Off Topic podcast: Does your life story belong to you?

Booker-shortlisted novelist Andrew O’Hagan discusses the subject with Hugh Linehan

In a talk at the Abbey's Theatre of Change Symposium on Friday writer Andrew O'Hagan posed the question: does your own life story belong to you?

One might guess his answer when considering the elaborate fake online persona he created for Ronald Pinn, a man who died in the 1980s, or that his latest book presents the life of Marilyn Monroe as seen through the eyes of her dog.

"You'd have sympathy for people's sense of ownership [of their own stories], but you wouldn't want to give into it," the Booker-shortlisted novelist told his audience at the Abbey.

On the Off Topic podcast he tells culture editor Hugh Linehan he understands the anger people feel when portrayed in a way they do not feel comfortable with.


“There’s a common sense notion that we all own our own lives, and the lives of our families too. But you know for a writer, there can’t be a question of ownership”.

O'Hagan's novel Personality was based on the story of Lena Zavarone, a young Scottish singer who succumbed to anorexia and died. Her family welcomed O'Hagan's attention at first but ultimately turned against the project.

“The cliche in journalism and the writing universe generally is that people run away from a writer or reporter. In my experience people often run towards the notepad. They want to be remembered, they want their loved ones to get their credit,” says O’Hagan. “What they don’t want is to have no control over that process.”

The Theatre of Change Symposium is running on Friday and Saturday at the Abbey Theatre.