Harris and Hornby: the new literary dynasty
Friday 29 September 1995
Nick Hornby and Robert Harris were both born to lower- middle-class homes in 1957. In 1992, both published spectacularly successful first books - Harris, Fatherland, Hornby, Fever Pitch. Both published their second books this year - Enigma and High Fidelity respectively. Both are related to one woman, Gill Hornby. She is Nick's sister, and Robert's wife. This is a guide to the two twin pillars of a literary dynasty in the making:
RH: Cambridge. President of the Union, editor of the student newspaper.
NH: Cambridge. "No Footlights, no writing for Broadsheet or Stop Press, no Presidency of the Union, no student politics, no nothing."
RH: BBC traineeship, Panorama, Newsnight - a progression he likens to "Eton and the Guards" - then political editor of the Observer, and columnist for the Sunday Times.
NH: "I had no ambitions for myself whatsoever before I was 26 or 27." Became a teacher, worked for a Korean trading company, and did odd freelance writing.
RH: Flawless. Middle-class grooming with a tasteful nod to intelligent tweed. Impeccable poise.
NH: Vigorously balding. Resolutely squat. Confirmed attachment to leather jackets and a thoroughgoing disregard for sartorial niceties.
RH: BBC documentary vowels, elegant chuckles.
NH: Strenuously Highbury.
RH: The Old Vicarage, Royal Berkshire, complete with Aga and full-size snooker table. Every bit as gracious as it sounds.
NH: North London terrace in Finsbury Park, complete with "the constant wail of sirens" and "the accompaniment of scores of evil-sounding dogs". Every bit as close to Highbury as it sounds.
Mode of transport
RH: Maroon-coloured convertible V12 Jaguar.
NH: Finsbury Park tube station. Otherwise, British Rail or lifts from his wife.
RH: Precociously classical. Favours Bach and Beethoven. Current favourite: Mozart's Cosi fan tutti.
NH: Appropriate for his age. Favours classic soul and songwriting, from the likes of Al Green and Elvis Costello. All-time favourite track: Aretha Franklin - "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)".
RH: French cuisine in an exclusive West End eatery; Bibendum, The Ivy and Wiltons are preferred haunts. Jeremy Paxman claims that even when out fishing, "his eye is roving towards the nearest decent restaurant".
NH: Childhood fantasies of pre-match fish and chips (from the Gunners Fish Bar) have matured into post-match spaghetti.
RH: A French red wine - preferably Burgundy - accompanied by the occasional cigar.
NH: Lager, accompanied by Silk Cut.
Heaven on earth:
RH: Torn between the exotic landscape of Morocco, where he got engaged, and the grandeur of the Atlas Mountains.
NH: Lower East Stand, Highbury.
Most memorable encounter:
RH: With Margaret Thatcher during her 1983 election campaign. Harris was reporting on her campaign tactics when, famously, she came up behind him on camera and began, quite shamelessly, to eavesdrop. Interviewing Ronald Reagan at the White House runs a close second.
NH: With Bob McNab, Arsenal's left back, before a game at Highbury in 1972. Being the first sentence Hornby ever uttered to an Arsenal player, his recollection of the moment is acute. "Are you playing, Bob?" "Yeah."
Greatest moment of recognition:
RH: Being recognised on leaving a Literary Review luncheon at the Cafe Royal, attended by the Princess of Wales. Unaccustomed to being "spotted", he found himself moved when a policeman on traffic duty said simply: "You're Robert Harris, aren't you? Loved Fatherland."
NH: Being recognised in Kentucky Fried Chicken in Finsbury Park, shortly after publication of Fever Pitch. "This bloke in the queue turned around and said: 'Fucking great book, Nick.' That isn't going to happen to a lot of English writers, and I'm very proud of it."
RH: That Nottingham Forest (Harris's home team) might one day meet Arsenal in the FA Cup Final - and win.
NH: That his wife might faint during a vital moment of a cup tie - worse, cup final - and he would find himself quite unable to divert his attention from the game.
RH: George Orwell, whom he admires for his integrity, for his "marvellous, clear English prose" and for producing high-quality, accessible literature.
NH: Liam Brady, former Arsenal midfielder, admired for being "languid, mysterious and intelligent", and because "in the parlance, if you cut him he would bleed Arsenal".
Hero of second book:
RH: Tom Jericho, a brilliant young Cambridge mathematician whose code- breaking genius defeats the Nazis and saves the Western world.
NH: Rob Fleming, a thirty-something languishing in a bedsit, pondering how to save a failing relationship and an ailing second-hand record shop.
RH: Meticulous research, intellectual rigour, a historical perspective. And an outstanding capacity for writing.
NH: Personal insight, individual experience, a humorous take on the modern condition. And an outstanding ability to write.
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