Hosted ByJohn Mitchinson & Andy Miller

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All Episodes

Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

For this first episode of 2024 we are joined by the chair of Virago Press, Lennie Goodings to discuss a novel by her fellow Canadian, Margaret Laurence. First published in 1964, The Stone Angel is a landmark in modern Canadian fiction. The narrator is the unforgettable Hagar Shipley, a spiky, sharp-tongued, proud and profane ninety-year-old who is trying to resist her family’s attempts to transfer her into a nursing home. This battle is interwoven with memories of her long and difficult life, much of it spent in the Manitoban prairie town of Manawaka, a place closely based on Laurence’s own home town of Neepawa and which would provide the setting for three more novels and a collection of stories. We discuss the book’s place in the Canadian pantheon and speculate on why it hasn’t become and established classic outside Canada (it is no longer in print with Virago). We also discover some unexpected coincidences among Margaret Laurence’s neighbours during the years she lived in England in the late sixties and early seventies. This is a book that deserves to find many more new readers. Also here’s a reminder that if you’d like to sign up to our monthly newsletter which features book recommendations from our guests and as well as the three of us, please click here.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

For this year’s Backlisted Christmas Special we are joined by the poet and novelist Clare Pollard and our producer Nicky Birch to discuss not just a book, but adaptations of a book – and there are hundreds to choose from – and all have contributed to making it perhaps the most famous Christmas story of them all: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Written in six weeks in 1843, it was a massive and immediate success, selling out its first run of 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve. It has been in print ever since and has come to define the festive period for millions of readers, listeners and viewers. We explore why and how this fable – terrifying in parts, warm and reassuring in others – has exerted such a hold on our collective imagination. We each pick a favourite version (you’ll have to listen to find out which) but also range over others from Richard Williams’ celebrated 1971 animation to those featuring Mister Magoo and Ebeneezer Blackadder. Plus Andy has compiled a special festive playlist for you to listen to over the mulled wine and marzipan fruits. There never was such an episode! And finally, on this most special of days, we’d like thank you all for your support during the year and to wish you: A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Briggflatts by Basil Bunting

Today’s episode focusses on a single long poem – Briggflatts by the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting. It was recorded live in St Mary’s Church, Woodstock in Oxfordshire, as part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Andy and John are joined by Neil Astley, the founder of Bloodaxe Books, who knew and published Bunting, and Kirsten Norrie, a poet and composer who writes and performs under her Highland name, MacGillivray. The episode begins and ends with recordings made in 1977 of Bunting reading from the poem, which was first published in 1966. Until that time, Bunting, who in the 1930s had been a friend to W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, was living in semi-obscurity in rural Northumbria. It was his live readings of the poem, subtitled ‘An Autobiography’ at the medieval Mordern Tower in Newcastle that transformed his reputation. We discuss his remarkable and sometimes controversial life – before his exile he was at various times a music critic, a sailor, a balloon operator, a wing commander, a military interpreter, a foreign correspondent, and a spy – and its relationship to his work, and particularly Briggflatts, now regarded as one of the greatest English poems of the 20th century.

Trustee From The Toolroom by Nevil Shute

For our 200th episode, we are joined by Richard Osman: television presenter, longtime Backlisted listener, and one of the bestselling authors in the world today. We discuss Trustee from the Toolroom (1960), the final novel by Nevil Shute Norway, whose other books include A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957), widely read in his lifetime but now somewhat forgotten or ignored. How did Shute’s long and distinguished stint as an aeronautical engineer fit with his parallel career as a prominent and much-loved author? And what do his tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things have to offer us in the 21st century? Richard also shares with John and Andy what he’s been reading this week; and if you’ve been with us from the start, you will appreciate his choices all the more.

Plays, Books and Stories: Samuel Beckett

In this episode, we feature the life and work of Samuel Beckett, one of the most important and influential voices of 20th century literature. We discuss Beckett’s writing across five decades, including his essays, short stories, novels and plays: ‘Dante… Bruno. Vico… Joyce’; ‘More Pricks Than Kicks’; ‘The Unnamable’; Krapp’s Last Tape’; and the late masterpiece ‘Company’. And we also ruminate on the fact that Backlisted has now been going on (it must go on, it can’t go on, it’ll go on) for eight years, notching up nearly 200 episodes. We hope you enjoy this memorable and moving recording AKA Spool #199. John, Andy and Nicky

Ghost Stories Of An Antiquary by M.R. James

Pour yourself a glass of sherry and light a candle, as we dedicate this year’s Halloween special to Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), the first collection by M.R. James, probably the most celebrated and influential exponent of the weird tale. With the help of undead guests Andrew Male and Laura Varnam we illuminate the life and work of a strange and singular author, one whose writings, like the engraving in ‘The Mezzotint’, have truly taken on a life of their own.

What Have You Been Reading? – October 2023

This is a new books special episode to fill the gap before we release the Hallowe’en episode next weekend and as part of our episode 200 celebrations. In it, we each select a book we’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year. Andy says The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan (Tyrant Books) is the best novel he’s read since Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms and also his favourite; Backlisted Editor, Nicky talks about Wifedom by Anna Funder (Granta), an genre-busting account of the life Eileen Maud Blair, the first wife of George Orwell, linking it back to the themes of The True History of the First Mrs Meredith episode; and John praises Cuddy by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury), a rich and formally audacious novel based on the life and legends of St Cuthbert, the patron saint of North East England. The discussion leads us in all kinds of unexpected directions in classic Backlisted fashion.

The True History of the First Mrs Meredith by Diane Johnson

Episode #197 is dedicated to our late friend Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago, an author in her own right and, on a couple of memorable occasions, a former guest on Backlisted. Joining us are the writer Rachel Cooke and critic and editor Lucy Scholes. Under discussion: The True History of the First Mrs Meredith and Other Lesser Lives by Diane Johnson, first published in 1972 and reissued in 2020 by New York Review Books. Is this imaginative, funny, heartfelt, headstrong book a novel, a biography, an alternative history, a feminist polemic, a work of literary criticism or something else entirely? To which the answer is a far-from-straightforward: Yes. We hope you enjoy this conversation – and a unique book – as much as we did.

Esther Waters by George Moore

In this episode we discuss the controversial and ground-breaking novel, Esther Waters by the Irish novelist George Moore. We are joined by Tom Crewe, author of the prize-winning New Life (Chatto & Windus) and one of this year’s crop of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Esther Waters was first published in 1894 and is told almost entirely from the point of view of an illiterate working-class woman, who falls pregnant by a fellow servant, is abandoned by him, and decides to raise their child on her own. Telling her story allows Moore to catalogue the glamour and sordidness of 1890s London society in astonishing detail and his refusal to judge his heroine led to it being banned from W.H. Smith’s railway bookstores. Despite (or because of) this, it sold over 24,000 copies in its first year and has been in print ever since. We examine what sets Moore apart from other writers of the time, including Émile Zola, Thomas Hardy and George Gissing, why it has had such a positive influence on later admirers like James Joyce, Jean Rhys and Colm Tóibín, and how its simplicity of style and detailed presentation of Esther’s inner life feel so surprisingly contemporary.

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