Book Ends, Episode 11: Ramona Koval

This is a rather momentous episode, listeners and readers!

My guest for Episode 11 is Ramona Koval, one of Australia’s most respected literary journalists and broadcasters, who hosted the now departed Book Show on ABC Radio National for over five years. Known for her fascinating in-depth interviews with writers, it’s fair to say that Ramona and her work have been a real influence on me. In fact, the end of The Book Show devastated me so much that I was moved to start this very podcast!

Ramona Koval

Ramona Koval

In addition to her work as a broadcaster, Ramona is also editor of The Best Australian Essays (2011 and 2012 editions) and hosts The Monthly’s online book club.

She has written reviews, features and columns for newspapers including The Age and The Weekend Australian. She has been a guest interviewer at international literary festivals in Edinburgh, Montreal, Berlin, Cheltenham, Auckland, Wellington and all over Australia.

Ramona is also a writer in her own right, having written a novel, Samovar, collections of interviews including Speaking Volumes, and a cook book, Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks. Ramona’s love of books started very early in her life, as it did for me.

“Books could take you out of your own life, to another family, another country….you could live many lives, not just the life you had.”

– Ramona Koval, in this interview

So, fittingly, her most recent book is By The Book: A Reader’s Guide to Life, a journey through her life as a reader and book lover. Part memoir, part literary and social history, and written with Ramona’s trademark warmth, it’s a celebration of the books that have meant a great deal to her over the years but also a meditation on how the books we read often shape our lives, our characters, our understanding of the world and even occasionally our destinies.

When I was in Melbourne in June, knowing in all likelihood I wouldn’t be there again for some time, I thought I’d be brave and ask Ramona if she would be interested in being a guest on this podcast. To my utter delight (and shock and amazement) she graciously agreed.

For the first time in my life, I was about 20 minutes early for our appointment and so I enjoyed a soy latte – there is nothing like Melbourne coffee – in a cafe around the corner and re-read a bit of her book while I waited:

By The Book

And then I walked the block or so up to a National Trust house, trams merrily ding-dinging past.  This “funny little house” (as Ramona put it!) has been converted into offices of sorts which are rented out to writers to use as their working space. Ramona kindly brewed me some Greek mountain tea and we sat in her sparse office, the early winter afternoon sky slowly darkening and only a long desk with a computer, a small pile of books and our steaming mugs of tea and my mp3 recorder between us. It really was one of those “pinch yourself” moments.

In this generous and intimate interview, Ramona expands on some of the tales she tells in By The Book; sharing some of the books that have shaped her and that she associates with particular times in her life (there are some rather hilarious stories!); her eclectic range of interests; memorable moments in her broadcasting career; and the transition from life as a journalist to life as a writer.

It’s not often in life that you get to actually meet the people who inspired you to get going on your own path and to be able to thank them in person. I am grateful that starting this podcast has enabled me to meet so many of those people and particularly in this case. I did not take a minute of being there for granted. It was one of the happiest and proudest afternoons of my career.

Ramona Koval and Philippa Moore

Thank you Ramona for all the inspiration over the years and for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon chatting in your studio. Thank you Tom for the usual brilliant stirring and mixing of the audio. And thank YOU for listening!

You can listen to the podcast here:

Or you can download it in iTunes 

Or download the file separately to your computer.

Ramona’s latest book, By The Book: A Reader’s Guide To Life is currently available at bookshops in Australia and New Zealand and will be published in the UK and the US in November 2013.

Guests

Ramona Koval
Australian writer, journalist and broadcaster

Publications mentioned

By The Book: A Reader’s Guide To Life by Ramona Koval (Text)

Eating Your Heart Out: Food, Shape and the Body Industry by Ramona Koval (Penguin) (out of print)

The Trial by Franz Kafka (Penguin Modern Classics)

Ulysses by James Joyce (Wordsworth Editions)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Penguin Classics)

 The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Harvill Press Editions)

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Complete Kama Sutra by Mallanaga Vatsyayana and Alain Danielou (trans) (Inner Traditions Bear and Company)

Clara: A Novel by Janice Galloway (Simon & Schuster)

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius and Robert Graves (trans) (Penguin Classics)

The Icelandic Sagas (Penguin)

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons (trans) (Penguin Classics)

Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain by Roger Deakin (Vintage)

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (Penguin)

Credits

Presenter
Philippa Moore
Producer
Tom Schoon 
Music
“At The Western Wall” by Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier (from their excellent album Stories of Ghosts, buy here

Book Ends, Episode 10: Rae Earl

And just like that, we’re on Episode 10 of Book Ends! I had every intention of it being more regular than this but I’m happy we’re still churning them out as the literary world proves to be a goldmine of interesting and inspiring people to chat to.

Rae Earl

The special guest for this episode is Rae Earl, author of My Mad Fat Teenage Diary, which became an acclaimed TV series, My Mad Fat Diary, earlier this year on E4 (the book is now referred to as My Mad Fat Diary too).

The book is a collection of the journals Rae kept the year she turned 17 – it was 1989, the Berlin Wall was still up, Charles and Di were still together and Rae herself had just been released from a psychiatric ward, suffering from extreme anxiety, self-harm and OCD. There was very little known about, or services available for, adolescent mental health at that time and often teenagers suffering from mental illnesses were lumped in with the adults, as Rae was.

Sharon Rooney as Rae Earl in My Mad Fat Diary. Photograph: Channel 4/PA via The Guardian

As well as this to deal with was her mum’s new Moroccan bodybuilder boyfriend, constant dodging of the neighbourhood bullies (aka The Green Lane Twats) and a perpetual quest to shift some of her 14 ½ stone from her “five foot stumpy four” frame. Writing became Rae’s therapy and her journals recorded all the details of that tumultuous year.

Sharon Rooney as Rae Earl in My Mad Fat Diary, E4

Over a decade later, working as a broadcaster and married to a very lovely Aussie bloke, Rae was about to throw the diaries out when her husband noticed the pile of dog-eared notebooks and asked what they were. He encouraged her not only to keep them but to share some of the (less naughty!) content on their radio show. The response she got from their listeners motivated Rae to collate and publish the journals as My Mad Fat Teenage Diary. In the book’s introduction, Rae poignantly states:

“Everything I’ve written is true. I’ve changed people’s names but they all existed. (One person is actually a mixture of three people: Bethany – she’s three girls rolled into one. There is never just one bitch in a fat, mad girl’s life.) I’ve taken some liberties with time, but everything happened. Every word. I’m sharing it because these days it makes me laugh – and because I still see fat girls everywhere labelled as ‘bubbly with a nice personality’. And I suppose I want to tell them (and everyone else) that in the end it’s all OK. You can be fat and nuts and a virgin when you are 17 – and things can still turn out OK.”

Rae is also the author of OMG! Is This Actually My Life? Hattie Moore’s Unbelievable Year, a YA fictional diary set in the present day, published earlier this year.

In a bizarre coincidence, Rae now happens to live in my hometown and has become a close family friend. So on a recent trip back to Australia I popped round for a coffee and Rae graciously agreed to be this episode’s guest.

Rae and I in her living room, looking at her books!

Rae and I in her living room, looking at her books!

In this magnum opus of an interview, Rae shares the process of turning a personal diary into a book for all the world to read; the response to it; the events that inspired it; the surreal-ness of seeing someone playing YOU in a TV show; hidden phallus projections in English literature; and of course her tips and advice for budding young writers. She even reads excerpts from her two books – we begin with Mad Fat Diary and there’s an excerpt of Hattie Moore at 22:24. I must apologise for being unable to stifle a giggle at some point, listen out for it.

“The teenage experience goes across all generations….it could be set in 2247 and it would still work. The point is not the era, it’s the subject matter.” – Rae Earl in this interview

And like Hattie, I totally got the teasing about having the surname Moore. I even gave Rae a few more (no pun intended) to use in future Hattie stories 🙂

I got to see Rae’s writing shed too. It was as awesome as it sounds.

Where the magic happens....

Where the magic happens….

Rae and I in the shed...not much room to move. And cold, hence the blanket ;)

Rae and I in the shed…not much room to move. And cold, hence the blanket 😉

Thank you Rae for a wonderful few hours in your home, for the milk chocolate McVities and for being the most hilarious Book Ends guest I’ve had so far!

Thank you Tom (who makes his first Book Ends appearance in this episode too) for being the patient genius audio producer that you are.

And thank YOU for listening and reading and following Book Ends! I hope you enjoy this episode – it was thoroughly enjoyable to put together.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Or you can download it in iTunes 

Or download the file separately to your computer.

Guests

Rae Earl
British writer

Publications mentioned

My Mad Fat Teenage Diary (now released as My Mad Fat Diary) by Rae Earl (Hodder)

OMG! Is This Actually My Life? Hattie Moore’s Unbelievable Year by Rae Earl (Walker)

What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (Penguin)

The Turn of The Screw by Henry James (Oxford Paperbacks)

Mister Men by Roger Hargreaves (Price Stern Sloan)

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend (Puffin)

1984 by George Orwell (Penguin Classics)

“This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin (poem)

My Mad Fat Diary E4 web site

Credits

Presenter
Philippa Moore
Producer
Tom Schoon 
Music
‘I Want A Dog’ by The Pet Shop Boys (buy on iTunes)
‘Babies’ by Pulp (buy on iTunes)
‘David’s Last Summer’ by Pulp (buy on iTunes)