A prominent current affairs broadcaster, John MacKay is also the author of four novels, all set on the Isle of Lewis, where his family originated. His fourth novel, Home, tells the story of one family over 100 years in the Western Isles and is inspired by the house that his great-grandfather built. 

What was your favourite childhood read?

When I moved beyond fairy tales and bible stories, I loved Enid Blyton, especially the Famous Five. But the series that gave me the biggest thrill whenever I found a new one in Cardonald library was Hergé’s Tintin books.

What was the first book to make an impact on you?

Shane by Jack Schaefer. It's the classic Western of the stranger who rides into town, sorts out the injustice of the bad guys and rides away again into the unknown. As well as being captivated by the story, I remember my teacher pointing out the importance of description – “His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat’s brim”. And the final passage: “He was a man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane.” For a young boy – wow!

Which book made you laugh?

Identity Crisis by Ben Elton. A sharp satire on the identity politics of the present. Laugh-out-loud funny on the complications and confusions of it all.

And cry?

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin. The touching story of an old man sitting at a bar and raising a toast to each of the five people who have meant most to him in his life. “I’m here to remember all that I have been and all that I will never be again.” Just beautiful.

What is your least favourite genre?

I have never got into sci-fi. I’m of the Star Wars generation and have never seen the original film. I need stories to be grounded in some sort of realism to draw me into their world.

Which book do you wish you'd written?

A Dance Called America by James Hunter. It explores the impact of Highland emigrés on North America, a subject that has long fascinated me. What a road trip that would have been to follow in their path and research that history. Shortly before I left the BBC for STV, I had a pitch for a documentary on the book accepted by BBC Radio Scotland. Giving up that opportunity was a major consideration for me in deciding whether to make the move. The programme was eventually made by Dr Hunter himself for Radio 4.

Which book you think is overrated?

I find the reputation of many 19th-century “classics” to be inflated. I think it’s because they were often serialised originally, which makes them overlong and verbose.

Do you like to read electronically or in print?

I prefer printed books, especially when I’m reading non-fiction. But – and it’s a big but – I mostly listen to fiction through audio books. I know many will not consider that to be reading, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get through anything like the number of books I do.

Where do you read?

Typically, I will read at night before going to sleep. The problem is that I fall asleep quickly and it can be slow progress. So, I make a point of reading books when I’m on holiday. Mostly though, I’ll listen to an audio book when others might listen to music or a podcast.

What was the last book you didn’t finish?

How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister. It is the story of someone going into witness protection and for me it was utterly implausible. I lose interest when characters make choices that are glaringly wrong simply to drive the story forward. I used to be of the mindset that if I started a book I would finish it. The older I get the less likely I am to do that.

What's the last book you read?

I’ve just completed A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s memoir of his early political life and first term as President. His achievement was inspiring and you can hear his voice through his writing, which flows so smoothly. I didn’t pick up on much acknowledgement of any mistakes, though.

Favourite novels

The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn encouraged me to believe the themes, landscape and lives I wanted to write about were worthy of being told. JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye captivated me at school because it was so different from the usual assigned texts. It opened up different possibilities of what writing could be. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: an old man in the afterlife has his life explained to him by five people he knew during it. "Whenever he thought of Marguerite, Eddie would see that moment, her waving over her shoulder, her dark hair falling over one eye, and he would feel the same arterial burst of love." We are lucky if we have these moments in our lives, the more so if we recognise them.

Favourite non-fiction books

Jim Hunter's A Dance Called America: the history of the Highland diaspora in North America. Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall is an eye-opening insight into how geography imposes itself on world politics. Why has there been so little economic or military interaction between the two most populous nations in the world – China and India? The Himalayas. When you think about it, it’s obvious, but it’s Tim Marshall’s book that makes you think about it.

Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick: the definitive biography of the unprecedented rise of Elvis Presley. The second volume, Careless Love, charts the sad decline. Few biographies come close. Home was inspired by my research into my own family history and by the oral stories passed down through generations. Perhaps unusually, the greatest influence on my style of writing is not other writing, but the imagery of great lyricists. In particular, the themes and language of Calum Macdonald of Runrig, have been a major cultural influence on me.

Favourite Scottish book

I’m torn between The Silver Darlings by Neil Gunn and Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. I think I have to choose The Silver Darlings because I feel a closer connection to it. My grandfathers both fished for herring early in their lives. Whisky Galore by Compton MacKenzie always tickles.

What's your guilty reading pleasure?

I’ll read anything to do with football, from bog-standard ghost-written biographies to tactical analyses. For me, the rare, well-written, insightful football book is unputdownable.

What do you hope readers will take away from your new novel?

Identity and belonging are key themes in my writing. Home is the story of the different strands of one family as they navigate through a tumultuous century. It could be the story of any family and I hope readers identify connections with their own families throughout.


Home by John MacKay is published by Luath Press, £9.99