Resource of the Week: BBC British Novelists Archive Collection
By Adrian Janes, DocuTicker UK Contributing Editor
The BBC is increasingly finding ways to exploit and make more freely available its vast collection of visual and aural content. The latest example of this is its British Novelists Archive Collection. This is a complement to a BBC TV series, In Their Own Words: British Novelists. But whereas the series of necessity relies on short clips of interviews with leading authors as it charts the history of the 20th century British novel, this website is an archive of complete interviews and talks. These vary in length from five minutes up to an hour, and in year of broadcast from 1937 (Virginia Woolf) to 2009 (Zadie Smith).
Care has been taken to present a mixture of writers, which implicitly charts the gradual shift during the century from a literary field dominated by white males to one in which women and minorities are clearly visible and audible, through examples like Margaret Drabble, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi.
Each programme is accompanied by a synopsis and a few astutely chosen links which complement the archive and might well merit separate bookmarking. These include:
- Modern radio interviews from the programmes Book Club and Open Book, the latter being strikingly international in scope, with authors from the Americas, Africa and Asia as well as the UK
- An extensive database of contemporary UK writers provided by the British Council, which includes a biography, bibliography and short critical essay
- A database of UK reading groups
- The history and current news of the Man Booker prize, the most prestigious literary award in Britain. (The BBC archive collection also includes a percipient interview from 1995 with the 2009 winner Hilary Mantel, which calls her “the novelist of her generation who will last.”)
- A graphic created by the UK’s key distance learning institution, the Open University, to illustrate connections between authors such as genre, background and relationship.
Both for devotees of particular authors and those studying their work academically, the archive and its associated links form a wonderful resource which really bring literature alive.