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.

Radio Radio

Listen to me have a natter with Hannah Kate on Hannah’s Bookshelf. It’s a free ranging discussion that takes in my many writing hats from academic to crime and historicals as well as the weird fiction that comes out under my own name. At the end I choose the three books I’d like to have left after the apocalypse. Have a listen!

Pirate Crew

I always approve of pirate hats — arrr!

On the Radio with Hannah Kate

How is it possible that I was interviewed on Manchester radio and never once mentioned The Fall?! Not sure, but I had a great time talking with Hannah Kate, whom you might know from Hic Dragones as well as her radio interviews. Last week she had Ramsey Campbell on, so be sure to check out her other interviews.

Tune in today at 2pm UK / 9am NY for Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM (if you’re in the area) or listen online wherever you are! Find out how I juggle my pseudonyms, what I’m up to next, why I love #FolkloreThursday and what three books I’d want to have on hand for the apocalypse. Be sure to let Hannah know what you think.
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Tonight: Speculative Fiction Cantina

I’ll be the guest tonight at 6pm (11pm UK) on the live radio broadcast of Speculative Fiction Cantina, sponsored by Writestream Radio and hosted by S. Evan Townsend. You can call in and ask questions! I’ll be sharing the mic with Laurel A. Rockefeller, who writes the Peers of Beinan series and promises she will do some singing. I think I’ll read from the forthcoming Blood Moon, which is the second in the Breton Lais series from my alter ego, Kathryn Marlowe. It’s based on Bisclavret, the tale of the werewolf knight, so I think I’ll read the opening chapter where he glories in being a wolf. The first Breton Lay is of course Knight of the White Hart based on Guigemar. I’m attempting to stay very true to the original tales while expanding them to novel length yet keeping Marie de France‘s breathless pace. As the reviews say:

“A great beginning to new a new series. An interesting and intriguing tale of true love, the meaning of love, sacrifice, a Knight’s honor, magic,and, yes, romance. Intense and emotional at moments. The setting is interesting, with Knights, Medieval Romance,a bit of magic, a battle for love. The characters are intriguing, as well, as will capture your heart. I will follow this series to it’s conclusion. A sweet romance with a few twists and turns.”

“At once with the high romance and idealistic notions of medieval knighthood – this is a tale replete with the grandeur of nobility and the steadfast resolve of a Knight who has to learn his lesson the hard way; that Love is not merely a fancy for the Tales but a cause worth hardship and sacrifice.”

“A masterful storyteller Marlowe delivers her story will skill, wit and clear delight. Also it starts with jousting, which is never a bad thing!! I am telling you nothing more than that, go discover it for yourself!”

Click the picture to buy!

SpeakEasy Radio: Fox Spirit Books head, Adele Wearing

St Urho Hopper“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!”

Happy St. Urho Day! As usual, we commemorate the saint (or his wife) who chased the grasshoppers out of the vineyards in Finland in the usual manner — by fire-grilling the grasshoppers! No, wait — that’s just a cool design made by S. L. Johnson who thought this holiday a little crazy but a good excuse to make a hellfire hopper. I love it.

SpeakEasy sqwebToday brings another episode of SpeakEasy Radio: I chat with Fox Spirit Books head, Adele Wearing, who talks about starting her small press, folding in her love of martial arts and how much she loves her readers, writers, artists and staff. Fox Spirit Books include TALES OF THE NUN & DRAGON, EMILY NATION, THE STARS SEEM SO FAR AWAY, EUROPEAN MONSTERS, WHITE RABBIT, DRAG NOIR and the entire Fox Pockets series.

News Round Up

High Plains Lazarus by KA Laity - 500Yeeha!

I’m allowed to use that because I have a Western coming out this week. Admittedly it’s a weird Western, but you wouldn’t expect any less of me, now would you? Some of you may be familiar with this story: now expanded into a stand alone novella. It still pokes at me to become the beginning of a novel instead — all in good time!

Dead folk are just about the last thing you want to see while wandering through the deserts of the great wild West. Things get a whole lot worse if they’re not the lying down kind of dead but the running around trying to take a bite out of you sort. Whatever’s got the corpses jumping is bound to spell a bad day for anyone unlucky enough to ride into town.

Out tomorrow from Tirgearr!

I read a bit from it when I was on the radio when I visited Dellani’s Tea Time with Eden Baylee and Meredith Skye. Lots of silliness ensued as well and it was great fun even though I did have a bit of a sore throat.

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Do you like heavy metal bands that use Norse mythology for material? No? Well, then you’ll enjoy my write up of failed Viking metal band Ketlingr over at Pulp Metal Magazine. Hey, at the very least you must admire the dedication to the conceit that included making album cover art!

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Check out my Inspirations play list of “Songs that Led to Stories” — no, don’t worry, it’s not all The Fall. It is kind of amazing to realise just how many song titles and lyrics I have swiped for story ideas. Even if I get them wrong a lot of the time. Misheard lyrics, always a rich vein to mine. I’m thinking of doing more video stuff — trailers or readings, maybe. What would you want to see?

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Working on the next Hard-Boiled Witch required some research — by which I mean sitting in the Howff, soaking up the atmosphere and working out some practicalities. A hazy day: warm and misting: it gave my pictures an ethereal quality. I’m sort of using Dundee as the model for the city in the series, although it’s a rather different town in many respects — in part because I’m using old maps so things that are no longer part of the landscape show up. When the 2nd story comes out, there’ll be a special on the first. Keep an eye out for that!

And Saturday! LEICESTER COMIC CON – be there!

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