hit radio show, then a bestselling novel, then a double LP, then a stage adaptation, then a second radio series, then another novel, then a video game, then a TV series, then another LP, then a third novel… you get the idea. We have chosen the scripts of the original radio series as our entry point into the Hitchhiker multiverse because each of us brings our own unique, informed perspective to the saga: longtime Adams fan Joel Morris has written a new book entitled Be Funny or Die: How Comedy Works and Why It Matters; author Gail Renard was a friend and colleague of Douglas’s and an eyewitness to the irresistible and highly improbable success of Hitchhiker; as a publisher, John has worked on several books by or about the great man; and Andy cheerfully admits to having borrowed many of his best ideas from The Guide. Please consider this, then, our loving tribute to a true giant of literature, comedy, technology and being an actual giant, Douglas having been one of the only people in history tall enough to break his nose with his own knee.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Novelist Alex Michaelides (The Silent Patient, The Fury) joins Andy and John to discuss Ford Madox Ford’s classic novel The Good Soldier (1915), a tale of passion in which, owing to a narrator of almost comic unreliability, nothing can be taken for granted. It is a book that seems to change on every reading, both a kaleidoscopic psychological drama and ‘the saddest story I have ever heard’. During his lifetime ‘Fordie’ was, variously, a prolific author, a publisher of historical note, a notable polyamorist and a serial liar; we consider the extent to which the character of John Dowell inThe Good Soldier may be considered a self-portrait. This episode was recorded live on stage at Foyles, Charing Cross Road in London on the evening of 15th May 2024 and is the first date of a monthly residency. Tickets for the 12th June show, on the subject of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, are available now via the Foyles website.

Locklisted – Book Recommendation Special

This episode is a little different from a regular Backlisted, the next episode of which has been delayed through illness (though given that its subject is the radio scripts of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, this tardiness may not come as a complete surprise). A conversation about shelftalkers in bookshops leads to a broader discussion about where we get our book recommendations and Andy runs a quiz based on the principle of algorithmic recommendation. There is also a discussion inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s pitch black 1980’s novel The Cheap Eaters (translated by Douglas Robertson) and John Boorman and Bill Stairs’ 1974 novelisation of the cult film, Zardoz.

A Marsh Island by Sarah Orne Jewett

For this episode we are joined by the writer, Noreen Masud, author of the acclaimed memoir, A Flat Place (currently shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction). The book she has chosen to discuss is A Marsh Island, a 19th century American novel by Sarah Orne Jowett, who is usually considered one of the foremost proponents of American regionalism – an assumption this episode investigates. The book was first serialised in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1885 and published by Houghton Mifflin later that year. The story centres on Dick Dale, a wealthy young urban bohemian artist who finds himself billeted with a traditional farming family in the middle of New England’s Great Salt Marsh. His impact on the small community over the course of a harvest provides what plot there is – but the novel is rich in atmosphere and interior reflection, exploring the complex tensions between rural and urban ways of life in late 19th century East Coast America. It was written at a moment in Jewett’s own life when she had just begun an unconventional relationship with another woman and the episode also explores how that plays out in the subversive presentation of the relationships in the novel.

The Children of Men by P.D. James

Novelist Andrew Hunter Murray and biographer Laura Thompson join us to discuss The Children of Men (1992), a dystopian thriller by the late P.D. James. The author is probably best remembered as one of Britain’s greatest exponents of detective fiction, an heir to the Golden Age of female novelists such as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers et al. In The Children of Men, however, James depicts a nightmare near-future in which the world is literally coming to an end. The book became a bestseller; in 2006, it was adapted for the big screen by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. We look at the ways in which James explored issues that seem eerily contemporary: the societal impact of an uncontrolled virus, falling fertility rates, an ageing population, the rise of populism and accompanying exploitation of migrant labour. She also knew how to grip her readers to the very last page. Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, lived a long and remarkable life and it was a pleasure for all of us to revisit her work and biography in this episode.

All My Pretty Ones by Anne Sexton

Award-winning poet Emily Berry joins us to consider the work and troubled life of Anne Sexton. We focus on her brilliant second collection All My Pretty Ones (1962). Sexton was a trailblazing American poet of the so-called ‘confessional’ school of the 1960s, one whose writing continues to provoke controversy and debate; her friends and contemporaries included Sylvia Plath and John Berryman. We hear from Sexton herself, in recordings of readings and interviews, and fronting own experimental jazz-rock ensemble, Anne Sexton and Her Kind, and also from her daughter Linda. Please note: Anne Sexton was an unflinching chronicler of her own struggle with mental illness, and this episode contains extensive discussion of suicide and sexual abuse.

Coffee Table Books

This fully illustrated, lavishly produced episode of Backlisted represents the last word in coffee table books. Join John, Andy and Nicky as we dip into the origin, design and continuing appeal of specialist hardcover publishing, via some of our favourite cookery books, exhibition catalogues and sumptuous volumes simply too beautiful to leave on the shelf. Thank you to our Patrons for their contributions to our virtual quarto library; as you will hear, we loved making this show, which is as deep as it is long. And remember: a coffee table book is for life, not just for Christmas.

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