Bright Words for My Mother’s Colourful Life


Cash for titles: The Billion-dollar ladies

From: You Magazine, Mail on Sunday.

For daughters of the new American billionaires of the 19th century, it was the ultimate deal: marriage to a cash-strapped British aristocrat in return for a title and social status. But money didn’t always buy them happiness, says Daisy Goodwin

I will be reading this Tuesday! Come along to the Idea Store Whitechapel

An event of music, food and drink this Tuesday 13th July with readings from Tabitha Potts, Uchenna Izundu, Bobby Nayyar and myself, alternatively known as: Tower Hamlets, Enfield, Haringey and Hammersmith & Fulham.
The event will take place on the 4th floor of the Idea Store, which is a minute or two away from Whitechapel tube station (when exiting the station, turn left). Free for all.
Find out more at:
Glasshouse Books
The Idea Store

Poetry in motion on the coalition bench

DEPUTY PM Nick Clegg’s love of poetry was revealed last week when one of his childhood poems was published. However, a poem he chose for Off by Heart, an anthology for children edited by Daisy Goodwin and published last year, is particularly apt as he joins David Cameron’s Lib-Con coalition.

Read the entire article on the Evening Standard’s Website

Misery Lit

As someone whose idea of a perfect day ends between clean sheets with a book I have been itching to read all day (sad, I know, but true) I was delighted when I was asked to chair the judges of the Orange prize for the best novel written in English by a woman.

But one hundred and twenty nine novels later I feel like a social worker in Haringey. It’s not that the books weren’t good, there were at least thirty I would have paid good money for, but because by and large their subject matter was so unremittingly grim. T.S. eliot once said that humankind cannot bear too much reality, but if you are a judge of the Orange Prize this year you had no choice. I read novels that started with a rape, carried on through a civil war and ended with a bombing; there were books where babies were abused, bayonetted and brought up as dogs, I persevered through stories where women were trafficked, abused, raped vaginally, anally (with and without needles) and finally murdered. And that’s not to mention the countless stories of quiet despair. In 2010 the future’s not so much Orange as gunmetal grey spotted here and there with dark red.

Of course there is nothing new about grim. None of the books I read contained a scene as harrowing as the passage in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy when Jude discovers that little Jude has hanged all his siblings, “becos we are too meny”. No fictional woman has ever suffered for as long as the eponymous heroine of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa and Greek tragedies are full of infanticide, incest and eye gouging. But generally great fiction contains light and shade – the horrors of the bottle factory and Mr Murdstone in David Copperfield were balanced by the joys of Mr. Micawber and Betsey Trotwood. Even Tess has a few jollies with Angel Clare before it all goes pear-shaped. Of course there were books among the Orange submissions that balanced misery with redemption and took the reader on a journey rather than subjecting them to a mail order catalogue of misfortune and these were the books that we chose for the long list. I will happily read a book about human trafficking in Belgium if it has a compelling story and engaging characters, but I don’t want to read first-hand accounts lightly fictionalized.

The Orange prize is for women only but misery lit is not a purely female phenomenon. Sue Perkins who was a judge on the Booker last year said that there are books by men and women that she still shudders to recall, “That’s eight months of my life I won’t get back. The theme of the year was casual rape, usually set in the 50’s . And animal abuse, why spend thirty pages carefully delineating the nuances of a character if you can just have him ritually slaughter a cat.” She has been so affected by the experience that at the moment she isn’t reading anything written after 1900. “I’ll get over it eventually but right now I am having some down time with Moby Dick.”

So why are there so many novels sprinkled with rape and child abuse? Surely, the activities of the Catholic Church aside, these writers are all not following rule 101 of creative writing and writing about what they know? Why is there so little humour in modern literary fiction? The agent Derek Johns whose clients include Andrew O’Hagan, Sebastian Barry and Linda Grant says that it is much harder to sell a funny book, ‘humour in literary fiction is considered to be a bit suspect.’ This week Ian Mc Ewan has been at pains to defend his new book Solar from the charge of humour, claiming that ‘there are great stretches of it that really aren’t funny at all.’

Juliet Annan, the editorial director of Fig Tree books who publishes The Help which is funny, even though its subject matter – the treatment of black maids in the Mississippi of 1961 – is anything but, says that “I am always surprised by how frightened my colleagues at the literary imprints are of humour or lightness of tone. I think the most interesting books are the ones that use humour to deal with serious things. I love a bit of bleak but there’s an awful lot of it out there. You shouldn’t have to suffer as you read.” Amanda Craig, whose book Hearts and Minds is also on the long list, makes the distinction between serious and solemn. “ A lot of authors confuse the two. I actually had a lot of problems with my publisher over the comedy parts of Hearts and Minds; he wanted it all to be the grim stuff, and I argued that life itself a mixture of comedy and tragedy, and a novel should reflect this. I think it’s like the gap between Baroque music, and Romantic. In Baroque music, there is darkness but always a movement towards light and life and joy and hope. I detest the current trend for thinking that a literary novel is all miserabilist. There are plenty of examples of horrible subjects treated as comedy in classic literature – Lolita, David Copperfield, The Way We Live Now spring to mind – and the seriousness is no less serious for that. Whereas now, far too many serious novels make me want to slit my wrists at the end.”

So where is the push to the dark side coming from? Not from individual readers it seems. Jo Rutherford atToppings bookshop in Ely says that she constantly has people coming in ‘asking for something “uplifting” and it can be a struggle to find anything that fits the bill. I get customers who are going into hospital and they want to read something cheering. It can be really hard to find them the right book.” She says that the real demand for books about human trafficking in Antwerp or foot binding in Lithuania or female circumcision, are the book groups. “Issue led books work much better for book groups, “ says Jo Rutherford, “It makes for a much better evening.”

Juliet annan agrees, ‘You need something other than style and nuance to talk about before you move on to the cupcakes or open the second bottle.” Funny books don’t wash with book group crowd. Tried it. Like late Victorian working men’s clubs book groups want ‘improving’ books and the marketing departments of publishers love that says Annan, “ because it gives them something to glomm on to.” Of course there is nothing wrong with book groups, but publishers need to remember that most people read for pleasure; my heart sank every time I saw the words suitable for book groups on the back of a proof. Call me old fashioned but I want to be seduced by a book not hectored into submission.

Kate Mosse the founder of the Orange Prize and bestselling novelist, thinks that the reason that so many works of literary fiction now have such disturbing subject matter is due to the escalation of violence across fiction generally,
“There are some crime writers now that I genuinely cannot bring myself to read because they are so horrific. I think this change has meant that everyone’s threshold for violence has changed. I think a lot of writers of literary fiction are responding to this and are desperately looking trying to find ways to shock.” She thinks that one of the reasons that so many women writers are drawn to such dark subject matter is that ‘they are trying so hard not to be Jane Austen. If women writers write humorously about the domestic arena they get put in pink covers and struggle to be taken seriously.” It is true that editors don’t tend to enter books with pink covers for literary prizes. Of the one and hundred and twenty nine books that were submitted only a fraction had even a hint of pastel, although one of them The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooqi has ended up on the long list.

I think it is time for publishers to stop treating literary fiction as the novelistic equivalent of cod liver oil: if it’s nasty it must be good for you. I don’t want happy endings or belly laughs on every page but I do want a book I can go happily to bed with, and I promise that this year’s Orange winner will be that.

Copyright Daisy Goodwin. All Rights Reserved

Articles from 2007

In short: Iain Finlayson’s nonfiction reviews | The TimesSusannah Herbert

September 22, 2007

Silver River: A Family Story by Daisy Goodwin Fourth Estate, £16.99

The fashion among poets and critics for exorcising parental ghosts through biography has sometimes produced a rather turgid stream of consciousness, but Silver River runs bright and clear, a quick, vital current of self-awareness by a natural storyteller who uses literary styles and devices with a deft hand. From the first terror of being dangled over a cliff by her father, greatly amusing her mother, to her depression and sense of abandonment after the birth of her daughter, Goodwin artfully integrates the disparate sections of her life, emerging whole and healed.

Read on

Silver River: A Family Story by Daisy Goodwin | The Sunday TimesSusannah Herbert

September 23, 2007

The very first line of Daisy Goodwin’s family memoir suggests long intimacy with suspense. “ ‘But don’t you want to be famous?’ said Joe as he held me over the cliff.” Goodwin was six, a plump, scowling child with vague aspirations to film stardom. Joe, her new stepfather, was a storybook ogre, her rival for the love of her runaway mother. “What I’m going to do,” he declared, “is drop you here off this cliff and I’m going to film you falling down . . . You might be crippled, but you’d be a crippled film star.”

Read on

Goodwin: First Person | Guardian

September 16, 2007

Daisy Goodwin was just five when her mother left their safe, middle-class life for a ‘dirty, rude, sexy’ northern boy called Joe. The effects of her abandonment are still being felt

I don’t remember the day my mother left, but I remember the moment when I noticed she had gone. Someone, not my mother, had left my brother and me alone in the bath with a Lucozade bottle made of glass. I was five and my brother was three so we were soon sitting in a tub of bright red water, crying. Someone, not my mother, came at last and plucked us out of the bath and dried us and put plasters on my wounded knee. The someone may have kissed it better even; I don’t remember, she was not my mother.

Read on

Goodwin: “Children of the divorce Olympics stay married” | Sunday Times

September 16, 2007

A victim of the break-up boom of the 1960s, our correspondent says her generation will fight to avoid inflicting such pain again

From the age of six I have lived a double life. Not because I was intrinsically deceitful but because, like 20m other people in this country (according to a survey last week), my life has been profoundly altered by divorce.

Read on

Goodwin: “People like fairy stories” | Digital ( Joanne Oates)

August 24, 2007

A session on factual entertainment provoked some lively debate at MGEITF this afternoon, discussing the success of shows that try to change people’s behaviour.

Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor of The Sun, said that too many factual entertainment shows that try to do good are bad for a channel.

Speaking at a MGEITF session today – called F’*ck off, I’m a TV God – he said: “They keep making these things and they don’t work, and then it takes over a network.”…

Joining Mackenzie on the panel was Daisy Goodwin, founder and ‘head girl’ of indie Silver River, the company behind many successful factual entertainment shows. She defended the format, pointing to Grand Designs as an example of where a fact-ent show had ‘done some good’. “It has raised people’s awareness of what can be done in architecture in this country, ” she said.

Goodwin said the popularity of using experts in fact-ent shows is because they are like ‘fairy godmothers’. “People like fairy stories and that is what these experts are,” she added.

Read on

Goodwin Stops Traffic | Media ( John Plunkett)

August 28, 2007

Having transformed the nation’s attitude to architecture and encouraged us all to get on the property ladder, Daisy Goodwin is about to tackle her toughest challenge yet – traffic congestion. Channel 4’s The Woman Who Stops Traffic will feature her efforts to cut traffic in Marlowe, Buckinghamshire. It is made by Goodwin’s production company, Silver River.

Read on

Let’s Facebook, my dear | ( Daisy Goodwin)

July 22, 2007

The scene: Shoreditch House (the new east London members’ club) last weekend; the cast: middle-youthy, middle-class media types; the conversation: “Nice Facebook picture, love the Warhol vibe. How many friends have you got? Only 30? Never mind, it’ll pick up. You know, Ricky Gervais is on it.” Both parties consider this a substitute for actual conversation and edge away to find other “friends”. Everybody at the party is either on it, thinking about joining or is an official refusenik. Even five months ago this wouldn’t have been the case, but the Facebook phenomenon is greasing the wheels of middle-class social life faster than Nigella’s goose fat.

Read on

Articles from 2006

Confessions of a Heroine Addict | The Sunday Times (Daisy Goodwin)

September 17, 2006

Confessions of a heroine addict

They’re never considered for literary prizes, but romantic novels say more about the society we live in than many realise, says Daisy Goodwin

From the age of 10 I have been sharing my most intimate moments with some highly unsuitable men: a would-be bigamist with a penchant for dressing up in women’s clothes, a gun-running philanderer who isn’t averse to a little marital rape, a misogynist snob with more money than sense and a sociopath who likes to strangle puppies. Despite their failings as human beings these men have been there for me through teenage heartache, marital difficulties, new babies, new jobs. In fact I rarely go to bed without one of them.

Read on

Don’t Do It Girls: It Wouldn’t work for me and it shouldn’t for you | Independent on Sunday (Daisy Goodwin)

September 03, 2006

At the age of 17 I was convinced my difficulties with boys, parents and French verbs would be resolved if my hair was blond and curly instead of dark and straight. Funnily enough, the marmalade-coloured frizz that I arrived at, courtesy of Clairol, did nothing to improve my lot – quite the reverse if anything. But at least the evidence of my folly had grown out four months later. Read on

Daisy Pulls It Off  | Broadcast ( Dan Wootton)

September 19, 2006

After launching in the midst of unexpected tragedy Daisy Goodwin’s start-up Silver River has had a bumper first year. Self-styled head girl tells Dan Wootton how she is fostering a culture of success at the indie Daisy Goodwin has always been the archetypal glamorous TV executive. She’s a talent-spotter par excellence, she’s friends with the right people – and she’s certainly not camera shy. Read on

Poetry? It’ll soon be about as popular as morris dancing | The Observer (David Smith)

January 29, 2006

Daisy Goodwin, the TV presenter dubbed the Nigella Lawson of poetry, has warned that the art form of Shakespeare and Keats is dying and set to become as quaint as morris dancing.Read on

Fremantle makes a splash with Silver River

From: C21Media (Jonathan Webdale)

MIPCOM NEWS: Fremantle International Distribution (FID) has signed a long-term distribution deal with Silver River Productions, the new UK production outfit set up by former Talkback editorial director Daisy Goodwin.

Under the terms of the three-year arrangement, FID will have rights to sell all formats and finished shows from Silver River, which was set up in July by Goodwin and comedy producer Harry Thompson.

Read on

Festival: Something for everyone – Books

From: Times Online


In just three weeks’ time, the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival will swing into unmissable action. Between Sunday, April 10 and Sunday, April 17, the historic city of Oxford will provide the stunning location for one of the country’s most successful, entertaining and high-profile celebrations of the written word.

John Mortimer kicks off the festivities in style with a rereading of Brideshead Revisited. Hilary Spurling talks about her brilliant biography of Matisse. Melvyn Bragg and Ann Widdecombe are the entertaining speakers at the festival dinner, held in the candlelit Tudor dining hall of Christ Church. Kazuo Ishiguro will discuss his new (already bestselling) novel, and Doris Lessing will talk about a distinguished lifetime’s writing. Hear Claire Bloom, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter and Dominic West interpreting poems about the garden; Daisy Goodwin on Poems to Last a Lifetime; Simon Armitage and Nick Laird on their poetry. Novelists include last year’s Man Booker winner Alan Hollinghurst, David Mitchell, A L Kennedy, Andrew Miller, Jasper Fforde and William Boyd. Take the rare opportunity to hear one of France’s greatest writers, Andrei Makine.

Read on

Birth of a Notion – Poetry

From: Times Online (Daisy Goodwin)

Books of the year It is a striking paradox that while sales of poetry decline year on year, the number of volumes of poetry published rises annually. Perhaps these facts are not unconnected — readers may well be daunted by such an abundance of new collections. One place to start is Newborn by Kate Clanchy (Picador, £12.99; offer £10.39). These vivid, tender poems form a lyrical alternative to all those bossy childcare manuals. The collection flows like a novel through conception, pregnancy and birth — capturing the gradual but ineluctable changes that come with motherhood.

Read on