I first discovered podcasts when everyone was talking about the first series of Serial towards the end of 2014. Up until then, I’d kind of assumed that they would be slightly amateurish, poor quality journalism and that they’d sound as if they were recorded in someone’s bedroom.
Indeed, many podcasts are created by amateurs with other jobs for whom the spoken word and the subjects they explore are their passion but others are completely professional – some Radio 4 programmes are available to download such as The Archers and their Friday night comedy strand. There are variations in approach – some don’t want to sound slick – but sound quality is largely excellent so don’t worry that your ears will be assaulted by hisses and crackles. Even if a podcast sounds a bit rough in the early days, quality normally increases rapidly as producers realise how necessary it is if they want to build an audience.
Serial really boosted the medium’s profile and there were masses of articles suggesting other podcasts that Serial fans might enjoy so I started exploring and found a number that I really enjoyed. Now, I have an interesting – and decidedly eclectic – list of podcasts that I subscribe to via iTunes (probably the easiest way to download although there are others) and each week I have a new selection to listen to while walking, driving or stuck at my desk doing admin.
Some are perfect for booklovers – both readers and writers – and I thought I’d share some of them in case you might have missed them. If you can recommend other podcasts do say so in the comments as it’s always good to discover new ones. NB: I’ve linked to the websites of the podcasts so that you can download via the method that works for you.
- The Journeyman Writer is a thrice-weekly podcast from Alastair Stephens at Storywonk; a company he runs with his wife Lani Diane Rich offering various publishing services from editing to digital self-publishing. Episodes are around 10 minutes long and concentrate on straightford, practical advice for writers. I dip in and out and always find something worth listening to. As a side note, Alastair and Lani are big fans of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and made a really interesting series of podcasts about that last year, where they looked at the TV adaptation from the point of view of writers.
- The Guardian Books podcast, produced weekly and presented by Guardian books editor Claire Armistead includes author intereviews, readings, discussions and the recording of their monthly book club events. Recent episodes have included segments about TS Eliot, Francis Hardinge, Frederick Forsyth, Harper Lee, Kazuo Ishiguo and EL James. So eclectic then.
- You Wrote the Book was created by blogger Simon Savidge, and is a fortnightly podcast where Simon interviews a writer whose work he’s particularly interested in. By devoting each 40minute-ish episode to one writer it’s more in depth which is great. It’s like an author event at a bookshop or festival save that you have to rely on Simon to ask the questions instead of being able to stick your hand up at the end. Fortunately he does. I really like it, enough to overlook the minor problems with sound.
- The New Yorker Radio Hour is a joy – it’s essentially an audio version of some of the best bits of the magazine. It’s more cultural than literary and episodes have included such interesting people as Gloria Steinem, Patti Smith, jazz pianist Robert Glasper, writer Jonathan Safran Foer. And in episode 12 Sarah Koenig of Serial is interviewed about her career. The bits with writers will inspire you and the rest may change the way you look at the world.
- Books and Authors is a podcast from radio 4, containing episodes from A Good Read and Open Book, their two main literary shows. Recent podcasts have included such luminaries as Diana Athill, Janice YK Lee, Ann Cleeves and William Boyd.
- Crime Writers On… began as a podcast about Serial and has since expanded to talk about true crime, crime fiction, journalism and the like. Lately they’ve been talking about Making A Murderer and series 2 of Serial. Presented by a couple of true-crime writers, a noir novelist and a journalist, it’s always interesting.
- Grammar Girl is brilliant – short episodes each looking at a particular grammar rule such as effect/affect, semi-colons and passive voices. As someone who only learnt a rule for remembering when to use stationery and when to use stationary in my late-thirties, I can highly recommend this podcast. If you have a teenager and could persuade them to subscribe and listen to the weekly episodes, you’d be loved forever by their English teacher.
- I Should Be Writing is a long-running, award-winning podcast from Mur Lafferty and is about the craft of writing, this is: “a show about a writer going from wanna-be to pro. Focusing on the emotional road blocks one finds in a writing career, this show speaks to over 8000 listeners every week.”
- Ditch Diggers, the sibling show to ISBW is brilliant too. It focuses on the lot of the working writer, the ditch-diggers who has to just crack on and get over their angst about the craft of writing and just do it because: “Ditch diggers don’t wait to be inspired to dig a ditch, they do it because it’s their job and they won’t eat if they don’t.”
- Thinking Sideways is one of my favourite podcasts. It’s not about writing, or reading but rather about things that can’t be explained whether it’s a missing person, reports of a UFO sighting, an unsolved murder or an inexplicable phenomenon such as the Marie Celeste or the Kensington Runestone. Writing is all about thinking ‘what if?’ and this podcast is great for getting your ideas flowing. One of the best from the point of view of a writer was Who Was Peter Bergmann – there’s an entire novel in his story. Devin, Joe and Steve met in a bar, got chatting about unsolved mysteries and now meet up each week to discuss a new one. It’s very well-made without being too slick and I love it. Notwithstanding that, I have got twitchy about some of the British stories and even emailed to say that if they needed help on pronunciation or aspects of our culture then they should get in touch…
So there you have it – do let me know if there are any others that you think I should check out.