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Ian McMillan and The Verb - Getting to Grips with Garp

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Ian McMillan Ian McMillan | 09:24 UK Time, Friday, 16 October 2009

john_irving.jpgOn this week's Verb I talked to the fantastic American novelist John Irving, author of epics like The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. His new novel, Last Night in Twisted River, is a hugely Irvingesque tale of cooking, revenge, love and family and I found myself swimming it for days in the week before I met him and being thoroughly captivated and drawn into his world; sometimes I'm not great with plot when I'm reading novels and I forget who's who and what relationship they've got to each other.

With Last Night in Twisted River I got exactly what was going on, and that's tribute to Irving's skill. The man himself, like many Americans, was charming and articulate (I put that down to lots of Show and Tell in Primary School) and willing to be engaged with the process of The Verb. On this week's show we've also got a ghosty story from Frank Cottrell Boyce, a Freethought on the new OED Historical Thesaurus and a preview of this year's Freethinking Drama which is a heartbreaking piece about child abuse and the idea that, somehow, we're all responsible.

Ah, Freethinking! Not long to go now, and I have to say that I can't wait to get up to Gateshead because The Sage is one of my favourite venues; I did a gig there a couple of years ago with my band The Ian McMillan Orchestra and it is one of the friendliest and nicest venues I've been to in a long time. Don't call it Newcastle, though: that gets them cross.

As well as the Verb up at Gateshead, I'm presenting a Book At Breakfast event with the Cumbrian novelist Sarah Hall. I've been a fan of Sarah's since her first novel Haweswater: I like the way she can capture a Northern way of thinking and speaking and still create universal stories. Her new book How to Paint a Dead Man has accompanied me on a few train journeys recently; it's essentially a story about the power of visual art and the way that the visual imagination is perhaps superior to the verbal. I'm looking forward to talking to Sarah and the audience about it.

I did my own little Freethought the other day, too, about one of my longstanding passions and concerns: why can't we appreciate avant-garde and difficult poetry a bit more ? A nice fat magazine landed on my mat this week: The Cambridge Literary Review, a splendidly chewy new publication that concentrates on writing from Cambridge and (it's slightly different) Cambridge writing, poets like J H Prynne, Peter Riley and Veronica Forrest Thompson. I can't wait to start reading it, and it suggest a Verb item to me: 'What exactly is Cambridge Poetry ? Discuss.'

Ah well, there goes the weekend! Come and see us in Gateshead, and come and say hello to me. I'm the one who looks like a Beat Generation Les Dawson.



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