This February my co-host, Gwynn Scheltema, and I are celebrating the fourth anniversary of a series of interviews we broadcast on local radio, Northumberland 89.7 FM, also streamed on the station’s website, and archived on our own website which can be accessed at any time and from anywhere.
The series is called Word on the Hills.
We interview novelists, poets, playwrights, journalists, memoirists, non-fiction writers, editors and publishers and sometimes singer-songwriters, who live, or work or who have a connection with our region, eastern Ontario.
When we began we were truly novices, uncertain about whether we could achieve the technical competence to run our own show and constantly worrying about whether we would be able to find enough interesting interviewees to keep the show going. Now as we enter our fourth year we know we can do both, so this is a time of celebration.
We love making the shows. I keep a list of people, who we think, would make interesting interviewees, and add to it suggestions from writers who have already made a show with us, friends and colleagues or newspaper articles. Then I make an initial contact to invite them to be our guests. If they agree to come into the studio to make an episode, I ask them to send me four questions or topics they would like to discuss, around which I can make an outline for the show. Knowing how the episode will be structured and that the recording will be edited lowers the stress all round and we always seem to have a good time when we record.
Gwynn has become a very skilled editor, so that both interviewers and guests sound good! We can re-assure any nervous participant that ums and ahs, or any other unintentional interpolations, as well as the sound of rustling paper as they read from their work and, of course, all false starts to sentences will be neatly eradicated.
What have we got out of this project? Firstly, we have met or deepened our acquaintance with an astonishing stream of creative people. Some of them are published by large publishing firms, some by small ones and some are self-published. We often discuss the pros and cons of all these pathways into print with our interviewees, but the focus of the programmes is always to showcase our guest’s talents and introduce their writing to our audience. And secondly we have learnt many new skills and increased our understanding of what draws such a wide variety of people to writing and why they choose an equally wide range of genres. Different individual approaches to the construction of poetry, fiction, memoir etc. also work make for good discussions.
Because we make this series for a local radio station most of our guests are from this area, but that stretches from Kingston to Toronto—some 265 kms— and occasionally we interview guests by phone from even farther away. Once we received a query from someone asking if we might be interested in interviewing her about her novel, The Cunning Woman’s Cup set in Northumberland County in a small village near an ancient stone circle. We were puzzled to think of a place in Northumberland County, Ontario, where there might be a stone circle crowning a hill, but were delighted to find that Sue Hewitt had heard of our programme and was writing from Northumberland UK. It was fun to exploit the unusual connection and do a slightly different programme with her.
Even in the ordinary course of events there is plenty of variety in the series. I hope you may be interested in listening to an episode or two on our website Programmes in recent weeks have included a well known children’s author, Ted Staunton who has written picture books, junior fiction and books for young adults, as well as a writer of historical mysteries, Janet Kellough. Her novels about the fictional cases of Thaddeus Lewis, inspired by a real life Methodist Circuit Rider, are becoming increasingly popular. You will also find many self-published authors, such as Natalie Lachance, Patricia Calder and Ray Herbert talking about their very different books.
And finally, I think there is a certain mystery about writers and even in these days of sharing our lives on social media and becoming so much less reticent in what we say and share with others, the mystery of where stories come from, how they get written and why they make such an impact on us is still fascinating. Radio both preserves the writer’s mystery by sheltering the author, and the interviewers, from the public gaze and allows the listener to make a personal, sometimes intimate, contact with the artist by voice and the content of the conversation.
So happily ensconced behind the microphone, I hope I have conveyed some of the fun, stimulation and joys of making a radio series.