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World Book Day: Famous Northern Ireland faces on the books that inspired them

Some of our best known personalities tell Leona O'Neill about the books that changed their lives

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World Book Day is a celebration marked in over 100 countries

World Book Day is a celebration marked in over 100 countries

Getty Images/iStockphoto

1984

1984

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale

The Grapes Of Wrath

The Grapes Of Wrath

Michelle Obama's Becoming

Michelle Obama's Becoming

The Year I Met You

The Year I Met You

World Book Day is a celebration marked in over 100 countries

World Book Day is a charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It is the biggest celebration of its kind paying homage to writers and illustrators and, of course, books. It is designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading and is marked in more than 100 countries around the globe.

Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart says one special book has always had a great influence in her life.

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Carla Lockhart

Carla Lockhart

Carla Lockhart


"As a Christian, undoubtedly the Bible has had the most profound impact on my life," she says. It encourages, it instructs, it teaches us great values around love, grace, compassion but most importantly it has the power to transform lives and mend what is an increasingly broken world.

"As an adult I would say Lost Lives is the book that has influenced me a lot. No one reading that book cannot but be moved to do all they can to make Northern Ireland a better place, and to ensure we never return to the bloodshed that took so many lives too soon.

"At the moment I'm on a little bit of a nostalgic re-read of Anne Of Green Gables. I first read it in my teens and of course watched the series on TV with my sister. We loved it and it has always made me want to visit Prince Edward Island. That's definitely on the bucket list."

BBC Radio Ulster presenter and producer Vinny Hurrell says a book picked up in his early childhood changed his life.

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BBC’s Vinny Hurrell

BBC’s Vinny Hurrell

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

BBC’s Vinny Hurrell


"Danny The Champion Of The World was the book that changed things," he says. "I would have been in first year at high school. At that point I didn't read for pleasure, I read because I had to for school work and education. My teacher gave me the book and I loved every page. It's a fun story based on the relationship between a father and son who live in a caravan. It's full of heart, mischief and excitement.

"From that point on I had a newfound love for reading. I also read it again as an adult and loved it just as much.

"As an adult I love the crime thriller author James Patterson's Alex Cross series. It's quite different from the day job and gives me a chance to escape - albeit into a fairly dark world of murder and mayhem! I'm a big fan of audiobooks but they can be dangerous. I've fallen asleep many times with my headphones in, and woken up chapters later with no idea what's happening. It can also lead to some weird dreams!

"Recently I've been trying to read the autobiography Scar Tissue from the lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis. I started it a few years ago but found it tough to stay with. He's had a real roller-coaster of a life and sometimes I find real life harder to read about than fiction."

Actress and comedian Diona Doherty says that one particular book she read as a child encouraged her business mind.

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Diona Doherty

Diona Doherty

Diona Doherty


"I really loved the Babysitter Club books by Ann M Martin," she says. "It probably encouraged my entrepreneurship. I tried to get some babysitting jobs after reading them but at nine years old I wasn't sure how many parents were happy to let me look after their tiny babies. I was just out of nappies myself. Instead, I had to bide my time and wait until there was an opening in the market when I was a teenager and then I became the most prolific babysitter Derry has ever known.

"As an adult I read Happy by Derren Brown, and in it he talks about what actually makes a person happy from a statistical point of view. It's quite eye-opening. It has helped me to have more normal and realistic expectations with my life, which has genuinely increased my level of personal happiness.

"The last book I read was The Year I Met You by Ceceila Ahern. I loved it because it covers an idea that I've been thinking much more about recently, which is finding happiness outside of your work. I am lucky I have that with a brilliant husband and an amazingly bonkers family. It's important to not make your work the only thing you feel connected to, and this book delivers on that message."

UTV's Political Editor Ken Reid says that one famous book lit a political spark in him.

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Ken Reid

Ken Reid

Kevin Scott

Ken Reid


"George Orwell's 1984 certainly fuelled my interest in politics as a schoolboy at Methody," he says. "It is quite a remarkable book.

"My favourite book is probably Antony Beever's Stalingrad. It is forensic and shocking, it opened my mind to a very dark but significant piece of history.

"I'm currently reading Anthony Seldon's May At Ten. It's a good insight into a failed Prime Minister. There is a nice story in it about talks between the DUP and the Conservatives about the confidence and supply arrangement being conducted in a remote Co Down farm."

Fifty Shades Of Red, White and Blue author Leesa Harker says that Marian Keyes' work changed her life and set her on her career path.

Leesa Harker


"I'd probably say Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes changed my life," she says. "This was the book that made me want to know that I could write. I read it when I was living in England and once I had finished it I literally drove to PC World and bought a laptop to start writing.

"What I love about that book is the fact it's dealing with some dark issues like addiction but is also hilariously funny. Getting that dark and light right is a very difficult thing to do which is why I rate this book so much. It's also a great story. I'm actually reading a lot of books now as I'm doing a Masters in Creative Writing at Queen's. The last one that I read for fun and loved was The History Of Bees by Maja Lunde.

"It follows three different characters at three points in time - one historical, one present day and one in the future. It's about the environment and the importance of bees, but it isn't preachy, it's actually three brilliant stories but it also makes you think, which I really liked. And it has a beautiful cover.

"My favourite book as an adult is The Handmaid's Tale. It had me gripped. And the reason this one sticks in my mind so much is the fact that it was written in the Eighties and it seems that these things could actually come true. It's a warning and I have heeded it."

SDLP MP for South Belfast Claire Hanna says she loves reading and finds it difficult to choose her favourite book.

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SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Liam McBurney/PA)

SDLP MP Claire Hanna (Liam McBurney/PA)


"I love reading and get through quite a lot of books," she says. "One that stands out is John Steinbeck's Grapes Of Wrath. It's so powerful and relevant, about migration, poverty and precariousness, that it's hard to believe it was written 80 years ago.

"I don't have an individual book that has influenced me as an adult, but it really is a golden age of Belfast writing at the moment. I have loved Jan Carson, Wendy Erskine, Anna Burns, Glenn Patterson and Paul McVeigh's recent books. It's such a privilege to see the city you live in, and some of the big life and political themes of the day, so well captured in books that have all the escapism you want in a novel, but which really broaden your understanding and worldview.

"I read Malachi O'Doherty's new novel - Terry Brankin Has a Gun - at the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It reads like a very punchy thriller but is centred around current legacy issues here. I've just picked up This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay, and friends working in the NHS tell me it is painfully real."

Journalist, author and commentator Malachi O'Doherty says one book from his childhood stands out in his mind.

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Expert eye: Malachi O’Doherty

Expert eye: Malachi O’Doherty

Kevin Scott / Presseye

Expert eye: Malachi O’Doherty


"I was taken to Ballycastle with my family for the funeral of my grandmother in 1960," he says. "At that time it was not normal for children to go to funerals so I was left in the cottage of my grandparents. I was sitting in an old rocking chair with an embroidered back, beside their bookcase, and I picked out a paperback novel called Apache.

"This was the story of a loner, a man born an Apache and raised by American settlers, I think, who reverted to type as a warrior. Actually, I am not even sure if that is right. I have been looking for the book online and there are several that it could have been.

"I was only nine years old. What is not vague is the enrapt fascination, the sense of being right inside the story, feeling for Apache, admiring and loving him. That was probably the first time that I got wholly engrossed in a book.

"Another important book for me was the Bible. At school Brother Walshe got everyone in the class to buy a copy and insisted we read it. We were soon digging out the gory bits and passing them round the class. This totally usurped the type of Christianity that we'd been taught at the Children's Mass and in school. Even Jesus was far more interesting than the drip we had been acquainted with until then.

"The favourite and most influential book I have read as an adult changes every year. Science fiction was hugely important in my 20s. In the past year I have been dazzled by Marilynne Robinson and her ability to recreate a scene.

"Wendy Erskine's short stories are among the best I have ever read. Lately I have been reading Julian Jaynes's The Emergence Of Consciousness With The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind. It challenges us to rethink what consciousness is given that so much of what we do happens without us thinking about it. The question of what consciousness is is now called the Hard Question, the last redoubt of those of us who resist a wholly materialistic account of how we come to be here."

BBC radio and TV veteran Wendy Austin says she had a fire lit in her as a young girl by one particular book.

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Wendy Austin

Wendy Austin

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Wendy Austin


"I had a great book when I was small called Adventure Stories For Girls," she says. "It was all about girls like me doing really exciting things - like escaping and surviving a bushfire surrounding their house in Australia. As you can imagine I was thinking about it recently. It made me realise that girls could do anything too.

"As an adult All The President's Men was brilliant. It is just the best book about journalism ever. They never gave up, they just kept digging, and Deep Throat was just the kind of inside contact every reporter dreams of having. For once the movie lived up to expectations too.

"The last book I read was Michelle Obama's Becoming. It is such a great book full of sentences and paragraphs that you'd like to print out and pin all over the place for young women - and men - to read and inwardly digest.

"Right now I'm re-reading Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs. I heard it mentioned on A Good Read on BBCR4 and thought I'd read it again. It is laugh out loud funny in places - it does have a do not read this in public health warning - and now that he's gone, it's great to hear his voice in my head again. A great reminder never to take yourself too seriously."

Q Radio news reporter Hannah Spratt says she has loved books from an early age.

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Stephen Clements with Hannah Spratt

Stephen Clements with Hannah Spratt

Stephen Clements with Hannah Spratt


"I remember being about four years old and really looking forward to the book fair coming to my school each year," she says. "It was a big day in the academic calendar for me. Mum and dad would always take me in to St Anne's in Donaghadee and let me pick a few books that caught my eye. All the bright coloured covers and pictures used to fascinate me.

"I remember having to get injections as a child and my mum buying me the Alfie Treasury book by Shirley Hughes afterwards. It was about a little boy who would go out on mad adventures in his yellow wellies. I still have it and it always brings happy memories.

"As an adult I love non-fictional. I always find myself going back to David McKittrick and David McVea's Making Sense Of The Troubles book. I remember receiving it as a present when I first qualified in my job.

"It's one that always reminds me how important the role of a journalist is in uncovering truth and injustice and I think that's pretty special.

"The last book I read was George Best's autobiography Blessed. I always found him intriguing and wanted to know more about his upbringing in Belfast before he found fame. So much has been written about George over the years but not very much from the man himself, so I really enjoyed it. It was open and honest."

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