Paddy Hoey
answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen. 

TPQ: What are you currently reading?

PH: Ghost Town by Jeff Young. It's a beautiful and poetic evocation of a life lived in Liverpool and of the history of the city co-existing with the present. It's every bit as good as everyone said it was going to be. It was described by the Times as being a 'Scouse Ulysses' and it is definitely worthy of that title. I've had a purple patch of late with critically acclaimed books, I read Douglas Stuart's Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain just after Christmas and it blew me away too.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

PH: Not sure that I can really answer that because a) the rest of this article will be about my favourite books and, b) I have learned what to stay away from. Literary fiction usually leaves me really cold, some of the most heralded books of the last 10 years have not only passed me by, but actually made me angry. But, just as I'd hate for someone to say my book is crap, I'll not let on here.

I did read The Da Vinci Code and I can't tell you how angry it made me. I also hate much of the very highly successful genre fiction that has emerged in recent years. It can feel like a literary version of join the dots - a 'by numbers' task where a seasoned reader can see the template and the joins. I had a terrible time reading the Harry Potter books to my daughter when she was younger, their success genuinely remains a mystery to me.

All these are reasons why I stay just to the left of the mainstream but a good bit away from the posh stuff that people with double-barrelled names analyse in weekend broadsheets.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

PH: I was a great one for reference books when I was young and loved the big Reader's Digest Atlas of the World that we had. You could look up an exotic place names in the back and then look it up and imagine what it was like there. It might be that or one of the many Shoot! annuals that introduced me to professional football.

TPQ: Favourite childhood author?

PH: Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen series, and CS Lewis and Narnia. It's funny because they are all fantasy novels to some extent and I've never really read any of that sort of fiction as an adult. I would have started reading adult fiction quite early too, so I had John Buchan's The 39 Steps and HG Wells's The Invisible Man read by age of 10 or 11.

By mid-teens it was the short stories of Damon Runyon - the rhythm, the meter, the style, the great pay-off lines just had me entranced. I still think that Runyon is the greatest stylist I have read. It is criminal that he is being largely forgotten outside of his devotees. Runyon has been a constant in my life since I was 13 or 14. There's barely a week goes by when I won't read some of his stories because they never fail to make me laugh and cheer me up.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

PH: Tom's Midnight Garden fascinated me as a child. It's such a multi-layered book that doesn't pander to being children's fiction. There's a fantasy time travel element to it, and the platonic complexity in the relationship between Tom and Hatty is so odd for children's fiction. But, it's about being sick, lonely and struggling with adolescence while growing up. It really is a magnificent book that stands the test of time. I've come to be quite cynical of the whole Young Adult fiction genre created recently by the publishing industry, I don't see why there needs to be some bridgehead between teenagers and adults and why there always have be teenagers dying of cancer or something (I know, I'm being massively simplistic and centrist da). Philippa Pearce, Edith Nesbitt, CS Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Golding all wrote brilliant books about being young but didn't need to be bracketed into some kind of subgenre. I suppose that says much more about the salami slicing of the differentiating markets caused by book marketing than it does about the authors, their books or their content.


TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

PH: I've become painfully aware of how little fiction written by women I read. I think that is a facet of the fact that I read a lot of genre fiction - mostly crime. Joan Didion for her invention of new journalism and introducing me to a USA that I dreamed of visiting. Dervla Murphy's cycling travel books are incredible - how there has never been a film made of her life I will never know. It's a cliché now, but Sally Rooney's Normal People is a book that I'll take to any desert island.

I read lots of crime fiction written by women: Val McDermid is so versatile and can flit between serious and not so serious books at will. And there is a great recent heritage of pioneering American crime fiction authors who are women: Sara Paretsky, Janet Evanovich, Laura Lippmann, and Karin Slaughter opened my eyes when I started reading them in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Anne Cleeves' Shetland books are magnificent and are probably my favourite British TV adaptation.

As for male authors - Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby betray a coming of age in the early 90s although more so Doyle the longer their careers go on. I think he is getting better and better with age, his last two books, Smile and Love really show him as someone constantly able to innovate stylistically and knock long term readers off-balance, in a good way. The Radio 4 adaptation of Love read by Brendan Gleeson was sensational, and deeply affecting.

I read a lot of crime fiction, maybe too much really. In recent years I have come to deeply love the Italian author Valerio Varesi's Commissario Soneri books set in Parma. They are amazing treatises on the political corruption inherent in Italian public life. Maurizio De Giovanni's Commissario Ricciardi books set in 1930s Naples are also brilliant and have a surprising element of the supernatural that mark them apart from other crime genre fiction.

Equally, I think James Lee Burke continues to be the missing link between Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner. His peerless Robichaux books set in New Iberia, Louisiana use the detective fiction genre to address big themes in American public life: racism, climate change, corporate malfeasance, organised crime. There is something otherworldly about the ghosts of history in his books - there is a supernatural afterlife to slavery and the American Civil War that is both potent and suffocating in the best of them. His 1993 book, In the Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead is epic and genuinely unsettling - I can't recommend it highly enough.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

PH: I don't really differentiate, I'll take it as it comes recommended, really. I read a lot of non-fiction concerned with music, comedy and sport. I've just checked and I seem to have an entire shelf of books just on Lenny Bruce and I am not sure how that happened. But Bruce and Bill Hicks are two comedians I return to over and over again and they are people that have had the most great books written about them.

In music, Richard Williams' The Blue Moment about the making of Miles Davies' Kind of Blue is incredible. Can't Stop, Won't Stop by Jeff Chang is a brilliant history of the origins of hip-hop in New York City. I'll always be dipping in and out of books about The Clash, Chris Salewicz's biography of Joe Strummer is always lying around the house somewhere. Pat Gilbert and Marcus Gray both did great biographies of the band which are either in the toilet or by the bed.

I read a lot of sports non-fiction and generally think that boxing and cycling produce the best books, largely because of the great feats of 'heroism' individuals produce and the epic scale on which races and fights take place. I'll read anything by Richard Moore or William Fotheringham, who are cycling's two stand-out authors. Moore's In Search of Robert Millar and Slaying the Badger (about the rivalry between Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault) are magnificent. Fotheringham's Put Me Back on my Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson is probably the best book written about professional cycling.

Donald McRae has written three of the best books about boxing: Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing (1996), A Man's World (2015) and In Sunshine or In Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles (2018). A Man's World is the story of world champion Emile Griffith who fought in the 1950s and 1960s and who was also gay and taunted about by an opponent - I think it is a genuinely era-defining story and it is told beautifully.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

PH: Malcolm X's autobiography written with Alex Haley got me as a late teenager and when I went to university. I still go back to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch regularly. I had that usual period of Hunter S Thompson worship that young men with notions about themselves have and should grow out of. Although it can't really be described as true memoir, Thompson's 1992 book Better Than Sex about that year's American presidential election is brilliant. His obituary for Richard Nixon contained as an epilogue might genuinely be the best thing I have ever read.

But in recent years Bruce Springsteen's autobiography knocked me out with its honesty, insight and humanity. Do yourself a favour and buy the audiobook narrated by the man himself, it's compelling and was the root of his highly successful Broadway show which you can get on Netflix.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

PH: I think I'd probably draw the line at ever opening the pages of anything written by the Da Vinci Code fella again. But other than that I'll probably give anything a go.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

PH: I think Love all the People by Bill Hicks and Tim Myrie's Public Enemy biography Don't Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin' pretty sum up much of what I feel about the world.


TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

PH: I bought a friend Tim Moore's Gironimo! The author rides the route of the 1914 Giro d'Italia bike race on a 1914 bike in 1914 gear. It's very funny, entertaining and interesting. Moore can tell you interesting history in between making you spit your tea out laughing - he has a very rare talent.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

PH: I'd probably prefer books to be turned into episodic TV now - I think boxset telly has usurped film as the best medium for the book adaptation. (Although, whoever made Volker Kutscher's Babylon Berlin for TV ruined my favourite character and I'll never forgive them for it.) Valerio Varesi's first Soneri book River of Shadows would be a smash hit on Netflix and BBC4. I think Shuggie Bain would take Scots vernacular fiction to a whole new level if it made it to the screen because Agnes Bain is one of the most remarkable female characters that I have ever read.

TPQ: The just must - select one book you simply have to read before you close the last page on life.

PH: I'd genuinely love to say Proust or Homer but really I have stopped worrying about getting to must read books and must listen to records. Life's a bit too short to be carrying around that sort of low level worry. I think if a book or a song or an album is meant for you, you'll find it. If you haven't read it or heard it, especially in the current era of near total access, then it isn't meant to be. I say read what makes you happy, indulge your enthusiasms and passions and take pleasure in every word. 

 ⏩ Paddy Hoey, Originally from Craigavon, has been a journalist on Merseyside for 26 years. 

Booker's Dozen @ Paddy Hoey

Paddy Hoey
answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen. 

TPQ: What are you currently reading?

PH: Ghost Town by Jeff Young. It's a beautiful and poetic evocation of a life lived in Liverpool and of the history of the city co-existing with the present. It's every bit as good as everyone said it was going to be. It was described by the Times as being a 'Scouse Ulysses' and it is definitely worthy of that title. I've had a purple patch of late with critically acclaimed books, I read Douglas Stuart's Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain just after Christmas and it blew me away too.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

PH: Not sure that I can really answer that because a) the rest of this article will be about my favourite books and, b) I have learned what to stay away from. Literary fiction usually leaves me really cold, some of the most heralded books of the last 10 years have not only passed me by, but actually made me angry. But, just as I'd hate for someone to say my book is crap, I'll not let on here.

I did read The Da Vinci Code and I can't tell you how angry it made me. I also hate much of the very highly successful genre fiction that has emerged in recent years. It can feel like a literary version of join the dots - a 'by numbers' task where a seasoned reader can see the template and the joins. I had a terrible time reading the Harry Potter books to my daughter when she was younger, their success genuinely remains a mystery to me.

All these are reasons why I stay just to the left of the mainstream but a good bit away from the posh stuff that people with double-barrelled names analyse in weekend broadsheets.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

PH: I was a great one for reference books when I was young and loved the big Reader's Digest Atlas of the World that we had. You could look up an exotic place names in the back and then look it up and imagine what it was like there. It might be that or one of the many Shoot! annuals that introduced me to professional football.

TPQ: Favourite childhood author?

PH: Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen series, and CS Lewis and Narnia. It's funny because they are all fantasy novels to some extent and I've never really read any of that sort of fiction as an adult. I would have started reading adult fiction quite early too, so I had John Buchan's The 39 Steps and HG Wells's The Invisible Man read by age of 10 or 11.

By mid-teens it was the short stories of Damon Runyon - the rhythm, the meter, the style, the great pay-off lines just had me entranced. I still think that Runyon is the greatest stylist I have read. It is criminal that he is being largely forgotten outside of his devotees. Runyon has been a constant in my life since I was 13 or 14. There's barely a week goes by when I won't read some of his stories because they never fail to make me laugh and cheer me up.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

PH: Tom's Midnight Garden fascinated me as a child. It's such a multi-layered book that doesn't pander to being children's fiction. There's a fantasy time travel element to it, and the platonic complexity in the relationship between Tom and Hatty is so odd for children's fiction. But, it's about being sick, lonely and struggling with adolescence while growing up. It really is a magnificent book that stands the test of time. I've come to be quite cynical of the whole Young Adult fiction genre created recently by the publishing industry, I don't see why there needs to be some bridgehead between teenagers and adults and why there always have be teenagers dying of cancer or something (I know, I'm being massively simplistic and centrist da). Philippa Pearce, Edith Nesbitt, CS Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Golding all wrote brilliant books about being young but didn't need to be bracketed into some kind of subgenre. I suppose that says much more about the salami slicing of the differentiating markets caused by book marketing than it does about the authors, their books or their content.


TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

PH: I've become painfully aware of how little fiction written by women I read. I think that is a facet of the fact that I read a lot of genre fiction - mostly crime. Joan Didion for her invention of new journalism and introducing me to a USA that I dreamed of visiting. Dervla Murphy's cycling travel books are incredible - how there has never been a film made of her life I will never know. It's a cliché now, but Sally Rooney's Normal People is a book that I'll take to any desert island.

I read lots of crime fiction written by women: Val McDermid is so versatile and can flit between serious and not so serious books at will. And there is a great recent heritage of pioneering American crime fiction authors who are women: Sara Paretsky, Janet Evanovich, Laura Lippmann, and Karin Slaughter opened my eyes when I started reading them in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Anne Cleeves' Shetland books are magnificent and are probably my favourite British TV adaptation.

As for male authors - Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby betray a coming of age in the early 90s although more so Doyle the longer their careers go on. I think he is getting better and better with age, his last two books, Smile and Love really show him as someone constantly able to innovate stylistically and knock long term readers off-balance, in a good way. The Radio 4 adaptation of Love read by Brendan Gleeson was sensational, and deeply affecting.

I read a lot of crime fiction, maybe too much really. In recent years I have come to deeply love the Italian author Valerio Varesi's Commissario Soneri books set in Parma. They are amazing treatises on the political corruption inherent in Italian public life. Maurizio De Giovanni's Commissario Ricciardi books set in 1930s Naples are also brilliant and have a surprising element of the supernatural that mark them apart from other crime genre fiction.

Equally, I think James Lee Burke continues to be the missing link between Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner. His peerless Robichaux books set in New Iberia, Louisiana use the detective fiction genre to address big themes in American public life: racism, climate change, corporate malfeasance, organised crime. There is something otherworldly about the ghosts of history in his books - there is a supernatural afterlife to slavery and the American Civil War that is both potent and suffocating in the best of them. His 1993 book, In the Electric Mist With the Confederate Dead is epic and genuinely unsettling - I can't recommend it highly enough.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

PH: I don't really differentiate, I'll take it as it comes recommended, really. I read a lot of non-fiction concerned with music, comedy and sport. I've just checked and I seem to have an entire shelf of books just on Lenny Bruce and I am not sure how that happened. But Bruce and Bill Hicks are two comedians I return to over and over again and they are people that have had the most great books written about them.

In music, Richard Williams' The Blue Moment about the making of Miles Davies' Kind of Blue is incredible. Can't Stop, Won't Stop by Jeff Chang is a brilliant history of the origins of hip-hop in New York City. I'll always be dipping in and out of books about The Clash, Chris Salewicz's biography of Joe Strummer is always lying around the house somewhere. Pat Gilbert and Marcus Gray both did great biographies of the band which are either in the toilet or by the bed.

I read a lot of sports non-fiction and generally think that boxing and cycling produce the best books, largely because of the great feats of 'heroism' individuals produce and the epic scale on which races and fights take place. I'll read anything by Richard Moore or William Fotheringham, who are cycling's two stand-out authors. Moore's In Search of Robert Millar and Slaying the Badger (about the rivalry between Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault) are magnificent. Fotheringham's Put Me Back on my Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson is probably the best book written about professional cycling.

Donald McRae has written three of the best books about boxing: Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing (1996), A Man's World (2015) and In Sunshine or In Shadow: How Boxing Brought Hope in the Troubles (2018). A Man's World is the story of world champion Emile Griffith who fought in the 1950s and 1960s and who was also gay and taunted about by an opponent - I think it is a genuinely era-defining story and it is told beautifully.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

PH: Malcolm X's autobiography written with Alex Haley got me as a late teenager and when I went to university. I still go back to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch regularly. I had that usual period of Hunter S Thompson worship that young men with notions about themselves have and should grow out of. Although it can't really be described as true memoir, Thompson's 1992 book Better Than Sex about that year's American presidential election is brilliant. His obituary for Richard Nixon contained as an epilogue might genuinely be the best thing I have ever read.

But in recent years Bruce Springsteen's autobiography knocked me out with its honesty, insight and humanity. Do yourself a favour and buy the audiobook narrated by the man himself, it's compelling and was the root of his highly successful Broadway show which you can get on Netflix.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

PH: I think I'd probably draw the line at ever opening the pages of anything written by the Da Vinci Code fella again. But other than that I'll probably give anything a go.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

PH: I think Love all the People by Bill Hicks and Tim Myrie's Public Enemy biography Don't Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin' pretty sum up much of what I feel about the world.


TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

PH: I bought a friend Tim Moore's Gironimo! The author rides the route of the 1914 Giro d'Italia bike race on a 1914 bike in 1914 gear. It's very funny, entertaining and interesting. Moore can tell you interesting history in between making you spit your tea out laughing - he has a very rare talent.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

PH: I'd probably prefer books to be turned into episodic TV now - I think boxset telly has usurped film as the best medium for the book adaptation. (Although, whoever made Volker Kutscher's Babylon Berlin for TV ruined my favourite character and I'll never forgive them for it.) Valerio Varesi's first Soneri book River of Shadows would be a smash hit on Netflix and BBC4. I think Shuggie Bain would take Scots vernacular fiction to a whole new level if it made it to the screen because Agnes Bain is one of the most remarkable female characters that I have ever read.

TPQ: The just must - select one book you simply have to read before you close the last page on life.

PH: I'd genuinely love to say Proust or Homer but really I have stopped worrying about getting to must read books and must listen to records. Life's a bit too short to be carrying around that sort of low level worry. I think if a book or a song or an album is meant for you, you'll find it. If you haven't read it or heard it, especially in the current era of near total access, then it isn't meant to be. I say read what makes you happy, indulge your enthusiasms and passions and take pleasure in every word. 

 ⏩ Paddy Hoey, Originally from Craigavon, has been a journalist on Merseyside for 26 years. 

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