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Breaking news: cat stuck up tree.

Byline: Lorne Jackson

book of the week The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn (Viking, pounds 12.99)REGIONAL news is all too often a lamentable affair.

A report on the national news describing a catastrophe is usually followed by a frenzied exclusive on the local bulletin about a cat up a tree.

Middle-aged, muddle-headed male anchormen flirt contentedly with female news readers young enough to be their daughters.

Then sign off with a corny gag. Yet prize-winning Birmingham author Catherine O'Flynn admits she has watched a lot of local news over the years. Not because of its quality. It's the hypnotic powers of trite telly that keeps her hooked.

However, the years of watching Midlands Today weren't wasted.

Catherine has just released her latest novel, 'The News Where You Are' which is set in the world of regional news.

The novel's protagonist is Midlands TV presenter Frank, a corny-as-theycome anchorman.

He covers pie-baking contests and every other non-event, always with a joke or two sprinkled through his reports.

So why did Catherine decide to tackle this subject? "It's down to a whole lifetime spent watching the regional news," she says with a laugh. "You know how it is. You never really intentionally decide to watch the local news.

"You're just sitting in front of the TV and all of a sudden you are into a kind of paralysis and you find yourself hearing about contraflow systems in West Bromwich.

"I've spent my life watching it. I just thought I'd try to get some of that time back by actually thinking: 'Oh no, it was all research for a novel!' She adds: "Local news is a weird cocktail.

You get the truly depressing items that don't really go anywhere. Then you get a jauntily amusing story, after that. It's quite an uneasy combination.

"When I write, I like that combination of bleak stuff then quite funny stuff; corny stuff. So that seemed a natural thing to write about."

Catherine didn't just research her novel by sitting at home in front of the gogglebox.

She also spent a day in the BBC's Midlands Today studio, talking to presenters and producers, and watching them at work.

Is her character, Frank, completely fictional, or based on a flesh and blood anchorman? Nick Owen from the Beeb, perhaps, or ITV smoothy Bob Warman? Catherine's face reddens, as she blusters: "It's nobody - it's an invention!" However, my no-nonsense interview technique - and the application of a thumbscrew - eventually results in a more believable answer from the Hall Green-based author.

"There are elements of Nick in there, and Bob's a legend. I grew up watching Midlands Today, so I've hardly ever watched Bob in action.

"But every time I've flicked across he's still there, which is unbelievable. My character Frank is an element of all those sort of people. He's just a composite of the local news presenter." Catherine hit the big time with her first novel, What Was Lost, which won the Costa First Novel Award. She also won the Galaxy British Book Newcomer Of The Year Award in 2008. What Was Lost is now being adapted into a movie.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 18, 2010
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