Pink Salt and Book Talk

Pink Himalayan salt. Sometimes, when things are not going the Way We Would Like, changing something humdrum and boring for a magical pink version can be surprisingly uplifting. At some point during half term, I was rushing between depositing some of my children in one place and picking up some other of my children in another place and trying to make sure I didn’t get any of them mixed up with the additional children who were somehow associated with the entire undertaking, when I passed a Polish delicatessen.

In the window was a bag of something that looked like crystallised mermaid tears. Three quid seemed quite cheap for half a kilogram of magic, so, hoping no mermaids had been harmed in the manufacturing process, I bought a bag. It nestled at the bottom of my handbag all day, and when I got it home I tipped a little into an egg cup and put it on the kitchen table. Salt is salt, I suppose. But when it’s pink and the grains are very slightly irregular, both in shape and colour, you can pretend it’s the dust that will take you to C.S. Lewis’ Wood Between the Worlds, or that it was brought back from Mars especially for you, or that it was what Jay Gatsby put in his boiled egg every morning just before dispatching brand-new ball gowns to strangers.

I don’t suppose my switch to pink Himalayan salt is in any way responsible, but I had some good news this week. Some time ago, feeling that there is simply not enough coverage of books and reading in the media, I pitched an idea to our local community radio station, Chiltern Voice. Books, I said, authors, stories, readers. Interviews. Music. Classic stories everyone loves; new stories not yet published; aspiring writers looking for support. And, being a wonderful institution with its listeners at heart, Chiltern Voice has said yes.

It’s hard to express what a difference this small piece of progress has made. Thinking about how to manage the show; what I want to say; how I’m going to engage and involve listeners and build an audience and sound the trumpet on behalf of books and reading and readers and writers. I hate the sound of my own voice, and yet the prospect of using it on behalf of the book-loving universe is incredibly exciting. Terrifying, too, in the best way. I have no experience whatsoever of broadcast media; I have everything to learn. My vision is of a light hearted couple of hours in the virtual company of good friends. I’m going to learn to record interviews; I’m also hoping people will want to come in to the studio to talk about their work and to choose their favourite songs, and that they’ll bear with me while I work out what on Earth I think I’m doing.

The trouble with writing is that it’s so intensely solitary. You can have the best support network in the world, but it’s still you and you alone who has to put the words on the page; you and you alone who can weigh up what you’ve written with the vision behind it; you and you alone who has to work out where you stand in relation to its fate in the world. Chiltern Voice has given me the chance to refocus, away from my own success or failure, to shine a light through the ever-shifting kaleidoscope that is the storytelling community and remember why I fell in love with books in the first place. Tell me what you’re reading and how you’re finding it; tell me what you’re writing and why. What song would you like to hear? How did books first become a part of your life? Books are our pink Himalayan salt, lending a touch of magic to our quotidian reality. I’m hoping to create a book show that reflects that (and I promise that no mermaids will be harmed).

I’m starting gently and quietly this Monday, the 5th November. Wish me luck – and if you leave a song request and/or a story for me here, I’ll fold it in.


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