I’m lucky enough to have appeared on BBC Radio 4’s literary-discussion programme Open Book several times.
My first two appearances, coinciding with the publication of my non-fiction book Reading the World and debut novel Beside Myself, were exciting affairs. They involved a trip to Broadcasting House in central London, friendly off-mike discussions with star presenters Mariella Frostrup and Alex Clark, truckloads of wires and microphones, and a gaggle of talented producers and assistants running around to make sure everything was just so.
This week sees the broadcast of my third appearance on the show. This time the recording experience was rather different.
Instead of travelling to central London, I was in my living room, hunched in an armchair as close to the wireless router as I could get to try to ensure optimal signal strength. Rather than acres of expensive soundproofing, my noise-reduction techniques consisted of asking my husband and daughter to go out, and texting the neighbours to see if they might be able to hold off music practice for an hour. Instead of an army of technically savvy studio bods, there was only me and a recorded message being piped through my laptop telling me that I was connected to the BBC and that someone would be with me shortly.
My desk this time was my knees. And my microphone was a piece of kit I’d brought cheaply over the internet after the one built into my laptop failed.
Eventually, producer Kirsten came on the line, followed by the host Elizabeth Day and fellow guest Max Liu. We attempted the usual friendly pre-recording chat, but not being able to see one another and the slight challenge of microphones being faded in and out made it tricky to talk as effortlessly as we might have had we all been in the same room.
Then the recording started. Elizabeth Day was exceptionally professional and, after introducing the topic of travel writing, ably led us through the discussion, directing questions evenhandedly. Once again, not being in the same room meant that it was difficult to bounce off one another, giving the segment a slightly more formal, stage-managed feel than it might otherwise have had. I also found that I had to make a conscious decision to shut out my domestic surroundings in order to attain the heightened focus that being in the studio would have given me.
This was particularly the case when I discovered, mid-session, that the producers wanted to hear an extract from one of the books I had mentioned and I had to read it out unrehearsed. (Luckily, I had brought the copy down with me from my writing room.)
Nevertheless, we got through it without major disasters. In fact, it was fun. I was intrigued to hear Max Liu’s thoughts on the titles he had chosen, in particular, Johnny Pitts’s excellent travel memoir Afropean.
When I listened to the first broadcast on Sunday, I was pretty happy with the result: I don’t think it’s possible to tell that I was crouched over my laptop, crossing my fingers that no-one next door would start playing the piano or drums.
The programme repeats this afternoon at 3.30pm (UK time) and is available online, so if you’re interested, you can check it out and decide for yourself…