Poet Enda Wyley describes the origins of a new podcast about books and writing that herself and her husband, poet Peter Sirr, created and host together.
Towards the end of Lockdown, an idea came to us. Why not record our own podcast where we chat together about the poets and authors that have sustained us both as readers and writers over the years? But our teenage daughter Freya interrupted. We need more of a hook, she explained. After many suggestions from us all, the title for the podcast Books for Breakfast was born, with Peter coming up with the idea that, added to slots where we talked about books, there should also be a ‘Toaster Challenge,’ in each episode. Writers would be invited to chat about a book that has meant something to them for approximately 2 minutes, the length of time it takes to make a slice of toast. The podcast was beginning to come together and Freya was promptly nominated as our logo designer. Within a week or so, she had created for us a striking image of a pile of books with our names on the spines and a breakfast bowl steaming on top. Most importantly the title, Books for Breakfast, was there clearly for all to see.
What began as a fun idea seemed now to be becoming more concrete; we invested in some recording equipment and we started to think about a signature tune. I knew and admired the musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Tentatively, I emailed him. Might we have fifteen seconds of his tune, ‘Thou Shalt not Carry,’ from his album, The Hare’s Corner? He agreed and this special piece of music now acts as the perfect entrance to our chats about books and writing.
Our energies began to lapse then for a few days – writing and work got in the way. But then one afternoon, Peter appeared at my desk with a microphone and pop shield that he’d sent away for. ‘I’m setting things up for the podcast,’ he declared. ‘Have a book ready to talk about in a few minutes.’
I could have refused, but something about the idea of just spontaneously chatting about a book attracted me, and I rose to the challenge. Within minutes, I was sitting squashed beside Peter at his cluttered desk, answering questions about Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel, Hamnet, which I had just finished reading. There was, I noticed, something almost comical about the way Peter and myself, husband and wife for close to twenty years, were suddenly talking to each other about books. There was an ease to the chat but also a semi-formal respect for each other’s opinions. Both of us are strong minded types with ideas of our own but when it comes to books we seemed to be working well together. I am biased, of course, but Peter is an impressive poet and widely read with an astute intelligence. Being interviewed by him was challenging, fun and interesting all at once.
After this first interview, we decided to balance each episode carefully. We created an upbeat introduction which consisted of a back and forth dialogue between us both. ‘So, the coffee’s on, the toast is in the toaster, and the books are on the table…’ The tone of the podcast matters to us. We want to keep our conversations upbeat but informed, maintain a lightness of touch and also offer wide ranging ideas about fiction, non-fiction and poetry. When the guest writers come in each week, we firstly talk to them about their own writing experiences and we’ve found that this eases them into the ‘Toaster Challenge. But on either side of this slot, Peter and I always have a section where we chat to each other about what we have both been reading that week. So far, I’ve interviewed Peter about an array of poets he loves, including Lars Gustafsson, Julie O’Callaghan, Francis Ponge, Charles Simic, Jeremy Hooker and others. Equally, I’ve talked to him about books I’ve been reading and enjoying – novels, memoirs, travel books, or poetry. Guests writers to date have included debut Irish novelist Alice Lyons, whose novel Oona was recently published by Lilliput Press. Marianne Lee talked to us about her new book A Quiet Tide, New Island Books. John O’Donnell discussed his stories, Almost the Same Blue, Doire Press. And Christine Dwyer Hickey was an absolute force as our very first guest when I interviewed her about her new much acclaimed and award-winning novel, The Narrow Land. These and many other guests, amongst them journalist and broadcaster Olivia O’Leary, poet Joe Woods, playwright and poet Adam Wyeth and the singer /songwriter and film director Nick Kelly, have never ceased to amaze us too with their intelligence, fluency and enthusiasm as they praised books by writers they admire – Colum McCann, Linda Norton, John Le Carré, Raymond Carver, Kate O’Brien, Clarice Lispector and others.
We’re building up a loyal following but obviously we’re keen to reach as many listeners as we can and that can be quite a challenge. Podcasting is a pretty crowded space so you need to work to stand out as well as to attract regular listeners.
Books for Breakfast is available on Spotify and all the usual podcast apps and our episodes so far have been downloaded by books enthusiasts from all over the world. We send out a teaser videogram on Wednesdays and alert listeners to new podcasts every Thursday on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the responses have been positive and so encouraging.
An enormous love of books has been our guiding force – that and our belief in writers we admire. There is nothing more thrilling than hearing a writer talk about another writer they love – and for this reason, the ‘Toaster Challenge,’ has been a great success too. We have included a sound bite of the toast going down in the toaster too, which adds a bit of fun to the whole slot! More often than not the toast gets burnt as writers love to chat – but we don’t mind. The books are always on the breakfast table ready to be discussed and that’s what counts the most!
Books for Breakfast can be followed on: booksforbreakfast.buzzsprout.com
(c) Enda Wyley
Photograph of Enda Wyley and Peter Sirr with their dog Oscar (c) Eoin Rafferty
Also shown is poet Adam Wyeth rising to the Toaster Challenge!