Nicholas Shakespeare Interviewed on ABC

The Australian network ABC has posted a podcast of its literary program The Bookshelf that Made Me. This is intended to go beyond the constraints of its broadcast version, and its first guest is Nicholas Shakespeare. He is best known in this parish as the writer-director of the BBC’s 1980s three episode Arena TV documentary series about Evelyn Waugh, now referred to as The Waugh Trilogy. But he has also written several novels as well as some nonfiction. The interviewer is the program’s usual presenter Kate Evans. Here is the network’s description of this episode on its website:

The Bookshelf that Made Me: A series of interviews in which writers reveal the books that have shaped both their latest book, and their lives and writing more broadly.

Nicholas Shakespeare is a biographer, critic, essayist and documentary maker as well as a novelist. He’s written nonfiction works on Bruce Chatwin, Winston Churchill, on an Englishwoman living in WWll France among others, and his novels include The Dancer Upstairs and Inheritance.

His latest novel, The Sandpit (Harvill Secker), was reviewed on The Bookshelf recently.

And it was with The Sandpit in mind that Kate Evans spoke to Shakespeare about the antecedents of this literary thriller, as well as the other books and writers that have shaped him.

The program extends over about 30 minutes, and Shakespeare mentions Evelyn Waugh three times. He first recalls that he actually met Graham Greene (one of his favorite authors) when he interviewed him for the Arena series on Waugh. Then in answer to a question of what books he had recently re-read, he began by saying he approached re-reading with some hesitation, because he fears seeing flaws in something he once had liked. This happened recently in the case of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. He had read it as a student and thought it “a tiny jewl with no word out of place.” On re-reading, he found it a bit “baggier” with several longuers he hadn’t noticed earlier. Finally, when asked which of his favorites he had failed to mention in the interview so far, he returned to Waugh. And given this second chance he mentions Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour war trilogy in which he thinks Waugh cannot write a bad sentence. He is currently re-reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels as part of his project to write a biography of Fleming authorized by the Fleming family.


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