Our second podcast series, titled The Unknown Path, follows the writer and broadcaster Laura Barton as she journeys across the country to meet six authors, actors and naturalists. Taken to places from their past and present, we learn about the various, and often unexpected, routes their lives have taken. Listen to the podcast here or on Apple Podcasts.
Maxine Peake is widely regarded as one of the finest actors of her generation, from her early roles in Shameless and Dinnerladies to the more complex parts she has subsequently chosen, including Hamlet, Myra Hindley, and Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days. On a rainy spring morning, she takes us to Rivington Pike, near to her childhood home in Lancashire, to discuss the path that carried her from local youth theatre to revered performer and her decision to return to live in the North West.
Horatio Clare takes us to visit a hill farm in the Black Mountains, the backdrop for his brilliant memoir Running for the Hills. He has written quite relentlessly ever since, on everything from the migratory path of the swallow to the allure of seafaring life. He is a regular contributor to both Radio 4 and Radio 3, where he won much acclaim for his slow radio' sound walks. On a glorious spring day we hike up to the top of his favourite Welsh hill to admire the land before us and the skylarks above, and to talk about the curious route of the travel writer, the pull between restlessness and rootedness, and the way his path was forged by his rural upbringing.
Elif Shafak appears to have led many lives in a little over four decades. Born in Strasbourg, her early life was spent in Turkey with her mother and her grandmother, before her mother's role as a diplomat took them to live in various postings overseas. She is the author of 16 books and her work has been translated into 49 languages. She has taught at universities around the world, including Michigan and Arizona, and is currently Weidenfeld Visiting Professor at St Anne's College, Oxford. We meet Elif (and a cacophony of birdsong) in London's Holland Park to talk about her upbringing, women's rights, global politics and what it means to belong.
In 2014 Helen Macdonald published H is for Hawk, an extraordinary memoir that somehow tethered together her grief following the death of her father, the story of the naturalist TH White, and her experience training a goshawk named Mabel. It won her many prestigious awards and became a worldwide bestseller. Today she is at work on a collection of essays, a new book about albatrosses, and remains an Affiliated Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge. We join her on Wicken Fen, the National Trust's oldest nature reserve, to spot wigeons, coots and hen harriers, and to talk about the odd course of her life, her presiding love for the natural world, and the experience of unanticipated success.
Kassia St Clair
We meet the writer and cultural historian Kassia St Clair on Cable Street in East London, site of the invention of the first synthetic purple dye, and an appropriate setting for discussion of her books The Secret Lives of Colour and The Golden Thread. Kassia's first book told the story of 75 unusual colours, from amber to absinthe, while its successor spoke of everything from the woollen sails of Vikings to Michael Phelps' swimsuit. Between discussing the unusual paths of certain colours, we find out how Kassia's own passion for colour began in her mother's flower shop.
Louisa Thomsen Brits
Born in Uganda to a Danish mother and English father, the writer Louisa Thomsen-Brits has made her home in East Sussex. Her first book, The Book of Hygge, was published in 2016. Path: a short story about reciprocity, was published earlier this year. Combining storytelling and nature writing, it is a tribute to the chalk paths near her home and to the restorative act of walking. On an early evening in March, Louisa takes us along one such path to visit the site of an old iron age fort, passing woodland and hawthorn and violets, and discussing the rich rhythm of writing, footstep and thought, and the particular relationship between women and landscape.
The podcasts are presented by Laura Barton, produced by Geoff Bird and conceived by Emily Cameron.
You can download the podcast from your usual podcast provider, where you can also subscribe. To search for the podcast on your provider, simply type in "TOAST Podcast".