The dark side of entertainment has become our main form of entertainment. Simon Cowell has become like the Svengali of the grotesque, as far as I'm concerned. Hired as an editorial assistant when he was 21, O'Hagan has become one of the journal's most distinctive voices. Interspersed throughout have been personal pieces inspired by his childhood as a ballet-dancing bookworm growing up in a sports-mad Catholic family on a Glasgow housing estate. His latest LRB piece reports time spent in Afghanistan with children who had been recruited as suicide bombers, of whom he writes: The milieus could not have been more different, but there is a link.
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I find that a constant area of fascination. It was written just as two year-old boys were on trial for the murder of toddler Jamie Bulger; two years later it led to O'Hagan's first book, The Missing. That work took another tabloid horror, the young women murdered by Fred and Rosemary West, as the starting point for the mix of memoir and investigation that marks so much of O'Hagan's non-fiction work. My editor then, as now, was Mary-Kay Wilmers. She asked me at the time if I recognised anything in those boys [on trial] because I too grew up in a housing estate in the north.
I said I recognised everything and began Ghoswtriter speak and she said, 'Just go home today and write that down'. I left the office and I wrote that essay straight off onto an old Amstrad computer. The issues in 'Light Entertainment' had been in my mind for a long time. Those ideas are long-lasting, and I'm still not done with them. O'Hagan also withdrew his name from the now-unauthorised, and clearly unfinished, work.
O'Hagan had already written about Assange for the journal Ghostwritrrexpressing real excitement about WikiLeaks' power to reveal the truth, though the piece brofhers leavened with a less-flattering character analysis: This story is different, he insists. These are brothets matters for other people. Topping hwgen list Ghostwriter hagen brothers his adored year-old daughter, Nell, "whose Ghostwritet is the greatest thing ever to happen to me, in a sense the only thing that has ever happened to me. Forget the books, the awards, she's my constant delight," he says, showing me a gallery of photographs of this raven-haired, elfin sprite.
Then there's Nell's mother, his former partner and close friend, the writer India Knight, his stage manager girlfriend Lindsey Milligan - "the love of my life - and she's Scottish" - with whom he lives in London's Primrose Hill, and his dear mother Nancy. Here we must pause, for this magnificent regiment of women also includes the genial year-old essayist and novelist's dozens of friendships. His talent as a writer, who has just published his seventh and most ambitious book, The Illuminations, is almost outshone by his gift for being convivial.
Recently, he wrote a short film for Anderson, following her award-winning performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. She starred in and directed his prequel to Tennessee Williams's play. So real and fictional women people our conversation, particularly those in his new novel.
The Sydney Morning Herald
The Illuminations is his fifth work of fiction and is already being tipped to win the Man Booker prize, for which he's been nominated twice. Already it has been gilded with golden critical opinions. Meanwhile, there are four offers for the film rights - the BBC is rumoured to be considering a four-part TV adaptation. The novel begins in Saltcoats, where year-old, Canadian-Scot Anne Quirk is living in sheltered accommodation.
Once a celebrated documentary photographer, she's fading into the twilight of dementia. She has an uneasy relationship with her daughter Alice; her needy neighbour Maureen becomes enthralled by Anne's secrets Ghostwrlter her brotuers photographs. Anne's character is based on Canadian photographer Margaret Watkins, whose marvellous kitchen-sink images and street scenes had long been forgotten when she died in obscurity, in Glasgow, in As with Anne, a mystery surrounds what cut off an artistic future filled with so much promise. There have been several exhibitions of Watkins's work and she's been honoured with a Canadian stamp, thanks to the tireless efforts of her erstwhile neighbour, Joseph Mulholland.
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O'Hagan, who was born in Glasgow and grew up in Irvine, researched her archive in Ontario and has just returned from "talking her up" on his Canadian book tour. She was a truly great photographer. For The Illuminations, which was almost five years in the writing, shifts between Anne's memory slowly bleaching out and Afghanistan, where her devoted grandson Luke, a captain with the fictional Royal Western Fusiliers, is on a mission to train Afghan soldiers. His platoon is ambushed; civilians at a wedding party are slaughtered.
Deeply troubled, Luke returns home, brotgers to bleach out his own nightmarish memories. He takes Anne to Blackpool, where she once kept a brothesr, to see the illuminations and perhaps shed light on the darkness in both their lives. But it's the book's powerful, harrowing contrast between the world of women and art and the brutal world of men at war that is so impressive. I know those women. I grew up surrounded by women whose talents were swallowed up by domestic duty - my grannie, my aunties, my mother.