In conversation with

Carrie Plitt and Octavia Bright

Hosts of Literary Friction Podcast

Introduction

Introduction

Talking about books is intimidating. It’s difficult to sum up everything you think about a story in a way that’s intelligent, relevant, and without sounding like you’re showing off. Oh, to be able to do it like Carrie and Octavia from the Literary Friction podcast.

What began “very randomly” as a live book talk show on NTS is now a monthly conversation that has engaged authors including Dolly Alderton, Sally Rooney and Thomas Page McBee. It is perhaps unsurprising that the two hosts know publishing from the inside out. Carrie works as a literary agent at Felicity Bryan (representing authors including Reni Eddo-Lodge) while Octavia is a writer and academic. In the age of the Bookstagram, they’re part of a new wave of individuals discussing books in a way that feels fresh. Octavia says: “the most exciting stuff is happening unofficially, with people just talking about books they love or shows designed to encourage new writers and accompany them in the process”. We pinned down Literary Friction to ask about their favourite stories (no easy task).

Question and Answer

How was Literary Friction born?

C: Literary Friction was born very randomly. I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who was starting an online radio station called NTS. They wanted a host for a books talk show and agreed to let me do it, even though I had zero experience with radio. It was a live show, part of an arts compendium called ‘Kiss My Arts’, and let’s just say that I’m glad recordings don’t exist of those early days: on the first show we ever broadcast, there was 20 minutes of dead air because we forgot to turn on someone’s mic. But the best decision I made was asking Octavia to come on the show a couple of times. We liked working together so much that we decided to co-host the show together (we also wisely decided to start pre-recording it), and reimagined it as ‘Literary Friction’.

What are some of the most interesting conversations you’ve had on the podcast?

O: We just interviewed Thomas Page McBee and had a brilliant conversation about masculinity, the kind that could have gone on for hours and hours and leaves you energised and thoughtful. I also loved talking to Chris Kraus about abstract romanticism, she had real wisdom to share about making art under late capitalism, but also a great sense of humour and a generous intellect. And I’ll never forget some of the things I learned from Caitlin Doughty about sky funerals and how to prepare a corpse for burial!

Which other podcasts do you enjoy?

O: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is my all time favourite. I also love Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin?, she’s very inspiring to listen to. And lately I’ve been re-visiting Adam and Joe and laughing inappropriately loudly on public transport.

C: I am a podcast junkie. Some of my favourites at the moment are Still Processing, Reply All, The Slate Culture Gabfest, The Daily, Slow Burn and The Dream.

the new yorker fiction
"The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is my all time favourite"

Carrie – what is the best thing about working in the book world? And the worst?

C: The best thing about working in the book industry is that I play a small part in the process of bringing new stories and ideas into the world. In some ways I’m at the front line of that process because I’m a literary agent, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see my authors’ books published, especially when I have been working with them since the early days. The worst part is that sometimes nobody pays attention to the books and the authors that I love; it can be a tough and unpredictable market.

“The best thing about working in the book industry is that I play a small part in the process of bringing new stories and ideas into the world.”

Have you noticed any recurrent themes in fiction that’s being produced today?

C: There are definitely ‘trends’ in fiction that we talk about in the industry – right now we seem to be in the midst of a boom of feminist dystopia. People are also talking about ‘uplit’: novels like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine that emphasise kindness. I always tell my authors not to write to trends, though – by the time their books are published, chances are that it won’t be a trend any longer.

O: Often it feels like there is just so much being published that it’s hard to have a real overview, but I will say that my appetite for writing that explores more marginal spaces and perspectives is feeling more satisfied than ever, which is very encouraging.

eleanor oliphant
"People are also talking about ‘uplit’: novels like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine that emphasise kindness"

From the outside, the literary world might not seem as innovative as other industries. Is that true? If not, what are exciting platforms, developments that have changed this industry?

C: I do think the publishing industry can be slower than other industries to innovate (and I think that’s partially because many readers really do prefer good old-fashioned physical books), but I’ve been fascinated by the meteoric growth of audiobooks in the last few years. This seems like a real opportunity to expand the way we consume ideas and stories. I’m excited to see what will happen with the form.

O: Yes, and the world of literary podcasting is really thriving. There are so many brilliant ones available – most of the big publishers run their own shows and naturally have access to very well known authors, but there are loads of less official podcasts out there doing really interesting things. I think the most exciting stuff is happening unofficially, with people just talking about books they love or shows designed to encourage new writers and accompany them in the process. There’s a literary podcast to suit everyone’s taste, that’s for sure.

What are the best books you’ve read in the past year?

O: This is such a hard question to answer! I really enjoyed Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus, To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine, Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde, and The Pisces by Melissa Broder, but there are so many more. I feel like last year was a really good one in my reading life.

C: My favourite books that I read last year were Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, Normal People by Sally Rooney, and Educated by Tara Westover. These are all very different books, but they were all consuming reading experiences that revealed to me something new about the world through beautiful writing.

What other book-related content platforms would you recommend?

O: Instagram is an interesting place for books – the visual emphasis means that they’re often presented as objects, so there are plenty of accounts that I find pretty weird of people just posting pictures of book covers and colour coordinated bookshelves. Twitter is probably the most literary platform and it’s a really easy way for people to share pieces they like – the whole Cat Person phenomenon was a case in point, probably the first short story to go viral. For events I would always check out your local indie bookshop – my locals Burley Fisher and Pages of Hackney do great things every week. Alice-Azania Jarvis’ salon at The Ned always has a fab line up, too, and she’s just launched a podcast to go with it so check that out if you can’t make it down in person.

C: There are other great literary podcasts around like Mostly Lit and Little Atoms. The London Review Bookshop always has stimulating events, and I agree that Twitter can be an amazing place to discover books and authors if you follow people from the literary community.

Who is a young author writing today that you think we’ll remember in 50 years time?

O: Maybe I’m biased because she’s a friend, but I think Dolly Alderton has real staying power, like a Norah Ephron for our times. She writes beautifully and with such humour about life in a way that is relatable to so many young women, and I reckon she’s got a ton of other books up her sleeve in the years to come. Carrie I’m guessing you’ll say Sally Rooney!

C: You’re right – I think Sally Rooney is a genius, and not just because she’s managed to capture the voice of the millennial generation. She has a rare gift for depicting the way that conversations unfold, their subtle shifts of power, the words that lie unsaid beneath the words we do say.

Everything I Know About Love Dolly Alderton
"I think Dolly Alderton has real staying power, like a Norah Ephron for our times"

And your desert island reads?

C: I’d like to be the kind of person who would bring something edifying like In Search of Lost Time, which I would finally have time to fully tackle on a deserted island. But who am I kidding: it would probably be the Harry Potter series. Those books are my ultimate comfort read, and I imagine I would need a lot of comfort on my lonely island. Plus they are so plot-heavy that I always forget key elements of the story every time I read them, and so I imagine I could be entertained for a long time.

O: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is a book I go back to every few years and always discover something new and exciting in it, so I would back it to keep me interested, and to keep making me laugh. Also I have a crush on Behemoth, the giant black cat, which I know sounds pretty weird but anyone who knows the book will get why (hopefully?!).

The Storylist

Literary Friction's Storylist

Books – Carrie

  1. Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
  2. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  4. Educated by Tara Westover
  5. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  6. The End of The Affair by Graham Greene

Books – Octavia

  1. Aliens & Anorexia by Chris Kraus
  2. To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine
  3. Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde
  4. The Pisces by Melissa Broder
  5. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
  6. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Podcasts – Carrie

  1. Still Processing by The New York Times
  2. Reply All by Gimlet Media
  3. Culture Gabfest by Slate
  4. The Daily by The New York Times
  5. Slow Burn by Slate Magazine
  6. The Dream by Stitcher

Podcasts – Octavia

  1. Fiction by The New Yorker
  2. Where Should We Begin? by Esther Perel
  3. Adam and Joe by BBC Radio 6 Music
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