At 12.00 on Tuesday 11th March I appeared as a guest on the Anne Diamond show on BBC Radio Berkshire. Ostensibly, I was invited to talk about the superiority of contemporary American fiction and the relative poverty of English fiction but as things turned out the conversation took some unexpected turns. As I was being interviewed in the studio by the redoubtable Ms Diamond, another guest joined us on an external line: the English author of crime fiction, Simon Kernick. This led to two parallel conversations taking place: one between myself and Ms Diamond on the differences between English and American literary fiction and another one between Ms Diamond and Mr Kernick on the relative merits of US and British crime fiction. There were some points of connection and indeed agreement: Mr Kernick, while pointing out that he and other British authors of crime fiction were producing interesting and original work, acknowledged that ‘85%’ of the crime fiction he reads is American. We also agreed that the best television writing has been coming out of America for some time now, with series such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad matching the ambition and adventure of a generation of American novelists who have produced their finest work in what we might call the HBO era, such as Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Eugenides.
We ended up talking about the impact that modern technology is having on the writing of fiction: I pointed out that here, too, US authors are taking the lead, with Jennifer Egan publishing her most recent novel, Black Box, in a series of tweets and short-story writers such as the winner of yesterday’s inaugural Folio Prize, George Saunders, and Lydia Davis, winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, publishing stories not much longer (and sometimes even shorter) than tweets.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience: I have appeared twice before on Radio Berkshire but this was the first time I’d visited their studios in Caversham, which are housed in a lovely Victorian building on the site of a former stately home. Best of all, having been interviewed last year by Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid, I can now add another broadcasting legend of breakfast television to the list of names I can drop!
You can hear a podcast of the show here (my slot begins at 2 hours 5 minutes in):