One Minute With: MJ Hyland, novelist

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm on the settee in the downstairs front room in my end-of-terrace house in Manchester. On the opposite wall there's a framed print of Goya's painting, 'The Dog'. The dog is buried in dark dirt, and he's looking up at the sky.

What are you currently reading?

I'm re-reading John McGahern's short stories. The title story from 'Creatures of the Earth' is a flawless work: one of the greatest short stories from a great writer. I wish he was still alive so that I could meet him; though he probably wouldn't like that very much.

Choose a favourite author, and say why you admire her/him

My writing students are sick of my rants about the genius of Flannery O'Connor. When I make them read 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' they never greet this masterpiece with the right kind of excitement. And then I get huffy.

Describe the room where you usually write

Usually in bed, which is upstairs, but I didn't want to say that right away, so when I answered the first question, I went downstairs. Now I'm back on the bed and much happier.

What distracts you from writing?

I'm addicted to documentaries and film when I can't solve a problem in my fiction.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Ignatius J Reilly, from John Kennedy Toole's 'A Confederacy of Dunces'. Like Reilly, the educated but slothful hot-dog vendor in New Orleans, I think too "Employers sense in me a denial of their values".

What are your readers like when you meet them?

Disappointed that I don't look as good as my photograph, and likely to say: "You look different".

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Nelson Mandela. Everything about him. I love the cadence of his speech: "Take/ your knives/ and guns/ and throw them/ into the sea." Truth, compassion, and the right words in the right order. I quite like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon too.

MJ Hyland is a judge for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; her latest novel is 'This is How' (Canongate)