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John Niven_credit Jas Lehal_press 2009
© Jas Lehal

My life in books: John Niven

The author of ‘Kill Your Friends’ and the new ‘Straight White Male’ reveals a love of dystopian classics and how rock biographies turned him into a hero

By David Clack

What was your favourite book as when you were growing up?
‘It wasn’t until my teenage years that a book really left a mark, and that was George Orwell’s "Nineteen Eighty-Four". It was on the syllabus at school when I was about 16, and I went on to read more of his books. It was the height of the Cold War so a lot of the messages really resonated at the time.’

Which book have you re-read more than any other?
‘It would be a toss-up between Martin Amis’s "Money" and "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov. I seem to pick up those every other year. I read "Lolita" last summer for what must have been the eighth, ninth, maybe tenth time. Nabokov himself said that you can’t just read a book, you have to re-read it and properly get to know it. Some people find it a strange thing to say, but I agree with the idea that books aren’t static things – they have a life and they grow with you.’

Has a book ever inspired you to do something either completely amazing or totally stupid?
‘Yeah, I once saved someone’s life as a result of reading too many rock biographies. From reading books about the Stones and bands like that, I learned that when someone’s having a heroin overdose, the thing to do is put ice cubes up their bum. One day, when I was living in Glasgow, I found a friend of a neighbour outside in a terrible state – he’d had an overdose and was pretty much dead. Without getting too graphic, thanks to details I’d gleaned from rock biographies, I was able to save the guy’s life. He came round a few days later and a bit sheepishly thanked me very much.’

Which book has had more influence over your work than any other?
‘A novel I read when I was about 17 or 18 – "The World According to Garp" by John Irving – really made me want to become a writer. The character of Garp is a novelist, and at the time the whole lifestyle of being a writer was hugely appealing to me. It still took me another 15 years or so before I started writing, but then not many people can write great novels before the age of 30.’

John Niven’s new book ‘Straight White Male’ is published on August 14 by William Heinemann, priced £12.99. To read a review of the book, see here.

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