HM: In terms of prose I am just finishing Sebastian Barry’s World War One novel A Long, Long Way. Which tells the story of a young Dublin Fusileer, Willie Dunne and his experiences of the Western Front. Barry captures quite brilliantly the semi-innocent argot of a boy soldier caught up in the military mincing machine at the Somme and Flanders. It has been an extremely useful read for me as it has helped my research into my next novel, which will include sections based loosely on both my great-grandfathers, one unionist, one nationalist, who were both killed in action during the First World War. For poetry, I have just bought the collected works of Russian exile, the late Joseph Brodsky.
TPQ: Best book you have ever read?
HM: This question is an exercise in cruelty because there are so many to choose from. However, if pushed I would say Kurt Vonnegut’s time-travelling masterpiece Slaughterhouse 5. Because behind all the fantastical journeys through space and time, the horrors of the bombing of Dresden in 1944 (which the author as an American POW in Nazi hands survived!) and the wondrous creation of its hero Billy Pilgrim is a generous, humane voice.
TPQ: A must-read before you die?
HM: I’ve never read War and Peace so I really think I should.
TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?
HM: As I get older and my own novels tot up it has to be fiction. And I am also going back to poetry again notably Brodsky (see above) and the War poets especially Isaac Rosenberg.
TPQ: Favourite female author?
HM: That is an easy one – Charlotte Bronte. She wrote one of my favourite novels of all time and created one of fiction’s most admirable characters – Jane Eyre.
TPQ: Favourite male author?
HM: George Orwell for his evangelical quest for truth-telling, his moral uprightness and ability to expose humbug. We need him now more than ever.
A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.
TPQ: First book you ever read?
HM: Treasure Island. It works on so many levels and when I first read RLS’s classic tale I was hooked. I still go back to it from time to time.
TPQ: Favourite childhood author?
HM: See above…RLS of course!
TPQ: Any book you point blank refuse to read?
HM: I have to combine this with the next question because the answer(s) are the same. Anything by Gerry Adams. I remember the late, great Jack Holland reading out extracts of Falls Memories while we sank a bottle of wine in his house outside Rome and then us falling about laughing at the cringy sentimentality of it all. Once the laughter ceased however we both felt nauseous. I learnt my lesson that day!....And yet, and yet I don’t mean it even about Gerry. Because I don’t actually believe in the premises of these two questions. In fact, I don’t think you should avoid any author, bad, good or indifferent. Even if they write atrocious tripe there is always something for an aspiring writer to learn from. Besides censorship including self-censorship is something to avoid.
TPQ: Any author you point blank refuse to read?
HM: See last answer.
TPQ: Pick a book to give to somebody so that they would more fully understand you.
HM: That is the hardest question yet but again if you pushed me I would say Homage to Catalonia by Orwell. Work it out for yourselves!
TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?
HM: Shameless plug alert – my latest book Two Souls! But seriously, I think the last by another writer would have been Shooting the Darkness, which is in fact a photo-essay book. It compiles the works of photojournalists who covered the Troubles such as Hugh Russell, Crispin Rodwell and my great friend Alan Lewis. It is a stunning, haunting collection to keepsake as a memorial to the awful futility of it all. Published by Blackstaff Press.
TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?
HM: Shameless plus alert MKII – why Two Souls of course. If not, then it would and should definitely be A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole. One of the sharpest satires ever written, set in decadent post-war New Orleans with a brilliantly hilarious central character, Ignatius T Reilly, who should be played in the film by John Goodman. `
⏭ Henry McDonald's latest book Two Souls has just been published.