Ex Libris cover art

Ex Libris

By: Ben Holden
  • Summary

  • The podcast that champions and celebrates libraries and independent bookshops, with the help of the greatest writers at work today. Each week, host Ben Holden meets a great author in a library or bookshop of their choice, somewhere special for them.
    Copyright, Lightbulb Pictures Ltd, 2019. All rights reserved.
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  • Evie Wyld in Review Bookshop, Peckham
    Mar 26 2020
    For several years, Evie Wyld combined writing fiction with running an independent bookshop - Review, in Peckham, South London. “It seems like the perfect marriage, doesn’t it?” Evie says of the dual role of writer-bookseller, “but sadly you don’t absorb the books through your skin.” Although something about her routine must have worked because the two novels that Evie wrote between serving customers and managing the store - After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and All the Birds, Singing - led to widespread acclaim and, in 2013, she was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. The Observer calls her ‘one of our most gifted novelists’. Evie has now stepped back from the day-to-day of running Review but maintains a close involvement with the shop. She has also written a third novel, The Bass Rock. It is an epic, bracing novel, full of anger and heart - one that Max Porter has called a ‘triumph… haunting, masterful.’ In this episode - released to coincide with the day of its publication - Evie and Ben explore the The Bass Rock: they traverse its gothic landscape, touchstone themes and overlapping timeframes; they also browse Evie's bookshop; and, along the way, discuss everything in between - from the Me Too movement to tickling.   ...   A full transcript of this episode featuring Evie Wyld follows below:   Ben Holden: Evie, thank you so much for hosting us here in your lovely home. Evie Wyld: Pleasure. Ben Holden: Can we talk initially though about Review, about the bookshop, where we'll head over to in a bit? I'm just curious how your involvement with the shop came about and the history of the place, etc. Evie Wyld: Well, Ros Simpson opened the shop about 12 years ago now when there really wasn't all that much in Peckham, and she just opened this nice little shop and I happened to live down the road from it, and I sort of wandered in a bit sort of fecklessly one day and was like, “Have you got any work?” [laughs] and she, she hired me - on the spot. And then I worked behind the till for about 10 years. I wrote my first book there when it was a lot quieter; we didn't quite have the footfall that we have today. And I worked there up until I got pregnant, and then we got my friend Katia Wengraf to manage it, who is a brilliant bookseller, and is much better than I ever was actually. Ben Holden: How so? Evie Wyld: I was much more of a silent, sort of glowering presence I think in the shop. I was much more Black Books and she's very good at remembering everyone's name and suggesting… Ben Holden: “If you like this, you'll like that” Evie Wyld: Yeah, and more than books really; she kind of orchestrates great friendships and relationships in Peckham, so she just sorts you out, whatever your problem is basically, she’s one of those people. And she was, at the time that we hired her, a milliner. She was making her own really beautiful hats. So the idea was, this would be a job that would enable her to carry on with that, but she loves bookselling so much that now she is a full on career bookseller. Ben Holden: So how did you juggle the writing and the shop over the years? Evie Wyld: Well, I mean, initially, with the first book, it was…we have a nice tall counter, and I just propped my laptop up and wrote a book, and ate sandwiches when no one can see [laughs]. And then with the second book, it was quite a lot more work, because with the second book, Ros had moved away to Ireland so I had more responsibility. I was managing it. And so then it was just a case of writing early in the morning, late at night, I guess. And then yeah, the third one, I was out. So then I discovered that writing with a baby is much harder than writing with a job. [Laughter] Ben Holden: And were you inspired in those early times, writing in the shop, by all the sort of plethora of books around you and voices? Evie Wyld: I'd love to say I was… Ben Holden: Or was it a hindrance? Evie Wyld: No, I don’t think it was either. I think it's one of those things that it seems like a perfect sort of marriage doesn't it? Ben Holden: There is a certain romance, kind of booky romance to this. Evie Wyld: Yeah, there is. Sadly you don't absorb the books through your skin [laughs]. So I think I looked at it much more like, it probably changed the way that I sold books rather than changed the way I wrote. A bit like if you're a butcher who rears the pig and butchers the pig you're going to sell it with more love perhaps than you would otherwise [laughs]. Ben Holden: So your new book – we’ll go to the bookshop later and have a have a proper browse - your new book, The Bass Rock, can you tell us a little bit about the novel and maybe you might read the opening for us? Evie Wyld: Sure. The Bass Rock is a volcanic plug just off the coast of Scotland, off the coast of North Berwick. It's this big, dark, sort of malevolent presence and it has borne witness to centuries, millennia of, of murder of...
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    47 mins
  • Tessa Hadley in Redland Library, Bristol
    Mar 17 2020
    “It’s strange and haunting to be back here after a very, very long time,” says Tessa Hadley of heading inside seminal childhood destination, Redland Library. " I can still remember the feeling of entering the new book, the first page like a threshold, that excitement and thrill… And  at some point thinking ‘I want to make my own stories...’” Those stories that Tessa has gone on to write - thus far, three collections of short stories and six acclaimed novels - continue to garner widespread acclaim. She engenders similar wonder today in her own readers. Her peers are unanimous in their praise. She is ‘one of the best fiction writers writing today,’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie declares. In the words of Hilary Mantel, Tessa ‘recruits admirers with each book: she is one of those writers a reader trusts.’ And few writers give Zadie Smith ‘such consistent pleasure’. Tessa’s writing came to prominence partly via the pages of The New Yorker magazine, to which she continues to contribute short stories. Her most recent novel is Late in the Day and her awards include the Windham-Campbell Prize. She lives in London but chose to meet with Ex Libris in Bristol. Tessa first went to Redland Library with her school, as an infant. Before long, she was going there by herself - devouring the entire children’s section of books before, around the age of 12, foraying further into the library, travelling alphabetically around the adult shelves (Elizabeth Bowen’s writing, first encountered on those forays, remains a key inspiration). Redland is a striking building, established in the 1880s. Like so many libraries in the UK, it has faced challenges during recent years of austerity. Yet the place has not buckled and remains a vital destination. A proper palace for the people. Joining Tessa to put all of that into vital context is Councillor Asher Craig, who also grew up visiting the library as a kid and now is responsible for the library services in Bristol. Asher explains Redland’s situation today and lays bare those challenges of recent years. The two share fond, nostalgic memories of growing up in Bristol. They pore over sepia photos from the archives of the old place in its pomp, compare notes on Anne of Green Gables, and delight - all these years later - in exploring the shelves anew.   ...   A full transcript of this episode, featuring Tessa Hadley, follows: Few writers give me such consistent pleasure as Tessa Hadley.  These are Zadie Smith’s words, but I second them wholeheartedly: “I'm a big fan, as are many other readers. Indeed, Hilary Mantel has observed that Tessa recruits admirers with each book. She is one of those writers a reader trusts”. Damn right.  And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls her “one of the best fiction writers writing today”. Tessa Hadley is the author of three collections of short stories - that's how I first discovered her work via those stories in the pages of the New Yorker magazine, to which she frequently contributes. She has also written six acclaimed novels, most recently, ‘Late in the Day’. Tessa lives in London and is professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. She has chosen though to meet today in Bristol, at Redland Library, which she would frequent as a child. It's a handsome old place, built in the 1880s. It's faced a few challenges during recent years of austerity that have led to campaigns by Friends groups for its preservation. But Redland has not buckled and stands proud. Indeed, today, it's in scaffolding, they're doing some more works to keep it strong as ever. Like so many libraries up and down the land, it's a vital destination, a proper palace for the people - it has been for well over a century. Joining us with Tessa to put all of that into some context is local Councillor, Asher Craig, who also grew up visiting the library. Without further ado, let's head on in and get talking with them both.   Interview Ben Holden: Tessa, Asher, thank you very, very much for joining us and meeting here in Redland Library. Tessa, I know it's a special place for you and you immediately chose it as the venue for today. Can you tell us what it signifies and perhaps also a bit of background, describe the place - it's a very striking library. Perhaps you could evoke it a little bit for our listeners. Tessa Hadley: Built in the late 19th century of sort of big, chunky red stone, and with handsome great, grand windows letting in lots of light on the books inside; it's quite a tiny library, although books are small so you can pack an awful lot of books into a small library. Exactly as I remember it from my childhood - you come in through the front door, and both Asher and I, it was that metal door handle on the door that brought memories of long ago rushing back. You come in through the door and the children's section, I think it's still as it was, is laid out to right and left. And then ahead of you, up the stairs is the adult section. ...
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    52 mins
  • Gyles Brandreth in Barnes Bookshop
    Mar 10 2020
    Gyles Brandreth has been entertaining Brits for decades - charming multiple generations on shows such as Just A Minute, The One Show, Celebrity Gogglebox and Countdown.  His many books include a series of novels featuring his fellow wit Oscar Wilde and a recent best-selling celebration of good punctuation, spelling and grammar, Have you Eaten Grandma?  His latest offering is the anthology Dancing by the Light of the Moon, which celebrates the magic of learning poetry by heart. ‘Words have been my life,’ Gyles says during this episode’s conversation. He also describes bookshops as ‘safe havens in an uncivilised world’ and talks of his time in government, during the 1990s, when his remit at the Department of Culture included crafting policy for libraries. Gyles lives in West London and selected Barnes Bookshop, run by Venetia Vyvyan, as his home-from-home venue for Ex Libris. It is a beautiful local bookshop of more than 30 years’ standing. When making that choice, Gyles described Venetia as ‘a model of everything a brilliant independent bookseller should be.’     ...   A full transcript of this episode of Ex Libris, featuring Gyles Brandreth, runs below:   Gyles Brandreth has been entertaining Brits for decades and his broadcasting brilliance continues to charm multiple generations, be it on ‘Just a Minute’, ‘The One Show’, ‘Celebrity Gogglebox’ or his regular appearances on the likes of ‘QI’ and ‘Have I Got News for you’.  Gyles is also an actor and Chancellor of the University of Chester.  He served in government as Lord Commissioner of the Treasury.  It is primarily his writer hat, though, that I want him to don today.  Charles’s many books include a series of novels about his fellow wit, Oscar Wilde, and a recent best-selling celebration of good punctuation, spelling and grammar, ‘Have you eaten grandma’?  His latest offering is the anthology ‘Dancing by the Light of the Moon’, which celebrates the magic of learning poetry by heart.  Gyles lives in West London and has selected Barnes bookshop run by Venetia Vyvyan as his home from home for today.  When making the choice, Gyles described Venetia to me as:  “a model of everything a brilliant independent bookseller should be”.  So here's a really bad, unwitty, little poem for you:  “lest there be repetition, or repetition or dread deviation, oh, and by the way, we happen to be recording this on Valentine's Day, let alone hesitation, let's commence this very minute... the conversation."     Interview   Ben Holden: Gyles, Venetia, thank you so much for seeing us here in beautiful Barnes bookshop today.   Gyles, question number one, obviously, is why Barnes bookshop, it was the first place you wanted to come to today?   Gyles Brandreth: Because I love a bookshop, anyway.  A bookshop for me is one of the safe havens in an uncivilised world.  If one is feeling low, you've got to walk down the high street or side street, or whatever, and find a bookshop.  And suddenly, as you go through the door, you'll feel less low.  As you begin to browse the shelves, your spirits lift.  As you come down into the basement of this bookshop, you think, “Oh, the world's a good place.  After all, everything's all right”.  And that's been part and parcel of my life, all my life.  As a child, I was brought up in London, and Barnes is in south-west London, and it's south of the river.  And, of course, until I was an adult, I'd never been south of the river, didn't think one dared go south of the river; and I was brought up really in the West End; my parents lived in a block of flats, Victorian mansion flats, in Baker Street.  Near us there was a bookshop called ‘Bumpus’, older listeners will remember Bumpus, but almost all your listeners really, whatever vintage, will remember ‘Foyles’.  ‘Foyles’ bookshop still exists on the Charing Cross road, they now have other branches, but when I was a boy, going back a long way now, in the 1950s, as a child, I discovered Foyles bookshop.  It was heaven on earth, because it was chaotic, it was completely chaotic.  Did you go to Foyles in the old days?   Venetia Vyvyan: I did, but I was more of a John Sandoe person, I'm afraid.   Gyles Brandreth: That's good.  We have got middlebrow, I represent middlebrow, and we have highbrow.  Let me tell you what the middlebrow child did, the middlebrow child went to Foyles.  Now, Foyles bookshop was run then by a lady called Miss Foyle, Christina Foyle, who lived to a great age, and she ran this chaotic bookshop, I say chaotic, it truly was.  Books were never properly unpacked, never properly put on the shelf; there were boxes everywhere, books, trailing everywhere, and to get a book was quite a complicated process - you chose your book, you then took your book to one counter where you got a receipt for the book, you took that receipt to a till, you paid at the till, your money was then ...
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    58 mins

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