Ahead of Eurovision, Sara Cox has been diving into books from all over Europe – ones she might not have necessarily read before.
For the new season of her BBC2 book club TV show, Between The Covers, the Bolton-born DJ features books from various countries participating in the Eurovision Song Contest, with the final taking place in Liverpool on May 13.
“So we’ve got My Family And Other Animals from Gerald Durrell, which is set in Greece,” the 48-year-old enthuses.
“We’ve got a fantastic one which is very, very dark [Lullaby by Leila Slimani] – it starts with the murder of two children and then it plots backwards – that is set in Paris.
“And we got to Italy, Iceland, and of course Ukraine. It’s been really fantastic, because a couple of them would never have been on my radar. The Italian one by Niccolò Ammaniti – it’s called I’m Not Scared – it’s a really, really good book about some kids whose parents are involved in a kidnapping. I would never have come across that.”
This is the fifth season of Between The Covers – and Cox, who says she’s always been a reader, can hardly believe her luck that she presents a show about books. Each episode features celebrity guests talking about the impactful books in their lives – Cox particularly enjoyed talking to comedian Alan Davies, saying: “He’s got a really light touch with his humour.”
Other celebrity names appearing in this season include comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sara Pascoe, as well as presenter Ore Oduba.
Reflecting on how she fell in love with books, Cox says: “Early teens, or perhaps a bit younger, would have been the Judy Blume books – absolutely love.
“And then, of course, being a child of the Eighties, it was Adrian Mole’s Secret Diary [by Sue Townsend]. In my teenage years, when I was like 15, I was really into Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins – those trashy ‘bonkbusters’, they call them. It’s a great word.”
While she obviously still has a place in her heart for romance novels, Cox went on to study English Literature at A-Level – “which steered me away from bonkbusters and more towards King Henry IV Part Two [by William Shakespeare]”, she says.
“I really enjoyed Shakespeare at A-Level, and being challenged a little bit more.”
Cox says she’s been reading “steadily” since then, but admits: “Ironically seeing as I host this show, very few books stay with me forever. I forget because I read a lot – my brain’s a bit like a one-out-one-in car park.
“Often what I’ve just read is my most favourite book, and I’ll buy lots of copies for people. At the moment, it’s one called Strange Sally Diamond [by Liz Nugent], which we’ll cover in this series, which is brilliant.”
Cox now presents the show as a successful author herself, having published her debut novel, Thrown, in May 2022. It’s a heart-warming tale of four different women who are brought together over a community pottery class, and has become a Sunday Times bestseller.
Did becoming an author change her experience as a reader?
“I try not to be completely intimidated by all the amazing authors I research and read,” she says. “I guess sometimes I can see where there will be devices authors might use to move a story on, a little plot twist – I feel like I can spot them sometimes. Maybe that’s just because I’ve been trying to think through plotting myself, and character.
“I’ve got quite good at not being intimidated now – I like to write a story that will keep people gripped and might make them smile,” she adds. “It doesn’t have to be a literary classic.”
Cox is now working on her second book, which she says is on the first real edit.
“I say I’m working on it – I’ve not touched it for about five days, because I’ve been recording the book show,” she adds with a wry smile.
“So it it’s there like a little gremlin in the corner of my brain, occasionally waving at me going, ‘Hello! I need attention’.”
Between The Covers returns on BBC2 on March 13 at 7pm.