Alison Finch – Radio 4 and Radio 3 arts forward planning: email@example.com / 07809 598358
Paula McGinley – Midweek: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicola Holloway – Open Book: email@example.com and cc in firstname.lastname@example.org
Dixi Stewart – Executive Producer, BBC Radio: email@example.com
Adam Cumiskey – Today Programme firstname.lastname@example.org / @cumiskey
Alison Finch, Forward Planning
Alison works in the planning unit and feeds ideas and planning information into Woman’s Hour, Front Row, Open Book, Saturday Live, Saturday Review, Start the Week, Midweek, Loose Ends, Desert Island Discs, and Free Thinking on Radio 3.
R4 runs on books – the audience is aged around 60, and best described as politically conservative (with a small c) but curious. Planning runs around 5 weeks in advance but Woman’s Hour and Front Row both have a news agenda and will not necessarily confirm until much later. They may also be able to slot topical stuff in at short notice.
Woman’s Hour and Start the Week both want “live desk” contributors – ie, authors in the studio with the presenter, speaking in English.
Midweek and Front Row will do pre-records and down the lines for the right author, but they are both more likely to go for authors in the studio.
Alison asked publicists to PLEASE listen to the programmes so you can pitch the right book to the right programme – she finds it frustrating when people pitch wholly inappropriate authors.
Part of Alison’s role also involves making sure that authors don’t appear on two progs at once, avoiding clashes. She has a database where programmes flag interest, and she can flag availability.
Please send her proofs, particularly for fiction as she really needs to read that to get a steer on the quality. It’s also really useful to have conversations with people to flag interesting angle that are not apparent from the press release. She encourages PRs to have direct relationships with producers and editors, but do keep Alison in the conversation because she has a good overview and will know about last minute drop-outs. Alison is also pretty good at getting back to people.
In terms of clashes – they have a big meeting on a Wednesday where they sit down and make bids for people on the schedule. Do feed in if your author has a personal preference for a particular programme, or is unavailable at certain times, as it may get taken into account when they are allocating popular authors who have bids from a number of outlets.
Alison said, perhaps surprisingly, that they are not so interested in big anniversaries because there is a huge amount commissioned elsewhere on the network and it feels repetitious.
Please be honest about the author’s qualities – they do REMEMBER if an author is sold to them as a really good talker and they turn out to be a dreadful interviewee. A clip of the author speaking / TED talk / youtube interview can be really helpful in deciding, so please send links across if you have any.
Email is the best way to get in touch with her – email@example.com
Paula McGinley – Midweek
Midweek is broadcast live on Wednesday mornings and repeated on Weds evening, Libby Purvis is the presenter – they generally feature 2 books per programme, which is about the limit of their reading power, as they are conscientious and read everything they feature.
The key for them is a strong personal story – this is the focus for all of their guests but particularly books. This means that autobiographies are particularly good for them, they don’t tend to do biography unless the author has a personal connection with the subject and a fund of stories in their own right. They like humour and don’t get enough of it pitched, but tend to find they have a lot of misery stories.
They are live so they want people who can come into the studio and speak English although they will occasionally do pre-rec, however they dislike down the line.
Paula gave the meeting some examples of features that had worked particularly well for them – a good recent example was an interview about a book called You Say Potato about accents – the authors were a father and son team, one an academic, the other an actor pair. The piece was a real success and typified the kind of gentle humour they are short on at present.
Paula felt that for the present they had had enough of WW2 and the Nazis, general misery, illness, recovery, prisoners, travel without an interesting angle – they are desperate for humour, they will do cookery but it has to have an interesting personal story. Fiction is hard for them unless there’s a personal story behind it (eg the author was ACTUALLY raised by wolves, not just writing about it).
Nicola Holloway Open Book
As the name suggests, they like books! They pre-record on a Thursday and the programme is edited before transmission, which means it’s perhaps a little more forgiving than the live or as-live programmes.
They mainstay is fiction, but they also do occasional narrative non-fiction, however it tends to be at what Nicola desribed as the “intersect” of fiction and non-fiction, eg literary memoir/adventures in reading. They love big name authors, Booker prize winners, interesting people, big sellers. Big name interviews are planned about 6-8 weeks in advance. And they like to know if people are in the country, available on a Thursday, and can speak in English.
They also like reissues and classics – they do readers’ guides. If a novelist has done an introduction to a classic novel they are interested in speaking to them about this.
They have a number of regular slots and series:
• Books I’d Never lend – this is a writer speaking about the one book they love and would never lend out. It’s a really good chance to talk obliquely about someone’s work other than their own. Importantly, they can do this with authors who are appearing else where on the network and will hold the piece to follow (for eg) something on Front Row.
• Literary Postcards – this is an overseas writer talking about the contemporary literary scene in their home country. They can do this in translation – however the publisher usually needs to fund the translation. If you have a co-operative translator on hand, please consider this.
• Publishers’ tips – this for once is not an author slot, but features a publisher talking about a book that they aren’t publishing but wish they had/really admire. It’s a nice chance to talk about the one that got away, or the features of the industry.
Nicola is also highly open to suggestions for discussions, for example if you know of a handful of books on similar themes coming out around the same time. They also like to feature interesting publishing stories, particularly stuff that might lead into a wider discussion. They can’t do very topical stuff though, just because by the time of the final broadcast the programme is a week old.
She jobshares with Kirsten Locke, however they don’t share an email so please cc both Nicola AND Kirsten into your pitches. They won’t necessarily reply to every email – just stuff they’re interested in but please be assured your pitch will be read.
Nicola loves proofs, and PDFs are particularly useful – Mariella does all her reading on PDF.
Nicola also spoke briefly about the Radio 4 Book Club, which goes out once a month in the Open Book slot. This features a well-known author with a substantial back catalogue talking about a former, seminal work. It’s done to a live audience of real people, and is chaired by Jim Naughtie. It is a lovely chance for an author to engage with “real” readers.
World Book Club is the same thing but it goes out on the World Service and the audience is international, therefore the author themselves needs to have strong international appeal. The questions come from all over the world (often via email) and is perfect for a big international name, however they do need to be able to respond in English. There are no fixed figures for World Book Club but the world service itself has a fairly astonishing 45 million listeners, and it’s one of their most popular programmes, so certainly in the 20 million+ range. The producer Karen Holden and it is presented by Harriet Gilbert.
Dixi Stewart, Executive Producer, BBC Radio and Music
Dixi worked formerly on Saturday Live, however she is not currently programming for them, at present she is doing Front Row, and producing a big debate about the future for Arts funding. She works with Rebecca Armstrong and Dymphna Flynn.
Next month she’s off to news to do election programming. She will have a slot on people who aren’t politicians commenting on the election – authors could be perfect for this!
She did however speak about Saturday Live – they feature big celebrity guests, celebrity memoirs – big names are their bread and butter however the people they feature have to be interesting in their own right, not just famous.
Saturday Live has a couple of regular features:
• Inheritance tracks – where well-known names talk about the song they inherited from their parents and the one they would pass on to their children. This is pre-recorded and, like some of the Open Book features, can overlap with another programme elsewhere on R4.
• Personal story – anyone with a really strong first person story. They overlap with midweek in that way, and can swap back and forth.
They don’t tend to do a lot with novelists although they can if they have a quirky personal backstory – eg Javier Marias came on and talked about being the King of Redonda.
The author has to be available at 9am on a Saturday morning if they are coming on live, however some features can be pre-recorded.
Louise Corley is the best current contact.
Front Row is done by Dymphna Flynn and Rebecca Armstrong – they feature primarily straight author interviews, however increasingly they’re doing more newsy stuff, eg books that are in themselves a news story, like the new Harper Lee release.
Adam Cumiskey, Today
Authors are an “added enrichment” for Today rather than bread and butter – a bit of light relief from the hardcore news stuff. They tend to prefer non-fiction, but they will break their own rules.
In terms of non-fiction they are not necessarily looking for the biggest name, but the most interesting story. If it’s someone with a big name who’s planning to do an interview which will make news and ripples, the Today Prog is the biggest place to go.
They cannot follow Newsnight or Channel 4 news, or elsewhere on Radio 4. PLEASE be honest if your author is appearing elsewhere as it just causes annoyance when it gets found out and will result in your author being dropped.
Adam said that he responds better to thoughtful targeted pitches. They get thousands of emails every day, and a generic mailshot is not going to cut it.
He is aware that they can sometimes irritate in terms of moving stuff, dropping stuff, late cancellations, but when everything comes together it can work out really well – eg Michael Bond wrote them an exclusive letter from Paddington which they had read by Hugh Bonneville which caused a huge response.
They are looking for great radio rather than great books – it actually doesn’t matter to them if the book itself is rather quirky, or niche, as long as the author is a great interviewee and it makes a really riveting feature. They will also think outside the box to feature books in unusual or off-shoot ways, a recent example is a book called Window Shopping behind the Iron Curtain, which is photographs of shop windows in the former USSR and East Germany, which they are going to make into a full feature with former shop keepers from those countries, talking about their memories of commerce under communism – even though the book itself has already been covered in the Guardian, what they are doing is slightly different and will hopefully make fascinating radio.
If you have a newsy book that intersects with a news story that is likely to run and run (eg an author who is expert on the Ukraine) then please keep them on your radar longer term and consider making yourself contactable out of office hours as they sometimes need speakers at very short-notice and their planners and editors don’t work 9-5 hours.
The author always has to commit to a planning chat beforehand so please factor that in – it’s a test run for the interview and unless the author is already known to them, it’s non-negotiable.
Di Speirs – Radio 4 Readings
Di was not able to come and speak but sent the following helpful notes:
Open Book and Book Club get over 1 million listeners (and of course their audience are heavy book buyers). Book of the Week gets approx 3.5 m, Book at Bedtime around 1.5 m and World Book Club is unquantifiable but is World Service’s most popular non-news programme by all accounts and their overall audience is 40 M.
For Book at Bedtime and Book of the Week, there are various in house and independent suppliers, who are well known to publishers – however not all of them have many weeks or particularly chase up new work. The London team produces a third of BotW across the year and about a quarter of BatB.
BotW always tries to serialise on or close to publication – they feature 52 books a year and programme on a wide variety of topics, but a good narrative voice is pretty essential.
BatB is much harder – they feature 26 books a year but some of those are classics or tied to seasons and so it is worth being realistic about what you send in. With the exception of titles like The Goldfinch or Bone Clocks, most books will run at 10 eps so anything over 400 pages MAX
will really struggle. As will very gloomy, introspective or bloody tomes, those with multiple plots or many voices/perspectives, those with little narrative drive – golden rule – would you want this read to you! Do please think about whether something would make a good listen – if it won’t but it’s brilliant send it to Open Book. I’d rather have the one or two books you really think would be fab read aloud, than a dozen maybes. I like to come in and talk to editors too.
In terms of people in London:
Fiction should come to Di and to Justine Willett.
Factual for BotW to Elizabeth Allard and Duncan Minshull.
We like suggestions for new writers who would be keen to write commissioned short stories for Radio 4 and Radio 3.
Please listen to the readings slots and see what works and that will give you an idea of what to pitch.
Lastly please look at Books on the BBC at BBC Arts online. We are putting some content there directly and it is another place for ideas and stories.
Simon Oldfield from Pin Drop
Finally we had a non-Radio 4 related speaker – Simon Oldfield from the short story organisation Pin Drop.
Simon is the co-founder and CEO of Pin Drop – an events organisation which presents authors and actors reading short stories in iconic locations, including the Royal Academy of Arts, Soho House, British Academy etc.
Previous readers include William Boyd, Julian Barnes, Lionel Shriver, Graham Swift, however they also like to introduce new voices.
They get excellent press coverage – they also produce podcasts in association with the Royal Academy. These form part of the RA archive and sit on their website.
In terms of events they are currently programming, they looking for a big authors for the 9th of October event during Ai Weiwei, at the Royal Academy.
They have a monthly event at Soho House. They have a slot on 14th April during LBF which will be sponsored by Audible and are looking for a name for this, as well as for their regular Soho House slot. (Plus events in New York and LA so consider US-based names)
They are all about the short story and they make sure that the audience gets to hear the complete story from start to finish – however they don’t only focus on short story writers, eg Francesca Segal read a story from Edith Wharton which connected closely to her own novel The Innocents.
They really like it if authors can stay and interact with the audience afterwards, although this is not essential.