Friday 7 February 2020

Words on a Wire - a look at literary podcasts. Article by Dawn Finch

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a late arrival to the world of podcasts. These independently made audio documentaries, plays, quizzes and discussions have been around for a good few years now and there can be few people who are unaware of the power and reach of things like real-crime podcast examinations.  As a stalwart radio listener, I tended to stick to what I knew. A bit of gentle (!) cajoling from my offspring and a bit of an explore and I quickly became a convert.

As a writer we are always drawn to things that are listed as “For Writers” and this was definitely the case for my first foray into the world of podcasts thanks to excellent articles on here from both Alex English, and Dan Metcalf. Instead of retreading that ground I thought I would do an occasional piece looking at one or two literature-related podcasts that you might have missed. These will all be podcasts with a literary leaning and are informative, but the focus here is going to be on them being interesting and entertaining rather than educational. I’ll leave the examination of educational and career developing podcasts to others better placed than I.

The two podcasts I’m going to chat about today are Shedunnit, written, hosted and produced by Caroline Crampton, and Words To That Effect which is written, hosted and produced by Conor Reid.

Artwork credit - Rebecca Hendin
In Shedunnit, writer and researcher Caroline Crampton examines and explores the world of classic detective fiction. Crampton packs a lot into each twenty-minute episode but does so with such an easy and listenable presentation style that it never feels rushed or crammed. Each episode focuses on an element of detective fiction from the Golden Age and how that relates to the genre as a whole, and the world in which the genre developed. The episodes cover everything from real-life notorious historical murders and the impact they had on writers, to the methodology of teaching sleuthing today. Add into this the fact that Crampton has the perfect voice for this and you have a winning podcast. Somehow Crampton has managed to make these podcasts sound like she’s (ever so gently) talking just to you. This gives the broadcasts a kind of confidential authority that is very pleasing. There is plenty here for the fan of classic detective fiction, but if you have never read any you won’t find too many spoilers and where they exist there are warnings.

Words to that Effect was launched in 2017 by writer and researcher, Conor Reid, and is an examination of the way the written world and “real” world overlap. An extraordinary range of subjects is covered, some familiar ground such as Conan Doyle’s spiritualism (always interesting) but some incredibly fascinating new ideas too such as transhumanism and AI. The podcast is based on solid research and Reid invites a wide range of experts as guests to broaden the discussions. This is not a podcast that only examines fiction as a Reid describes it as a “show about the intriguing places where fiction, history, science, and popular culture intersect.” Once again, Reid is a presenter with a very listenable voice and each episode is compelling. I particularly recommend the very first episode where Reid and guests examine why a group of famous British authors secretly met at the outbreak of the First World War.

Both of these podcasts have useful websites where you can find out loads more information about each episode and stuff like how to listen, and how to support the shows. It’s worth remembering that podcasters like this are relying on donations and support from sponsors so do check out their “how to support” pages and lend these independent creatives a helping hand.

If you are looking to give podcasting a go there are lots of books (and podcasts) out there, but I would suggest keeping an eye out for regional events by writer’s groups and from the Society of Authors.

I will revisit this subject every so often throughout the year and will try to highlight some of the smaller podcasters that you might have missed. The world of podcasts is not dissimilar from the world of self-publishing in that there's a lot of brilliant stuff out there, but there's also a lot of dross. It can be really difficult to find interesting things to listen to. There are endless magazine articles out there about podcasts but many are sponsored. For a good regular roundup of other podcasts, I recommend listening to Miranda Sawyer’s BBC Radio 4 show, In Pod We Trust. This is broadcast on a Saturday morning, but available to download at any time via Iplayer. The show is handily themed each week so you can listen to episodes based around podcasts specific to your interests.

You might also want to read Dan Metcalf's excellent look at scripted drama podcasts - you can find that by clicking here.

Dawn Finch is a writer, librarian and library activist and current chair of the Society of Authors'  CWIG committee.


Elen C said...

Ooh, I have to do a small plug for 'The History of English Podcast' which takes an incredibly detailed journey from Proto Indo European to (so far) Chaucer, and how the language has evolved on the way. So good.

Dawn McLachlan said...

Thanks for the tip!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you for those suggestions, Dawn. I, too, am new to podcasts, but I think they are an important part of the future of radio, and a new sort of space for interesting discussion.

Penny Dolan said...

Thank, Dawn, for these podcast suggestions. A bit of guidance is always welcome.

Yours too, Elen, though I think I've been staring at the screen too long - thought it took me a moment to realise it was The "History of English" podcast, and not A "History of the English Podcast".

"Interesting," I thought to myself in that daft moment."Didn't know podcasts had been going on that long." But maybe they have . . .

Stroppy Author said...

Thank you for the suggestions. After too many weeks spent decorating I'd run out of podcasts, so great to have some more ideas!

Ness Harbour said...

I love a good podcast. You might want to look at The Literary Salon with Damian Barr (great archive of episodes), or In Writing with Hattie Crisell. Sophia Bennett's Prepublished is a new but excellent one. There is also Dan Simpson's Writer's Routine and, of course, Simon Mayo's Books of the Year. Nx