Michelle Heeley QC

Leader of the Midland Circuit

What says summer more than a three-hour traffic jam on the M5? Children kicking the seats, parents losing the will to live. What you need is a distraction. Our family ‘go-to’ is The Museum of Curiosity. A BBC podcast, it is hosted by John Lloyd, the Curator, who joins forces with a different comedian each series. Every week three guests are invited on in to place something in the museum.

Guests range from comedians to historians to scientists, what they have in common is a passion for their chosen subject. Half of the programme deals with the CVs of the various guests before moving on to what the guests wish to donate.

Anything can be donated to the museum, be it huge, tiny, or even just a theoretical idea – the only rule is that the exhibit has to be in some way curious.

Current exhibits include the urge to press red buttons that should not be pressed, to the Holy Grail, and the death watch beetle – which only mates female virgin beetles and attempts to woo them by headbutting its head against the female’s bottom.

The show is a typical Radio 4 mix of high culture and sublime silliness, as the hosts skilfully get the best from their guests while simultaneously entertaining. The variety of guests and the divergence in subject areas means that there is something for all ages.

Each episode is 30 minutes long, and the chat between the guests ensures that the time flies by. All episodes are available via the BBC Sounds app, which one can access for free simply by creating a BBC login. These podcasts have made many a family journey just that little bit more bearable.

Richard Wright QC

Leader of the North Eastern Circuit

Bored of waiting a year for the next Jack Reacher novel, I was pointed in the direction of the Orphan X series of novels by Gregg Hurwitz. They chart the adventures of Evan Smoak, a former member of a US government network of assassins who manages to escape the Orphan programme and who now operates as ‘The Nowhere Man’ a vigilante who will anonymously assist those in need of his help – a sort of one man A-Team for the 21st century. I must confess that there have been a few times in the last year that I wished I had the number for his untraceable burner phone.

A slightly more thoughtful but no less gripping read is The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Based around the old road that traversed the United States from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, the book charts the journey, both physical and emotional, of an endearing cast of characters across 1950s America.

On the subject of Americana, this year marks 20 years since Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band released The Rising. The first album recorded by Bruce with the band in 18 years marked an emotional return to stellar form. Next year the Boss returns to the road and re-listening to this classic is the perfect way to get ready for their tour!

Finally, an exceptional series of podcasts. In 2017, Hilary Mantel was invited to deliver the Reith Lectures. The resulting series of five lectures, Resurrection: the Art and Craft, are among the finest that I have ever listened to. The Day is for the Living, The Iron Maiden, Silence Grips the Town, Can These Bones Live? and Adaption are all available to listen or download for free on the BBC Radio 4 webpage. The delivery of each is magical.

Kate Brunner QC

Leader of the Western Circuit

The Allusionist is an excellent podcast about language. Helen Zaltzman takes a joyful romp through etymology and slang, deconstructing the absurdities and conventions which we use every day. I loved a recent episode called ‘The Tiffany Problem’ which was about words which we wrongly think are modern: ‘The name Tiffany has been around for some 800 years. But you can’t name a character in a historical novel “Tiffany”, because people don’t believe the name is old. Science fiction and fantasy author Jo Walton coined the term “The Tiffany Problem” to express the disparity between historical facts and the common perception of the past.’ Yogis, listen to episode 55 and I’ll bet you won’t say Namaste at the end of your next class! 

I’m always on the hunt for the perfect ‘beach book’, ticking the boxes of being an easy read, but with substance; a page-turner so immersive that when you look up you’re surprised to find yourself by a glistening pool with a cold beer at hand. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is one of those: an Iranian magical realist novel set in a world of shimmering orchards and colourful markets, wistful and charming despite the heavy subject. Originally written in Farsi, and shortlisted for the International Booker prize in 2020, Shokoofeh Azar’s book combines Persian folklore and history as it follows a bereaved family into the ancient forests of northern Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Another immersive read is Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, an adaptation of Homer’s Iliad told from the perspective of Patroclus. It is wildly romantic and cinematic. The language is unique: it feels ancient and familiar at the same time, and the conversations between Gods are rendered as convincing as the battle scenes. You’ll probably start it again the moment you put it down, although perhaps after a cooling swim in that pool. Happy summers all!

Lisa Roberts QC

Leader of the Northern Circuit

I write this in West Wales where I have the good fortune to spend a weekend with three bright women – one of whom has the good fortune, for her and for us, of owning a house here. From the deck I can see that my friends are reading Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart) – the writing is ‘drawing in’ my friend Charlotte – while Sorrow and Bliss (Meg Mason) had Caroline laughing and crying, and all before breakfast. The Vanishing Half (Brit Bennett) has kept Andrea wrapt most of the afternoon.

So what of me? I’m not sure Vanity Fair (the magazine variety), The Times and Vogue (my reading so far today) are going to entertain any of you for very long. Although, as somewhat of a news addict, I always read a paper, every day, even when on holiday. And if in France (as I usually am) and, thus, my French is sufficient to muddle along, I’ll dip into the local rag too.

This summer I will return to my old friend Simon Armitage (pictured below). He treads a masterful and deft line in his current role as Laureate. We know each other a little – we share mutual friends – and it is impossible to read his poetry (‘purtry’) in anything other than his voice. He lives in the hills above the town where I spent my childhood, and for those new to his work start with Zoom, Little Green Man and All Points North. For all those Middle English fans out there – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – read his beautiful translation of the allegorical tale Pearl. A work which first had me in tears in 1991 (as an undergraduate) and again in his 2016 reworking of the text.

And if Northern humour or Middle English isn’t quite your thing, then try some podcasts, courtesy of BBC Sounds. I am ploughing through the back catalogue of Desert Island Discs – try Lauren Bacall, George Michael, Nicholas Parsons, Ronnie Corbett and Kathleen Turner for starters. Then head to The Reunion (I marginally prefer Sue McGregor to Kirsty Wark), followed by a segue into anything by the gloriously waspish David Sedaris, each of whose family members I feel I now know. Finish off with all 12 episodes of What’s Funny About, a reunion all of its own of the writers and stars of vintage TV comedy. And then pour yourself a glass of something lovely and look at the sea.

Christine Agnew QC

Leader of the South Eastern Circuit

Normally, I only ever read a non-legal book when I’m on holiday in August but this year I have managed to squeeze in a couple. I love to switch on a podcast in the car or when I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep (so boring but becoming so much more frequent!)

I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I do:

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason casts a direct and realistic eye on depression and the impact it has on a young woman’s life. As the story unfolds, the intricacies of family relationships, failed unions, unrequited love and ultimately patience and kindness dovetail to illuminate Martha, bringing a heartfelt clarity to unanswered questions – leading her toward a brighter future.

The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini is a poignant story of hope over experience, with a fantastic female protagonist. Set in Trinidad, the experiences of Alethea may be recognisable to many of you who deal with the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse as part of your daily work. But her spirited voice, generosity and determination make it an authentic and ultimately uplifting read.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans is a collection of short stories about young women from very different racial and social backgrounds. The issues they have to deal with make you think and question your own beliefs and the decisions you have made. A really interesting and challenging read.

Fortunately With Fi and Jane – I came to this BBC podcast very late and many of you will already be listening to it. If not, start now. Funny, moving and personal I find myself chuckling along to it – I could be listening to any of my girlfriends having a chat.

Just One Thing with Michael Mosley, another podcast from the BBC, provides countless ways to improve your life if you haven’t got a lot of time – what more could a barrister need?