Working with Words: Jan Goldsmith

Jan Goldsmith is the co-host of Published ... Or Not on Melbourne community radio station 3CR.  She's interviewed big and small names, from Frank McCourt and Lionel Shriver to many local and self-published authors. In the 20th year of Published ... Or Not, we spoke with Jan about the changing world of publishing, giving thanks to editors and what happened when Barbara Taylor Bradford pulled up outside 3CR in a chauffeur-driven BMW. 

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry? 

Photograph of broadcaster Jan Goldsmith at community radio station 3CR

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Through school I was not a great reader! The Lewis Carroll nonsense spoem 'Jabberwocky' was performed dramatically by our Year 9 English teacher, standing on a desk. This changed the way I viewed literature. I would love to say I was looking for subtext, but I just liked the way the words worked.

I really admire the way authors create stories and characters purely through well organised words. In radio, many years later, I accused Andy Griffiths of being a lazy writer with ten pages of The Bad Book just repeating one word. That made for interesting listening!

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your interest in writing and your work in radio?

My first teaching position would have been at A1 Mining settlement, but instead I chose to do a teacher/librarian course. This inspired me as an independent reader – beginning with children’s books and then to all books. Since presenting the radio show at 3CR, I have become a very broad reader. I am not a reviewer or a critic but an avenue for writers to talk about their books. I came to radio through Radio Production at Swinburne Uni. Many of the skills I learned then aren’t necessary now, such as splicing reel-to-reel tape.

One of the course requirements was to volunteer at a radio station. This led me to 3CR, working behind the reception desk, before joining a writing programme, Writers at Work, which was sponsored by the Victorian Writers Centre. For the last 20 years I have had my own programme, Published ... Or Not.

How has publishing (especially self-publishing) changed in the time since you started Published … Or Not?

No wonder Melbourne has City of Literature status. There are so many writers here. Each Thursday at 11.30am I am fortunate enough to have an author live in the studio. For the last six years, with co-presenter David McLean, we've had two authors each week. Often it is the interaction between the authors that is wonderful to be part of. In one case, there was much delight when a debut author met his hero, Rodney Hall, in our studio. Published or ... Not is often the first interview for debut authors.

I have noticed over the years, that authors are expected to do so much more of their own publicity with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, book trailers as well as book store visits. Having a publisher means that your books have distribution. If you self-publish, physically getting your books to book shops has always been a big problem. Some writing genres such as romantic and speculative fiction have always had a market a little removed from the mainstream and this continues on in e-books.

When I hear the words 'I did my own editing', it invariably means the book needs editing.

Who are some of your all-time favourite authors to interview (both local and international) and why?

Fiona MacIntosh writes the books I really enjoy reading: well-researched historical fiction with characters you feel for. I had tears after the death of a World War II German officer in occupied Paris in The Lavender Keeper.

Bruce Pascoe has self-published Ocean, written a crime novel, Bloke, and of course Dark Emu – all good.

Toni Jordan has a smile that is nearly as big and heartful as the novels she writes.

Monica McInerney published her first novel after winning a Guiness competition in Ireland. During our interview, we not only discuss novels but vintage clothing.

Alex Miller will always make time to visit 3CR and brings with him his dry wit.

I am so privileged to have met so many authors and to have been able to talk with them about their books.

Who are your all-time least favourites? 

Barbara Taylor Bradford was among the richest women in England when I interviewed her. She came to 3CR in a chauffeured BMW. This was a long time before Smith Street became gentrified. As part of the book chat, I always select a piece of writing that captures my attention and ask the author to read it. When I asked Barbara to read a passage she said, in a very upper-class accent, 'I don’t do that'. I explained why I thought the passage was was very clever writing, so she did read on air. She insisted on inscribing in my review copy, To Jan, the only person who could get me to read from a book!

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve heard about writing?

When I hear the words 'I did my own editing' it invariably means the book needs editing. In Acknowledgments, most authors thank their editor and as readers we should sincerely thank them too.

Which classic Australian book do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

There are books that I find a challenge to read. I can do gore and sex but not action after action in the plot without character development. Readers are all different and there are usually bits in books I can find interesting.

3CR has an ethos of giving everyone airtime. On Published ...Or Not we have the big names as well as self-published authors. My gem would have to be Maree Coote and her self-published children’s books, especially Andy Web and Robyn Boid. They should be on every child’s bookshelf for the whole family to read.

Which artist, author or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with? (And what would you talk about?)

During many of her hectic publicity campaigns, Geraldine Brooks has found time to come to 3CR – but not much time. So perhaps a dinner where we could discuss her writing of cultural superwomen, hear about her diverse family and her personal story about the countries she has lived in would be conversations I would like to have.

I am very fortunate that there are two people I can talk to about all things literature. The novelist Andrea Goldsmith is my sister-in-law. She has read all the classics from the Brontes to Bulgakov. David McLean, co-presenter on Published ...Or Not, has a depth of knowledge on Shakespeare, war poets and the Bible. Thankfully I don’t have to wait for dinner, I can talk with them whenever I want to!

Portrait of Jan Goldsmith

Jan Goldsmith is co-host of 3CR's Published ... Or Not books programme.

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