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The Slightly Foxed Podcast

Episode 38: Literary Drinking: Alcohol in the Lives and Work of Writers

Episode 38: Literary Drinking: Alcohol in the Lives and Work of Writers

Booze as muse or a sure road to ruin? In this month’s episode, William Palmer – author of In Love with Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers – and Henry Jeffreys – author of Empire of Booze and The Cocktail Dictionary – join the Slightly Foxed team to mull over why alcohol is such an enduring feature in literature. From the omnipresence of cocktails in John Cheever’s short stories and ritual aperitifs in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels to Mr Picksniff falling into Mrs Todger’s fireplace in Martin Chuzzlewit and P. G. Wodehouse’s hangover remedies for booze-soaked Bertie Wooster, drinks are social signifiers in fiction. Charles Dickens was fond of sherry cobblers and Jean Rhys knocked back Pernod in Paris, while Malcolm Lowry was a dipsomaniac and Flann O’Brien dreamed up alcoholic ink for the Irish Times, rendering readers drunk from fumes. We ask why gin denotes despair and port is always jovial, and question whether hitting the bottle helps or hinders the creative process in writers.
41 minutes
Episode 37: Rewriting the Script: The short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath with her acclaimed biographer Heather Clark

Episode 37: Rewriting the Script: The short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath with her acclaimed biographer Heather Clark

Heather Clark, Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield and author of the award-winning biography Red Comet, joins the Slightly Foxed team from New York to dispel the myths that have come to surround Sylvia Plath’s life and art. Tired of the cliché of the hysterical female writer, and of the enduring focus on Plath’s death rather than her trailblazing poetry and fiction, Clark used a wealth of new material – including juvenilia, unpublished letters and manuscripts, and psychiatric records – to explore Plath’s literary landscape. She conjures the spirit of the star English student at Smith College who won a Fulbright scholarship to Cambridge University and who brought her enormous appetite for life to her writing and relationships. We follow her life from the ‘mad passionate abandon’ of her thunderclap meeting with Ted Hughes, rebellion against genteel verse and her creation of a dark ‘potboiler’ in The Bell Jar to her belief that a full literary life and a family unit can coexist and the outpouring of first-rate poems fuelled by rage in her final days. She introduced female anger and energy into the poetic lexicon with ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Ariel’ and more; poems that were considered shocking at the time, but which are now regarded as masterpieces.
49 minutes
Episode 36: Graphic Novels: A Comic Turn with Posy Simmonds & Paul Gravett

Episode 36: Graphic Novels: A Comic Turn with Posy Simmonds & Paul Gravett

The cartoonist, writer and illustrator Posy Simmonds brilliantly captures the ambitions and pretensions of the literary world, and the journalist and curator Paul Gravett has worked in comics publishing for decades. Together they bring graphic novels and comic books to the foreground with the Slightly Foxed team. We draw moral lessons from the Ally Sloper cartoons of the 1870s, glimpse Frans Masereel’s wordless woodcut stories of the 1920s, view the pictorial politics of Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo in the 1940s and revisit Art Spiegelman’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus before taking a closer look at more contemporary works. The discussion moves through panels, frames, splashes and spreads to Posy Simmonds’s own methods in bringing literature to life, including crosshatching to Vivaldi. Originally serialized in the Guardian, Posy’s Gemma Bovery builds on the bones of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Tamara Drewe draws from Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, while Cassandra Darke takes inspiration from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol . . .
45 minutes
Episode 35: Decline and Fall: A Literary Guide

Episode 35: Decline and Fall: A Literary Guide

The Dark Ages, Late Antiquity, the late Roman . . . however you define the years spanning the fall of Rome, the period is rich in stories, real or reimagined. In this episode Dr Andy Merrills, Associate Professor of Ancient History, joins the Slightly Foxed team to cast light on the surviving literature. We begin with Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire before delving into 4th-century accounts by the Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a spiritual autobiography by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, ecclesiastical chronicles by the Venerable Bede, Gallic tales of Christian miracles and relic-looting with Gregory of Tours and an alternative look at the period with the modern-day master of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown. From there we venture into fiction with Rosemary Sutcliff’s adventures inspired by archaeological finds, a retelling of the old British folk ballad ‘The Twa Sisters’ in Lucy Holland’s Sistersong and much more besides . . .
43 minutes
Episode 34: Sybille Bedford’s Appetite for Life

Episode 34: Sybille Bedford’s Appetite for Life

‘I wondered for a time who this brilliant “Mrs Bedford” could be,’ wrote Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford on reading Sybille Bedford’s first novel, A Legacy. The twentieth-century European writer Sybille Bedford could be many things: traveller, gourmand, oenophile, court reporter, Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist. In this month’s literary podcast the Slightly Foxed team discover the pleasures and landscapes of Bedford’s life, loves and writing with her biographer, Selina Hastings. The daughter of a German Baron, from childhood Bedford travelled endlessly, living in Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and Britain. Claiming to suffer from sloth and love of life, she deified her friend Aldous Huxley, had assets frozen by the Nazi regime, was funded by Martha Gellhorn and was known for her many lovers, all while experiencing the ‘tearing, crushing, defeating agony’ of writing. From a delicious account of a visit to Don Otavio in Mexico and vivid reportage of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial to the autobiographical novel Jigsaw, we see the world through Bedford’s observant eye and voracious appetite.
44 minutes
Episode 33: The Golden Age of Crime Writing

Episode 33: The Golden Age of Crime Writing

Diamond Dagger award-winning crime novelist and president of the Detection Club Martin Edwards and Richard Reynolds, crime buyer for Heffers Bookshop and member of the Crime Writers’ Association, lead our investigation in this month’s literary podcast. Together with the Slightly Foxed team, they take a magnifying glass to the Golden Age of crime fiction, tracing its origins to the interwar years when the Detection Club was founded and discussing why the genre continues to thrill. From relishing The Poisoned Chocolates Case and resurrecting Death of a Bookseller to the mystery of E. C. R. Lorac’s missing manuscript and meeting Baroness Orczy’s Teahouse Detective, the plot twists and turns as we collect British Library Crime Classics and celebrate Crime Queens Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey and others along the way. Whether enjoyed as well-crafted puzzles, social documents or guilty pleasures, detective fiction is laced with nostalgia as well as cyanide. To tie up loose ends, we finish with a visit to Agatha Christie’s holiday home, Greenway, a house fit for Hercule Poirot, and the setting of a Devonshire murder hunt in Dead Man’s Folly.
45 minutes
Episode 32: Picnic at Hanging Rock & Other Stories

Episode 32: Picnic at Hanging Rock & Other Stories

‘Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves.’ It’s a scorching St Valentine’s Day in 1900 when three boarding-school girls and a teacher disappear during a day-trip to Hanging Rock in the arid Australian outback. Fact or fiction? Misadventure or murder? Accident or assassination? Join us on our latest literary podcast adventure as we delve into the mystery, history and hysteria of Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian Gothic novel with Kate Young, author of The Little Library Cookbook. From the slow-seeping horror of Hanging Rock to coming-of-age tales of tuck boxes and midnight feasts, high jinks and humour, Kate guides the Slightly Foxed magazine team through the school-story tradition and asks why it’s such fertile ground for fiction. On the way we visit the Chalet School, Malory Towers and St Trinian’s, and slip into darker territory with Decline and Fall, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.
44 minutes
Episode 31: The Magic of Angela Carter

Episode 31: The Magic of Angela Carter

Imagination, influence and the invention of infernal desire machines . . . Edmund Gordon, biographer of Angela Carter, guides the Slightly Foxed team through her colourful works and explores the wider realms of magical realism. Witty and wilfully idiosyncratic, Carter conjured sex and death from fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber, used her Somerset Maugham Award money to leave her husband and go to Japan to write, and absorbed the Latin American influences of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. We hear how she enlisted the Marquis de Sade as an ally of feminism, embraced pulp genres and opened doors for David Mitchell, China Miéville, Helen Oyeyemi and more, while always attending to the grammar of the folk story. And, to finish, there are the usual wide-ranging recommendations for reading off the beaten track.
43 minutes
Episode 30: Jim Ede’s Way of Life

Episode 30: Jim Ede’s Way of Life

In this twentieth-century story of a quest for beauty, the writer Laura Freeman introduces us to Jim Ede, a man who, in creating Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, changed the way we look at art. We follow Jim from the trenches of the First World War to Lady Ottoline Morrell’s literary parties in Bloomsbury and a curating job at the Tate. He collected artworks by his friends Ben Nicholson and David Jones, acquired the estate of the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and designed a house in Tangiers that became a sanctuary for soldiers. These were stepping stones towards Jim turning derelict slum cottages into a home and gallery, a space for both tea and tours. And, as ever, we share recommendations for reading off the beaten track.
45 minutes
Episode 29: A Poet’s Haven

Episode 29: A Poet’s Haven

The artist Barrie Cooke had fishing in common with Ted Hughes, and mud and art in common with Seamus Heaney. Dr Mark Wormald, a scholar on the life and writings of Ted Hughes, has brought to light an extraordinary haul of poems, letters and drawings documenting a decades-long triangular friendship and a shared love of poetry and nature. He describes the spine-tingling discovery of Barrie’s cardboard box stuffed with correspondence and traces its history, starting with the first supper at Barrie’s Kilkenny home, and then at Jerpoint, also on the River Nore, where the trio forged their friendship, Seamus began Station Island and a poet’s haven flourished. From Ted’s dream of a burning fox man, climbing into Carrowkeel passage tombs and visits from Robert Lowell and Tom Paulin to fishing diaries, pike spoons and a stuffed trout, subsurface treasures are dredged up as our literary sifting takes us off the beaten track.
46 minutes
Episode 28: An Odyssey through the Classics

Episode 28: An Odyssey through the Classics

Daisy Dunn, historian and biographer of Catullus and Pliny, sets our scene in ancient Rome and Greece, entertaining the Slightly Foxed team with literature of love and war, satire and myth, and amplifying echoes of the classics through the ages. We begin with Homer’s monsters and memorials of fallen men, then take a tour of the ancient world, from Catullus’ erotic poetry and Lysistrata’s sex strike to the eruption of Vesuvius and Suetonius’ lives of extraordinary emperors. In a more contemporary turn, F. Scott Fitzgerald borrows Gatsby from the Satyricon, and Mary Renault writes historical novels and lovers’ names in wine. And there’s the usual round-up of recommended reading from off the beaten track.
40 minutes
Episode 27: Dr Wiener’s Library

Episode 27: Dr Wiener’s Library

Anthony Wells worked at The Wiener Holocaust Library in London for a decade. In this episode he leads the Slightly Foxed editors into the history of the library, which holds one of the most extensive archives on the Holocaust and the Nazi era. We travel to Germany, Amsterdam, New York and Tel Aviv, but it is people rather than places that the library remembers with its annals of personal stories. Dr Alfred Wiener, a German Jew who fought in the First World War, was one of the first to note the rise of the Nazi Party, and he began to assemble an archive of information in order to undermine their activities. From downfall by documentation in the Nuremberg Trial to a tracing service made up of millions of records, we learn how The Wiener Library ensures that those who disappeared are not forgotten.
37 minutes
Episode 26: A Winter’s Tale

Episode 26: A Winter’s Tale

In this seasonal episode, the Slightly Foxed team are guided through a snowstorm of winter writing over twelve centuries by the literary critic and author of Weatherland, Alexandra Harris. The tour takes us from Anglo-Saxon mead halls and monsters to Renaissance bodily humours, then on through cool, translucent Enlightenment weather into the dark cloud of the nineteenth century and beyond. We visit frost-fair carnivals on the frozen Thames with Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, brave the Brontës’ wild moorland, stay steamed up indoors with Jane Austen, sink into Dickens’s pea-soupers and see in the ‘year’s midnight’ with John Donne as we listen to a winter’s tale through literature.
43 minutes
Episode 25: A Writer’s Territory

Episode 25: A Writer’s Territory

The Scottish nature writer Jim Crumley takes the Slightly Foxed team on a tour of literary landscapes, from the lochs of the Trossachs and the mountainous Cairngorms to Aldo Leopold’s sand county in Wisconsin and Barry Lopez’s Arctic. Together they trace the chain of writers who have influenced Jim, from Robert Burns and Wordsworth to Thoreau and Walt Whitman, and see nature through the eyes of his hero, the great Scottish naturalist and photographer Seton Gordon. They discuss how folklore has demonized the wolf while Jim believes its reintroduction could hugely benefit the ecology of the Scottish landscape. And finally they venture off the beaten track with this month’s wide-ranging reading recommendations.
40 minutes

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