Featured Readers

Each month we sit down for a chat with a ‘Featured Reader’, to find out about their favourite books of all time, their literary preferences, recommendations, revered authors, & the likes...

This Month

Ronan hession

Rónán Hession

Artane

It feels at the same time huge, but intimate, to know that my fellow Dubliners are reading things that came from my heart.

Rónán Hession, Author

Rónán, where in Dublin did you grow up?

I grew up in Artane. My mother was from North Richmond Street and my parents lived there after they got married, so my older brothers went to O’Connell’s and later, when it was my turn, I went there too.

What was your neighbourhood like then and do you think it shaped you in any way?

Like most of North Dublin, it was part of a series of housing estates, rather than an area organised around a town or village centre, so local identity was fluid - my postcode was Artane but my parish was Beaumont. There were loads of children around of course, and I spent much of my first ten years on the street, playing football. Going to secondary school in O’Connell’s meant I was going to town on my own from the age of 12. I think that has always given me a connection to the city centre, as somewhere that was within my purview. As a writer, I am not much concerned with a sense of place, and I wonder whether that’s because I have always lived in Dublin and take my surroundings for granted.

Were you a big reader as a child?

I read comics, Asterix books and that sort of thing. I didn’t start reading books to any great degree until I joined the local library in Clonshaugh when I was about 10, and then even more so in secondary school, when I started immersing myself in books a bit more, reading on my bus journey and during my lunch breaks. I wouldn’t say I was a big reader, but I was always interested in stories, in any form: jokes, TV, conversation. I think writers are often people who, as children, eavesdropped on adult conversation.

Did you use the library as a child and do you have a favourite library now or in the past?

The first library I joined was in Clonshaugh, and I loved the independence of dropping in after my swim in Northside swimming pool and borrowing books in my own right. We had a decent library in school too, so I spent my rainy lunch breaks there. In recent years, I have become a regular visitor to Baldoyle library, especially as it’s so easy to order any sort of book from around the country. My children are big library users too.

What is your favourite book from childhood?

As a younger child I loved the Asterix books, which are more like graphic novels really - I wonder whether that is where my love of translated literature began. When I got a bit older, I read widely - my brother is a priest and had studied English at college, so his books were all over the house and I read without thinking much about whether the books were intended for me or not. I also remember reading a lot of Walter Macken and stuff like that - set around the Irish Civil War.

Is there a book that every child should have?

My children are entirely resistant to my recommendations - Stig of the Dump, or Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man. I think the most important thing is that children are exposed to a wide range of books and that there are options lying around for them to choose from - I hope my kids earn to develop their own taste and see reading as something positive in their lives, and not just at bedtime.

You have a day job - tell us about that and how you manage to fit writing into your busy life.

I usually write from 10pm to midnight about six nights a week and then take a week off every four or five weeks. Editing requires closer attention so I do that at weekends. I believe in integrating creativity into my life, so it’s always flowing through me in whatever I do, rather than something that I compartmentalise.

How did you feel when Leonard and Hungry Paul was selected to be the One City One Book choice for 2021?

I felt deeply proud and honoured. It’s a quiet book, so not normally something i would expect to be given such a focus but, in a strange way, it seems right for the times we are in. It is a great privilege to see my book chosen in my home city. I feel like I am sharing something very close to me - it feels at the same time huge, but intimate to know that my fellow Dubliners are reading things that came from my heart.

Leonard and Hungry Paul has been described as a book with kindness at its heart, tell us a little bit about that and if it is influenced by your own experience in any way?

Before I ever considered writing a book, I had reflected quite a lot on what kindness means to me: that it is more than a feel-good idea, or something that can exist in a moment. Instead I see it as a habit that, with practice, can shape your outlook in life. Kindness is usually valued by those who have received it. It can easily be misunderstood as superficial niceness, but in the book I wanted to see how characters could live their lives kindly on a day-to-day basis; how it informed their perspective, and what happens when it gets tested.

This book is not set in any particular time or place - was that deliberate? Why, and were you thinking of Dublin at all when writing?

Yes, it was deliberate. The book focuses on human nature and, in order to foreground that, it was necessary to pare back names, physical description, time signifiers, location details. I think it is recognisable as somewhere and everywhere. I think it is influenced by growing up on a normal housing estate in North Dublin where I didn’t feel a sense of neighbourhood - just housing. The flavour comes from the people.

Music and songwriting was your first art form - was literature a natural progression for you?

Yes - I thought I was finished with creativity after releasing my third album. I felt satisfied with what I had done, but also a little burnt-out. However, creativity is like your sense of humour and doesn’t go away, although it does change form. The transition to writing felt quite natural, especially as my songs had always had a storytelling aspect to them.

Is there a book that introduced or opened up a new culture to you?

I think that my exposure to translated literature has really opened me up. There are many examples but particularly Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian writer who won the Nobel Prize and who was also a civil servant by day. His novel Midaq Alley (translated by Trevor Le Gassick) was an influential book for me.

What are you reading right now?

I am enjoying Blue in Chicago by Bette Howland, an American writer who has been largely overlooked but who has been rediscovered in recent years. Her prose is perceptive and lively; also non-judgmental.

Which of your books is battered from using again and again?

City Works Department, a poetry collection by Philip Hancock, a painter and decorator from Stoke. I carry it around like a child’s blanket.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

I’m not good at spelling.

One Dublin One Book is a Dublin City Council initiative, led by Dublin City Libraries, which encourages everyone to read a book connected with the capital city during the month of April every year. For more information on the 2021 programme, visit www.onedublinonebook.ie.

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