John Niven: Straight White Male

The A&R man-turned-novelist talks us through his favourite books

Interview, Time In
Interview, Time In

Former A&R man turned writer John Niven talks about his most memorable books.

Following a ten-year career in the music industry and a stint as an A&R man (where he turned down the opportunity to sign Coldplay and Muse), Scottish writer John Niven took pen to paper. It was a smart move: his debut novel Kill Your Friends, a satirical look at the music business, was so well-received, many critics likened it to the best thing out of Britain since Trainspotting. Niven has just released his fifth novel Straight White Male about a morally devoid LA-based writer whose lifestyle is upturned when an opportunity presents itself back in Ireland. Here, he shares the books which have inspired him most.

What was your favourite book growing up?
It wasn’t until my teenage years that a book really left a mark on me really, 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 actually agree with the idea that books aren’t static things – they have a life and they grow with you the more you read them.

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 in trouble, the thing to do use ice cubes
in a particular way. One day, when I was living in Glasgow, I found a friend of a neighbour outside in a terrible state – he was pretty much dead. Without getting too graphic about what actually happened to the chap, thanks to details I’d gleaned from these rock biographies, I was able to save his life. He came round a few days later and sheepishly thanked me.

Which book has influenced your work the most?
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.
Straight White Male, from Dhs50, is available at

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