Books interviews

These interviews focus mostly on books and literary topics, and were produced for EURadioNantes.

Richard O’Brien speaks to Harry Ford in celebration of Roald Dahl Day

Roald Dahl is one of UK’s most famous children’s authors, beloved by the young and the not-so-young for his funny, gruesome and magical tales which take an honest look at human foibles through the distorting lens of childhood. September 13th is Roald Dahl Day, a celebration of his work and life. Richard O’Brien caught up with Harry Ford, a children’s literature connoisseur and Dahl aficionado, to find out what makes the weird and wonderful world of his stories tick, and how this most English of authors can speak to the inner child in grown-ups all across the world.


Richard O’Brien meets Jonathan Beckman, editor of Literary Review, to discuss the Bad Sex Award.

From chrysanthemums to elfin grots and from wubbering springboards to generative jockeys, every year since 1993 the British periodical Literary Review has awarded a prize for the worst use of sexual description in the modern novel. Now in its 19th year, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award is never short of (un)worthy contenders, as Senior Editor and head of the jury Jonathan Beckman explains. Jonathan outlines for Richard some of the techniques he wishes today’s novelists would avoid, and speculates on why so many authors feel compelled to indulge in such approaches. He also explains some of the wider implications of the light-hearted trophy for the serious business of literary fiction itself.


Richard O’Brien meets author Andrew Martin to discuss the 150th anniversary of the London Underground.

Abandoned stations; wartime shelters; ghostly presences that haunt the tunnels. The London Underground is rich in mythology, as few know better than Andrew Martin. Last year the novelist published Underground, Overground, a definitive guide to the capital’s subterranean railway network, the oldest in the world, which celebrated its 150th anniversary on January 9th, 2013. Andrew shares with Richard some of his favourite facts and figures about the Tube, a creation of Victorian philanthropy which has remained integral to the image and daily life of London right up to the present day. More of Andrew’s work can be found on his website,


Richard O’Brien meets historical novelist Sarah Dunant

Although she spends much of her time in Renaissance Italy, researching the period that gave us the Borgias for her forthcoming historical novel, Sarah Dunant is a writer who is firmly connected to the contemporary literary landscape. Here she speaks to Richard O’Brien about the current culture of literary prizes in England – why do prizes exist? What do they mean for readers? And how does anyone ever decide one book is better than another? Whatever ‘literary fiction’ might mean, the big awards are no longer confined to this ill-defined genre, and Sarah also talks about how the modern revolution in academic history also spelt a revolution for historical fiction.


Richard O’Brien meets Ugo Bellagamba, artistic director of Les Utopiales, a huge sci-fi festival in Nantes.

Ugo Bellagamba is a sci-fi author with a background in the history of ideas. As the artistic director of this year’s Utopiales festival, he wanted to contrast the approaches offered by science fiction and real science to ideas of the origins of the world; and of its end. He and Richard also discuss the relationship between sci-fi and religion, and fantasy and its medieval forebears.


Richard O’Brien meets French novelist Lionel Davoust.

Although the genre of fantasy is often associated with fictional worlds that reconstruct a pre-industrial, rural society, Lionel Davoust is one of many authors working within the alternative tradition of urban fantasy. In discussion with Richard, he explains how the specific character of each metropolis affects the type of magic that can take place within it; he also reflects upon the place of the Internet in the working habits of the modern writer, and on the relationship between literature and role-playing games.


Richard O’Brien meets Joël Bastenaire, historian of Russian rock music.

On Tuesday 12th February, as part of the Moscowbeat festival in Nantes, Joël Bastenaire spoke at the Trempolino about his book ‘Back in the USSR’ ; a history of rock music in Russia. Joël talks Richard through the various periods of censorship and creative flourishing across the ages of Russian rock, stressing two key factors – its closeness to poetry and its power as protest – which bring us right up to date, with the trial of Pussy Riot.


Richard O’Brien meets Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England

Historian Ian Mortimer has never had much patience with the traditional academic methods of presenting the past. With the Time Traveller’s Guide series, he takes a different route, describing medieval and, more recently, Elizabethan England in the present tense. The books are addressed to a modern visitor discovering the historical landscape with their own eyes – and other senses. One of Ian’s main points is that those senses, too, need to be recalibrated, to experience the world as an Elizabethan person would have done. Here he talks to Richard O’Brien about the curious business of bringing the past to life, explaining how he pieces together vivid and compelling pictures from the small details of household inventories and Latin grammar books. You can find out more about Ian’s radical and ongoing project at his website,


Richard O’Brien meets Danish novelist Josefine Klougart.

Josefine Klougart has been tipped as one of Denmark’s most promising younger novelists. She speaks to Richard about the important role played in her work by her place of origin, and whether or not her writing can be placed within a Modernist tradition, in advance of her reading at the Les Impressions d’Europe festival of Nordic literature. She also discusses the strange experience of hearing her own work in translation.


Richard O’Brien meets Helen Mort, a British poet involved in National Poetry Day

Today is the UK’s National Poetry Day, and Helen Mort is taking part in a celebratory reading at London’s South Bank Centre. A former winner of the Foyle Young Poets Award, she is now herself a judge of the competition, dedicated to discovering young poetic talent – here she talks to Richard O’Brien about the twin feelings of enjoyment and responsibility attendant on her judging role. And for international listeners, she suggests how to participate in the event at home – by finding a beloved poem from childhood, and sharing it with others. Her own choice: Robert Frost’s ‘Fire and Ice’, which you can hear the author reading at this link:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s