Brought to Book: Myles Dungan on tenacity, discipline, and the digital future of publishing

It’s a bit like asking the dodo, ‘So where do you see yourself in 50 years?’

Broadcaster and writer Myles Dungan. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Broadcaster and writer Myles Dungan. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 13:34

What was the first book to make an impression on you? Alice in Wonderland. I was about seven years old. I got it for Christmas. At first I was disappointed as there were very few pictures, but when I started reading I was transported into a world where pictures were unnecessary.

What was your favourite book as a child? Just William’s Luck, a full-length novel from the William series by Richmal Crompton.

And what is your favourite book or books now? Catch 22 , which I have read half a dozen times and will do so again. I used to keep lending copies and not getting them back. That habit ended when I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing Joseph Heller – sometimes meeting your heroes goes well. He signed a copy of the book for me that no one is allowed to touch.

What is your favourite quotation? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

Who is your favourite fictional character? Phillip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled detective. Or Bertie Wooster, who lives in a quite different world.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? Print, print, print. Though half a dozen ebooks don’t weigh as much if you’re flying.

What is the most beautiful book you own? A first edition of Henry Hanna’s The Pals at Suvla, released in a limited edition in 1916, with beautiful illustrations of the landscape of Gallipoli.

Where and how do you write? Of late, since moving house, in a converted garage surrounded by my books. Bliss. Beats the kitchen table into a cocked hat.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? Ulysees – after that what was the point really? It was given to me to read by my Leaving Cert English teacher when I was about 16

What is the most research you have done for a book? My current tome, Mr Parnell’s Rottweiller, which deals with the Parnellite newspaper United Ireland is the product of four years intense PhD research and a year of rewriting during which it (hopefully) became readable to a more general public.

What book influenced you the most? Soundings – my Leaving Certificate poetry book. What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday? Puckoon by Spike Milligan. The funniest short novel ever written.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young? Finnegan’s Wake – and yes I am kidding.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author? In the words of the Peter Gabriel song: “Don’t give up.” Tenacity can be as important as talent.

What weight do you give reviews? It depends entirely on the reviewer. If they know their stuff you would be foolish to get up on your high horse. I had one of my books eviscerated by Prof David Fitzpatrick of Trinity College. That didn’t make it a bad book – but he was absolutely right.

Where do you see the publishing industry going? Online, like everybody else, I suppose. Otherwise it’s a bit like asking the dodo, “So where do you see yourself in 50 years?” I hope I’m wrong. I kind of like it as it is.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading? Very few. You learn lessons from life, not from reading about life. Reading is pure pleasure. Life is . . . life.

What has being a writer taught you? To hone a piece of work to within an inch of its life.

To hand something over even though you think it’s unfinished – because it will never be finished to your satisfaction.

Discipline – the damn thing doesn’t write itself. You have to do it.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party? Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Joe O’Connor, PD James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Heller, PGWodehouse.

Myles Dungan is a writer, broadcaster and academic. He presents The History Show on RTÉ Radio 1. He is an adjunct lecturer in history at University College, Dublin. His latest work, Mr Parnell’s Rottweiller: United Ireland newspaper 1881-1891 is published the Irish Academic Press and will be followed this summer by an extensively revised version of Irish Voices from the Great War.