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Alcohol's influence on literature; James Runcie; Grace McCleen

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 28 July 2013

Mariella Frostrup talks to Grace McCleen about her new novel The Professor of Poetry. MCCleen's debut novel The Land of Decoration caused tremors of excitement in the publishing world when it won the Betty Trask Award, the Desmond Elliott Prize Award, was a Richard and Judy selection and got the author included in the Waterstones 11 in 2012. Brought up in a religious sect, The Land of Decoration focused on the experiences of an isolated young girl in a similarly religious environment who tries to create her own alternative world, the eponymous land of the title. After intermittent schooling on the advice of a teacher Grace herself went on to study English at Oxford and has been , since then, torn between her love of music and prose, announcing that the three novels she's already penned will be her last. The second of these three novels The Professor of Poetry, which is just published, perhaps best illustrates McCleens split interests, telling the story of an academic, Professor Stone, enthralled to Elliots Four Quartets who rekindles an old romance after surviving a potentially fatal illness.

James Runcie celebrates the centenary of the novelist Barbara Pym's birth. Dismissed at one time as the scribe of lightweight entertainments, Philip Larkin, one of Pym's many literary admirers, said that he would sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen. Pym created a world steeped in parish life, and full of delightful and colourful characters, many of whom are based on the people she met along the way, including her eventful time in Italy during the war. James Runcie himself made a bio pic of Pym's life when he was a TV producer and his own Grantchester Mysteries, with their detective priest, have been described as "Barbara Pym with sex."

One of the most popular images in contemporary literature is that of the Chardonnay swigging Bridget Jones and her constant battle with her alcohol unit intake. But Bridget is by no means the only lush in literary history - alcohol plays a part in some of the greatest classics from Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim to Tender is the Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald. Writer and bon viveur Kevin Jackson and Olivia Laing, whose latest book is The Trip to Echo Spring, Why Writers Drink, in which she takes a road trip across the United States exploring the drinking literary legacy of writers including Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and John Cheever, discuss whether without alcohol we would have a poorer literary legacy, and in what way writers have dispelled some of the many myths that have grown up around the perils of alcohol addiction.

Producer: Andrea Kidd.

  • Read the Opening Chapter of The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

    Chapter 1: The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

    The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen

    Barbara Pym:
    Publisher: Virago

    Some Tame Gazelle
    A Glass of Blessings
    No Fond Return of Love
    Jane and Prudence
    An Academic Question
    Less Than Angels

    The Granchester Mysteries:
    Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night by James Runcie
    Publisher: Bloomsbury

    Grace McCleen
    The Land of Decoration
    The Professor of Poetry
    Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

    Literature and alcohol
    The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing
    Publisher: Canongate

    Tender is The Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
    Publisher: Penguin

    Recovery by John Berryman
    Publisher: Pan McMillan

    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
    Publisher: Penguin

    Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

    The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
    Publisher: Penguin

    Phillip Marlowe by Raymond Chandler
    Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

    Gerard Woodward I’ll Go To Bed At Noon
    Publisher: Chatto & Windus


Mariella Frostrup
Interviewed Guest
Grace McCleen
Interviewed Guest
James Runcie
Interviewed Guest
Kevin Jackson
Interviewed Guest
Olivia Laing
Andrea Kidd


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