Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: BBC Young Writers' Award; National Poetry Day

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: BBC Young Writers' Award; National Poetry Day

Article excerpt

Imagine what Brennig Davies must have felt like just before 11 o'clock last Tuesday evening. The 15-year-old was about to hear Ian McKellen reading his prizewinning short story nationwide on Radio 1. The voice of Gandalf broadcasting words that have emerged from your own head must have been a spooky moment for Davies, whose story 'Skinning' had just won the BBC's Young Writers' Award (organised with the Book Trust). This new venture (attached to the BBC National Short Story Award, which was also announced last week, the winner being Jonathan Buckley) in some way makes up for the fact that there is now virtually no programming for children on the BBC's radio networks; no way for them to learn how to listen, to be drawn in to a world suggested in sound and then created in the imagination.

In Brennig Davies's story, a young teenager is asked by his Dad to skin a just-killed, still-warm rabbit. It's to help him grow up, 'become a man'. At first the boy flinches, but then something takes him over, which Davies describes with the kind of honesty only young people can have, unfiltered by experience. 'Skinning' is an astonishing story, Brennig using very few words to conjure up the scene. Yet every necessary detail was graphically described (you could tell this was written by a teenager, Brennig not holding back, not afraid to linger on the gore). But there was more to it than mere description, as this new young writer created the sensation of what it feels like to leave childhood behind. The ending, too, was clever, toying with us as readers in a way that was not entirely comfortable.

McKellen obviously relished every word (you can watch him on iPlayer, not just reading but performing behind the mike, although there's no real need because all his movement, his facial expression, is there in the voice). It was a shame that Radio 1 chose to put out the reading so late, although for its target audience I suspect the schedule hardly matters. They'll tune in whenever suits them. But if you missed it, it's worth going online not just to hearMcKellen's stellar performance, but mostly for the excitement of hearing such talent, such clever writing, from someone so young.

Kate Clanchy gave us more young voices on Saturday night's edition of Between the Ears , produced by Jonquil Panting (Radio 3). Clanchy, an award-winning poet and novelist, runs poetry workshops at a comprehensive school in Oxford where the pupils speak 54 different languages. …

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