Six great podcasts about writing
Podcasts are big business – and they’re also a big source of inspiration for the content ninjas in the Speak Media newsroom. We share the wisdom learned from six of our favourite podcasts about writing, from the bliss of a successful edit and the importance of a good proof read – to why the word “cervix” has no place in a sex scene.
There’s no doubt that podcasts are big business. Recent research by Swedish podcast start-up Acast found that 23% of UK adults have listened to a podcast in the past month and Ofcom stats reveal that the steepest growth is among young adults. In a report published by The Content Marketing Association, it is estimated that 48 million Americans listen to podcasts on a weekly basis.
Importantly for brands looking to tap into this audience, the Acast study found that 76% had followed up on an ad or sponsored message they heard on a show.
The Speak newsroom team is very much part of this growing audience. As writing, and reading, obsessives at London’s top content agency*, we listen to podcasts for inspiration, information, ideas – and, of course, for lols.
The six podcasts chosen here are the ones we’ve listened to recently that have really made us think about the way we run the Speak newsroom: about the beauty of language, the unbridled bliss of a successful edit (yes, really) – and the sheer power and importance of storytelling. If it didn’t make us think, laugh or gaze wistfully out of the agency windows (only briefly, you understand), it didn’t make the cut.
An hour of top-notch book chat with three experts in their field – essayist Julia Pistell, novelist and critic Tod Goldberg and actor and filmmaker Rider Strong – this podcast’s endearing strapline is: “Where books come to dance”. Episode 129, in which the three friends dissect the book Lord of the Flies is particularly fun. Rather worryingly, the discussion concludes that this tale, about the murderous instincts of small boys left to their own devices on a desert island, has much to teach us about our current global geo-political climate. Deep.
2. Touré Show
Specifically, the ‘How to be Free’ episode with British author Zadie Smith, who discusses writing with a level of honesty, humour and joy that made this writer wanted to go and pen a novel forthwith. For herself, she describes writing for a living as an “incredible privilege”, adding: “I do find writing hard, but I’m regularly blissed out by the fact that I get to do it.” The wide-ranging interview – in which the warmth of Smith’s friendship with host, the US writer and music journalist Touré comes through – also spans the genius of Nina Simone, why Kanye West is the new Stevie Wonder and how Prince made his music feel like a “strange secret”.
This might not sound like a podcast about writing – and strictly it is about another human pastime – but really, it is a podcast about writing. In this case, bad writing. The hosts have no end of fun reading the output of author Rocky Flintstone (yes, really) out loud.
From his insanely long chapter headings and commas and colons scattered seemingly at will to plot details and bodily parts that appear apparently from nowhere – notably the protagonist’s cervix – this is a lesson in the perils of failing to edit, proof and fact-check your work. A very funny lesson. Listening in public and not looking like a hysterical loon is a challenge not to be taken lightly.
4. The High Low
The Speak newsroom team lives by the first rule of writing: before you write, read. This podcast helps us find the best new fiction and non-fiction on which to spend our pounds. Hosted by journalists and self-confessed reading addicts Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton – and inspired by the ‘high-low’ mix of Tina Brown-era Vanity Fair magazine – this is essential listening for anyone interested in the world of books, as well as pop culture and politics. Think of it as your two coolest mates getting fierce and philosophical over a Wagamamas (their second favourite thing after reading).
5. The Stoop
Also hosted by two friends – US journalists Leila Day and Hana Baba – this is a wide-ranging, warm and funny exploration of the black diaspora, which sometimes focuses on new writing and what it says about wider culture. The episode ‘The African Writer’s Dilemma’ dissects the prevalence of ‘immigrant stories’ amongst African writers that do well in the US and Europe to fascinating effect. Writers including Siyanda Mohutsiwa, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Namwali Serpell dissect the US and UK publishing industries in an attempt to answer the question: “Who gets to choose which African stories get told?”
6. Grammar Girl
With episode names like ‘double negatives’, ‘how to use an asterisk’ and ‘pronoun order’, it’s safe to listen to this on the bus without the impending threat of impromptu laughter –but it’s clear, useful and lives up to its strapline: “short, friendly tips to improve your writing”.
We loved episode 672 ‘How a Semicolon Brought Two Writers Rogether’ with married writing team Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer describing how their eyes met (kind of) over the correct use of the punctuation mark amid a sea of badly written profiles on a dating site. Who says grammar can’t be romantic?