Rosie Millard is best known for her appearances on television as BBC arts correspondent or perhaps as a columnist in national papers and magazines like the Independent, the Daily Telegraph or the New Statesman. But she will be appearing at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival next month talking about her new novel, The Square. Her appearance with poet Matt Black is part of the festival’s Chapter and Verse strand where poets and prose writers discuss their work on a similar theme. Rosie said: “I’m delighted to be at the festival, and appearing with Matt, but I must admit I couldn’t write a poem if you held a gun to my head, but I love poetry, and I’m thrilled to be sharing a stage with writers who can do that.”
Rosie’s novel The Square, set in an upmarket garden square in London is a satire on modern middle-class morals and habits, and Matt’s work also explore the ironies of modern life. “I poke fun at the way people use their children to elevate their status, or their food choices, or the décor of their houses. And it is quite saucy and we get to that quite quickly. I’ve begged my parents, who are both doctors, not to read it.”
Rosie’s first novel emerged after she found herself short of work and put herself on a writing course with the Guardian and the University of East Anglia. “I lost about five or six different contracts for columns and jobs in one year, which was careless of me. So I thought, let’s do a novel. I love journalism, and I think of myself primarily as a journalist, and it’s great that your story is printed the next day, but then after that it’s fish and chip paper. Like many hacks I hanker after having a British Library reference number.
“Writing fiction is like ice-skating. People think we hacks make it all up, but we don’t, we can’t. So that’s like clinging to the wall on the rink, you have to hold on to the facts. With fiction you’re out in the middle of the rink, and can do anything, so it is a challenge.”
As a writer and broadcaster on the arts, Rosie is adamant that independent festivals like Cheltenham Poetry Festival are critical to the country’s culture. “I’m the Chair of Hull City of Culture 2017. It’s the city of Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith was born there, even Roger McGough was at the university.
“It’s a wonderful, portable art form, which is both modern and ancient, but it needs looking after, so what Anna Saunders is doing with the poetry festival is absolutely crucial.”
Anna Saunders, founder of the festival said: “Chapter and Verse is a new type of event – launched for this year’s festival. We wanted to see how different literary forms approach a ‘poetic’ theme.”
Rosie and Matt will appear at Cheltenham Playhouse at 6.30pm on Friday May 6