TPQ: What are you currently reading?
GM: I’m between books at the moment, and with an almost 3-year-old daughter vying for my attention, it’s difficult to get time to read. I’ve got Fifty Years On: The Troubles and the Struggle for Change in Northern Ireland by Malachi O’Doherty lined up, and I’m also excited about Henry McDonald’s new novel, Two Souls. The last novel I read was David Keenan’s For the Good Times, which was bloody brilliant. The last non-fiction book I read was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, which I found to be a really good read. It’s important to read it alongside Ed Moloney’s criticisms though.
TPQ: Best book you have ever read?
GM: There’s no book that stands out as being the best, as the ones that have stuck with me are important for various reasons. In terms of the research I have spent the past 15 years on, Peter Taylor’s Loyalists was the best book I have ever read on the subject of paramilitary loyalism due to its accessibility and Taylor’s knack for asking the hard questions. I remember reading The Liberty Lad by Maurice Leitch when I was about 26 and the last page left me with a lump in my throat. If you were to force me to choose one single book I’d have to go for Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son by Gordon Burn. It made me feel disgusted without it ever veering into sensationalism.
TPQ: A must-read before you die?
GM: So many! I’ve never read any Stephen King … and I have books that I bought when I was 18 still lying around waiting to be looked at.
TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?
GM: Fact, definitely. Even if it’s not something to do with the Troubles, I always seek out compelling non-fiction books. I have always admired the late Gordon Burn – particularly Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son and Happy Like Murderers. I am insanely jealous of Burn’s talent. I’d love to be able to write a book like that looking at the recent history here; someone like Lennie Murphy would make a fascinating subject for that sort of in-depth treatment. In a completely hypothetical scenario, if Gordon Burn had written The Shankill Butchers it would have been quite something I’d imagine. Books that weave the historical narrative with fiction are now some of my favourite works. Authors such as David Peace, Gordon Burn, Eoin McNamee and recently David Keenan have produced a range of books that I have enjoyed immensely. A lot of my love for fiction died during my undergraduate degree when I did English and Politics. There was just too much to read, and for better or worse I concentrated on the politics reading list. Looking back, it’s a big regret because I had some amazing tutors such as Edna Longley and Eamon Hughes. My head was in the wrong place, as it was when I did my Ph.D. When I was in hospital last year I read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for the first time, and some Kim Newman. It was a revelation to read stuff that I didn’t have to absorb for research purposes.
TPQ: Favourite female author?
GM: No one more than others, but my favourite book by a female is Touching from a Distance by Deborah Curtis. It’s an important counter to the mythologizing of Ian Curtis, who let’s be honest sounded like a horrendous man.
TPQ: Favourite male author?
GM: Again, no one more than others.
TPQ: First book you ever read?
GM: The first book that made an impression on me was the Ladybird Classics book and cassette tape of Dracula. I still get a bit of a chill when I see the cover, with Jonathan Harker holding a spade and Dracula, grey-faced, emerging from his coffin. It repulsed and fascinated me in equal measure as a 4-year-old until one day I threw the book out of a window. Even though it terrified me, I constantly asked my parents to read it to me. I think my deep interest in the Troubles has a similar effect on me – it’s a horrifying, complex and bloody subject. I subsequently went on to read the full book by Bram Stoker many, many times and as a 9 or 10 year old I got turned on to the Hammer Studios adaptations of Dracula. I’ve now got a massive framed poster of the first Hammer Dracula film in the living room, with Christopher Lee keeping watch over us at all times. So, in that respect the first book I remember still has a massive influence on me culturally.
TPQ: Favourite childhood author?
GM: I was lucky that my mum was a primary school vice-principal. She was always getting new books for me to read, and the ones I enjoyed most before I was a teenager were the works of Roald Dahl.
TPQ: Any book you point blank refuse to read?
TPQ: Any author you point blank refuse to read?
TPQ: Pick a book to give to somebody so that they would more fully understand you.
GM: That’s a difficult one. Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries would obviously give people an idea of what one of my core interests is. Nope, too hard to grasp the nettle on this one!
TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?
GM: For his birthday last year I gave my brother Through Hollowed Lands by my good friend Paul Burgess. It’s a book that at times made me feel physically sick, but in a good way. It and White Church, Black Mountain deserve far more coverage than they have hitherto received.
TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?
GM: I’ll give you three, as I can’t choose just one (and there are a lot more than three in my head!) 1. Maurice Leitch – The Liberty Lad, 2. Paul Burgess – White Church, Black Mountain, 3. Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries! Dream on…
⏭ Gareth Mulvenna is the author of Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries.