This is a rather momentous episode, listeners and readers!
My guest for Episode 11 is Ramona Koval, one of Australia's most respected literary journalists and broadcasters, who hosted the now departed Book Show on ABC Radio National for over five years. Known for her fascinating in-depth interviews with writers, it's fair to say that Ramona and her work have been a real influence on me. In fact, the end of The Book Show devastated me so much that I was moved to start this very podcast!
She has written reviews, features and columns for newspapers including The Age and The Weekend Australian. She has been a guest interviewer at international literary festivals in Edinburgh, Montreal, Berlin, Cheltenham, Auckland, Wellington and all over Australia.
Ramona is also a writer in her own right, having written a novel, Samovar, collections of interviews including Speaking Volumes, and a cook book, Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks. Ramona's love of books started very early in her life, as it did for me.
"Books could take you out of your own life, to another family, another country....you could live many lives, not just the life you had." - Ramona Koval, in this interview
So, fittingly, her most recent book is By The Book: A Reader's Guide to Life, a journey through her life as a reader and book lover. Part memoir, part literary and social history, and written with Ramona's trademark warmth, it's a celebration of the books that have meant a great deal to her over the years but also a meditation on how the books we read often shape our lives, our characters, our understanding of the world and even occasionally our destinies.
When I was in Melbourne in June, knowing in all likelihood I wouldn't be there again for some time, I thought I'd be brave and ask Ramona if she would be interested in being a guest on this podcast. To my utter delight (and shock and amazement) she graciously agreed.
For the first time in my life, I was about 20 minutes early for our appointment and so I enjoyed a soy latte - there is nothing like Melbourne coffee - in a cafe around the corner and re-read a bit of her book while I waited:
And then I walked the block or so up to a National Trust house, trams merrily ding-dinging past. This "funny little house" (as Ramona put it!) has been converted into offices of sorts which are rented out to writers to use as their working space. Ramona kindly brewed me some Greek mountain tea and we sat in her sparse office, the early winter afternoon sky slowly darkening and only a long desk with a computer, a small pile of books and our steaming mugs of tea and my mp3 recorder between us. It really was one of those "pinch yourself" moments.
In this generous and intimate interview, Ramona expands on some of the tales she tells in By The Book; sharing some of the books that have shaped her and that she associates with particular times in her life (there are some rather hilarious stories!); her eclectic range of interests; memorable moments in her broadcasting career; and the transition from life as a journalist to life as a writer.
It's not often in life that you get to actually meet the people who inspired you to get going on your own path and to be able to thank them in person. I am grateful that starting this podcast has enabled me to meet so many of those people and particularly in this case. I did not take a minute of being there for granted. It was one of the happiest and proudest afternoons of my career.
Thank you Ramona for all the inspiration over the years and for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon chatting in your studio. Thank you Tom for the usual brilliant stirring and mixing of the audio. And thank YOU for listening!
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Australian writer, journalist and broadcaster
By The Book: A Reader's Guide To Life by Ramona Koval (Text)
Eating Your Heart Out: Food, Shape and the Body Industry by Ramona Koval (Penguin) (out of print)
The Trial by Franz Kafka (Penguin Modern Classics)
Ulysses by James Joyce (Wordsworth Editions)
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H Lawrence (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Penguin Classics)
The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Harvill Press Editions)
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Complete Kama Sutra by Mallanaga Vatsyayana and Alain Danielou (trans) (Inner Traditions Bear and Company)
Clara: A Novel by Janice Galloway (Simon & Schuster)
The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius and Robert Graves (trans) (Penguin Classics)
The Icelandic Sagas (Penguin)
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons (trans) (Penguin Classics)
Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain by Roger Deakin (Vintage)
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (Penguin)