Review: Radio Girls

9780749020682RADIO GIRLS
Sarah-Jane Stratford

The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio …and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC London, 1926.

‘If we have the sense to give [broadcasting] freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation by vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.’

Hilda Matheson, Broadcasting (1933)

Did you know talk radio was started by a woman? Did you know she wrote a handbook for radio broadcasting in 1933? And was also an agent of MI5? And worked with Lawrence of Arabia and Lady Astor? Does it sound like too much to pack into a novel? Are you now shouting aloud, ‘Why has no one told me about this amazing woman before!’ because I certainly was. Hilda Matheson was a pioneer, a visionary, spy, writer, insightful revolutionary, lover of Vita Sackville-West — well, it’s all gilding the lily a bit. If she hadn’t existed, you’d have wanted to invent her.

In this novel Stratford does a very wise thing: she looks at Matheson through the eyes of a young Canadian-American expat whose life is transformed by working with her. In so doing she gets to use all the fun of a novel (adventure, romance, intrigue, friendships) to show the glories of the beginning of the institution that is the BBC. It was once full of women who were over time systematically driven out. As I’m also immersed in early electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, it’s easy to see how women keep getting nudged out of history by neglect because men are trumpeted for genius and women are loathed for it.

Stratford’s protagonist, Canadian-American Maisie Musgrove, is gauche and a bit overwrought at first, but this allows us to see the peculiarly British system that makes up the BBC. It’s one that has the latitude to offer opportunities to women — when everyone thinks it will fail — and then squeeze them out casually once the power of the institution becomes clear.

Musgrove’s transformation is gradual and affecting. Though desperate for a job, any job, at the start she soon comes to realise the power of sound and voice. She begins to listen to the people on the trams, the click of heels on lino, and appreciates the artistry but also the science behind the broadcasts. When an emergency requires use of the old 2LO transmitter, Hilda introduces Maisie to its intricacies and she’s captivated by its magic ‘but it wasn’t magic. It was better. This was the result of endless questions, the search for answers.’

The pace is breezy: I read two-thirds of it in one evening, but there’s a lot of history and information here too. In the lead up to the second world war, there are a lot of people who want to commandeer the power of the new medium and very real intrigues went on behind the scenes. Matheson’s determination to keep the plurality of voices represented is something, alas, the BBC seems to have lost.

I appreciated the author’s note at the end and just ordered Kate Murphy’s Behind the Wireless: An Early History of Women at the BBC which Stratford recommends. The book is out in the US too (though the cover isn’t as pretty, as usual). A very fun read that’s also chock full of interesting history.

On the Road Again

2014-12-14 19.54.46

Nu är det jul igen!

Yes, I am Scotland bound once more, arriving in Dundee for my birthday tomorrow by way of Dublin and Edinburgh. Bertie and I got a tree this weekend from the farm around the corner and decorated it while watching Fanny & Alexander in accordance with tradition. There was some akvavit and monster king crab legs, too. Yum!

I expect to arrive jetlagged but happy to be spending my birthday with loved ones I have been away from far too long. Who knows? I may even get to all the things I should have done a while ago but was too crazy busy to do. Or not. I may just play video games, watch movies and sing along with “Let It Go” a few more thousand times with a certain four year old.

It doesn’t really matter. I do my best to enjoy where I am all the time, but it’s easier to do when it’s somewhere you long to be and with the ones you love. May you all be with the ones you love at this dark time of year. And if you want to wish me a happy birthday tomorrow? I don’t need expensive gifts or grand gestures, but I could always use some reviews. If you don’t have time for that, please consider sharing links to my stories (yes, even the freebies!) on social media. Every bit helps my little voice to be heard in the cacophony.

Be Kind to a Writer

Review: I Tell You It’s Love by Joe R. Lansdale & Daniele Serra

I TELL YOU IT’S LOVE

Joe R. Lansdale
Adapted and illustrated by Daniele Serra
Short Scary Tales Publications

Dark moments seem like sweetness and light to lovers who dance to the beat of a dying heart. Ugly is beauty to them, horror is their laughter, and souls, dark or bright need not apply.

This new collaboration between Lansdale and Serra is a marvel. I’ve been a fan of Lansdale’s forever: his writing mixes up horror and humour with a deceptively nonchanlant style that’s unmistakable as it is enjoyable. Serra is newer to me — I first came across his work as a cover artist for Fox Spirit Books on the BFSA-nominated Tales of Eve and the forthcoming European Monsters. His style is just as unmistakable — arresting, dark and full of atmosphere. The two together create a dark magic that delights even as it harrows.

It’s the hap-hap-happiest time of the year and all Gloria wants for Christmas is pain and more pain. And then maybe someone else’s pain. He thinks she has “no eyes, just sparkles of light where they should have been” and he’s ready to give her all the pain she wants. In a lost town where bats seem to infest every skyline and even the room where the two of them play their games. Serra’s watercolours convey a world where everyone juts out sharp edges and wisps of shadow, as if the things that linger in their wake have presence. “The dripping blood and the long sharp knives that murmured through flesh like a lover’s whisper cutting the dark.” Love is a pain but pain is a drug. And like all drugs it loses its power the more you get. How much is too much?

The words and images will haunt you, but you won’t want to look away. You could frame every page of this book and create a gallery, preferably down a stairwell to make a grim descent — but you might not be able to make it back up again.

I TELL YOU IT’S LOVE – Lansdale/Serra
Graphic Novel Series #3
Publisher: Short, Scary Tales Publications
Subject: Horror
Release Date: November 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-909640-24-5, Oversized Hardcover (8 x 11 inches), Full Colour, 94 pages, £19.95