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Podcast spotlight: From the Lighthouse

Established in 2017, From the Lighthouse is a fortnightly literary podcast produced by the English department at Macquarie University. Each episode is hosted by academics Dr Stephanie Russo and Dr Michelle Hamadache, who ‘love to talk about anything to do with books, from the latest bestsellers and prize-winners, film and television adaptations of books to bookish news’. Dr Jimmy Van—known as ‘the lighthouse keeper’—produces the podcast. Co-host Russo says, ‘From the Lighthouse was born when Michelle and I started doing short, discrete podcasts on the texts that our students were studying, as a kind of fun supplement to their lectures. We had so much fun recording them that I started to think about taking those discussions public.’ She spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘podcast spotlight’ series.

For new or uninitiated listeners, describe your podcast in under 50 words.

Every week, we talk about something literary, whether that be a new release, a novel written 300 years ago or the latest literary news. We just love talking about books, really!

What makes your podcast unique?

Our podcast is unique because it’s a really nice mixture (at least, we think so!) of academic discussion about literature alongside popular discussion about literature. Our episodes are always informed by our research interests, but instead of presenting lectures, we’re interested in bringing those ideas to a wider, more general audience. So one week we might be talking about why Christopher Marlowe was attractive to post-structuralist critics in the 1980s, while in the next we’re talking about our thoughts on the Women’s Prize longlist. It’s really nice to be able to have those more populist discussions of literature but, at the same time, use our academic backgrounds to inform those discussions.

When and how did you get started in podcasting?

We had the support of our head of department, and so we just set up a small operation as a fun side project. At first we published episodes twice a week, but as we started to get more and more downloads, we switched to weekly to keep the momentum going. None of us are experts at this, but what makes it fun is that it’s just taking the discussions we have about books, and doing them in front of a microphone. Our enthusiasm for the material is what makes it fun to listen to.

Where and how is your podcast recorded (and how big is your team)?

We record in a studio on campus—it’s a very bare-bones operation! Michelle Hamadache and I are the hosts, and Jimmy Van is our producer, so he does all the technical stuff. We also bring in quite a few colleagues from the English department to help out. We’ve featured interviews with writers such as Michelle Cahill and former students such as Suvi Derkenne.

What kind of listeners does your podcast reach?

We’re actually quite astonished by the reach of our little podcast. We have listeners across the globe—we’re not even sure how they find us! First and foremost, we reach our students—we market to them quite heavily and often our episodes are structured around texts or ideas they might be studying.

What have been your most popular guests or most memorable episodes?

I always have fun recording with Dr Lee O’Brien: we almost always run overtime because, for some reason, whenever we get together we just can’t stop talking! I think our most memorable episode, however, has to be the Valentine’s Day episode, where Michelle and one of our colleagues, Associate Professor Hsu-Ming Teo (an internationally famous romance scholar), got the giggles at the end of the episode. We were going to edit it out—you can even hear me say, ‘I guess we’ll just cut this bit?’—but in the end we decided to leave it in because it made us smile.

Listen to Associate Professor Hsu-Ming Teo, co-host Dr Stephanie Russo and producer Dr Jimmy Van in the Valentine’s Day Special of From the Lighthouse.

What recent trends have you noticed in podcasting? (Do you have any predictions for this format in the future?)

I think there’s been a huge, exciting surge in audio dramas. While nonfiction podcasts have been really big for the past couple of years, from Serial onward, it’s audio dramas that have really got me excited lately. I absolutely love Wolf 359 and Wooden Overcoats, but also enjoy The Black Tapes Podcast, Ghost in the Burbs and, of course, Welcome to Night Vale.

I’ve also noticed a huge surge in podcasts about cults, so maybe cults are the new hot thing in podcasts? Maybe podcasting is a cult …

Why do you think people are drawn to this format?

Audio is so intimate: you carry people around in your ears and listen to them talk. It’s really easy to forget that you don’t know the people talking. And audio is so easy to listen to. You can listen to podcasts exercising, brushing your teeth or pottering around the house. Even though I’m overwhelmed by options about what to listen to, it seems easier to fit podcasts in than sitting down and watching something on the television or the laptop.

How do you fund your podcast? Do you have plans to explore other funding options?

Macquarie University’s Department of English, where we all work, funds our podcast. We’re very lucky to have the support of our department head, Professor Antonina Harbus.

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward?

We’d like to get more students involved in the creation of podcasts. We’ve already had one student sit in on an interview, and we have plans to get more involved. We’d love it if students made their own audio dramas one day!

What other bookish podcasts should we be listening to, Australian or otherwise?

I really like All The Books for new book discussions, as well as Overdue and Backlisted podcast for discussion of older titles. The ABC’s The Bookshelf is always fun. I love listening to interviews with writers, so I enjoy shows like First Draft and Lit Up. I also adore Crime Writers On … for discussion of crime novels, TV and podcasts.

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Category: Features