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Archives for December 2010

Benjamin Zephaniah visits You and Yours

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Winifred Robinson | 14:06 UK time, Monday, 13 December 2010

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Benjamin Zephaniah

Sometimes on You and Yours, we have what we describe in our planning meetings as a 'pop up guest'. That's someone we think you might want to hear more from than a single item.

On Wednesday, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah was our 'pop-up guest'. Because he's a writer, he works from home and punctuates his day with Radio 4. I know he's tuned in at noon because he called the programme once, when he was told to leave an all night Sainsbury's because 'they didn't allow men in on their own'. That was a few years ago but when we were talking about a children's books programme as a You and Yours in the run up to Christmas I wondered if he'd like to come on.

As I said on Wednesday Benjamin Zephaniah has been called 'the reigning king of children's poetry' he's also writing a successful series of novels for teenagers. One of the novels, 'Refugee Boy' is being discussed soon on Book Club on Radio 4.

So I contacted his agent, who gave me an email address and Benjamin agreed to join us.

I've known who he is for a long time but I have to confess I hadn't read a single word he's written until last year when I went to a Christmas concert in Oxford to raise funds for MacMillan the cancer charity and heard an actress read his 'Turkeys' poem.

I thought it was wonderful and through that poem I've started reading more and more of his work, from the witty, delightful, children's poems to the blazing brilliance of 'Naked'. If you love poetry and you haven't read Benjamin Zephaniah yet, then I think you are missing out.

On You and Yours when we talk about books we look at the way the market works. So we had two discussions with Benjamin in mind - one on children's poetry which is out of fashion with publishers, the other on pop-up and novelty books. These novelty books sell well as Christmas gifts but prices are rising because of higher production costs and changes in the rules about VAT.

If Benjamin is the king of children's poetry, Lucy Cousins the creator of Maisy Mouse will always be the queen of pop-ups for me. I love that chunky little mouse, with the big knickers, so robust and so beautifully drawn. Again, I emailed her agent and she said yes.

So there was just one more element we needed - some children of course.

Once a while ago, we talked about children's books on the programme without asking a child to contribute a review. Always when a programme is over, you realise there are things you could have done better, but that felt like such a glaring omission, we vowed never to do it again. Step forward the children of Betty Layward Primary in east London.


We took to the school, 'Maisy's Show', a new pop up edition of Peter Pan published by Templar, another Christmas book 'Father Christmas All About Me By Me' and a new collection of children's poems compiled by Michael Rosen.

How did I choose them? The poetry collection was recommended by The Poetry Book Society but the other choices were more personal: my son Tony who is 11 spotted the Peter Pan when we were out Christmas shopping and he'd chosen it as a present for his cousin.

The Father Christmas Book came via a friend who is a freelance PR. I saw her in the summer when she happened to have had a proof copy of it and I thought it was extraordinary. It had an old fashioned silver sixpence stuck in for a pudding, and a Christmas letter from a soldier at the Front. And at £24.99 it's expensive for a children's book and illustrated perfectly the rising production costs and retail prices.

I went to the school on Tuesday morning with the programme's producer Steven Williams who later edited these interviews back at the office while I wrote the scripts. The children were delighted with the books and they loved the poetry. The revelation was Father Christmas which I thought was too densely packed with text for children of primary school age and was probably more of a grown-ups posh coffee table book. The five year olds loved it and quite literally couldn't put it down - I think because of the sheer quality of the illustrations.

What did we do with these review copies? We left them with the school of course......

Winifred Robinson presents You and Yours on BBC Radio 4

Chris Danes: our audio diarist on Bipolar disorder

Natasha Emerson | 17:41 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010

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Chris Danes

Chris Danes, his wife and carer Ruth with Peter White at the Mind Mental Health Media Awards

In this guest blog, Chris Danes reflects on his experience of keeping an audio diary for us over the past year.

Radio sets up a relationship between the broadcaster and the speaker- look at how many of lives have been enriched by say, John Humphrys or come to think of it, our favourite comedians. On TV, we feel close to Matt on X-Factor because we are voting for him. I never thought about this until I started doing the Audio Diaries.

The experiences of has been a weird one. Apart from the odd local radio interview about mental health I was a broadcasting virgin, writing bits and pieces, the struggling artist in his lonely garret at last getting his book published. Many a time I had felt like Rudolfo at the beginning of La Bohème burning his manuscripts in the fire to keep warm. I wonder if he had been living on incapacity benefit it would have made much difference. Those of us who have to might suspect not much.

When I am depressed I often have to theorise about killing myself to stop myself from doing it. It can be a bit hard when you're trying to make the brain work overtime when it is precisely the brain which is messed up. But what I do is to think of a list of reasons not to do it. So upsetting my wife and the kids comes first. And somebody has to find the body. And it might hurt. And so forth.

Then what you do is to list the positive things about yourself. You may think you're a bad person but you're not as bad as Hitler or Stalin. You are tormented by the thought that your friends secretly despise you but look and so-and so who is good and kind.

And then you have achieved things. You got your qualifications. You have helped people. You got an email out of the blue from a listener who said something you had spoken about had helped her.

Now, I had an upbringing in which my failures and odd behaviour were diagnosed as sin, and any hint of self-congratulation on reaching an achievement was considered as Pride. I know some wonderful people who have a real goodness from the same background as me too. But you can see how that kind of language can make a depressive very much worse. So sometimes I think it is extra hard for me to do the achievements bit. But the relationship with that listener and others who wrote the feedback to You and Yours seems to have helped both of us. It's something else to hang on to.

So doing the Audio Diaries had an unexpectedly therapeutic effect on me. How long it will last as the memory recedes I don't know. It enabled me to achieve something rather special and it's given me a big thing to cling on to when I feel like poo again. I'm learning to value myself despite my upbringing. And it was more than cool to be in a team with Peter White and Joe Kent, and to find out again that healing is found in the mysterious world of human relationships.

It has been a good journey.

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