Peter Hanington is a writer and journalist. He is the author of A Dying Breed, A Single Source and most recently A Cursed Place. He has worked as a radio journalist for over twenty-five years including stints at Radio 4, the BBC World Service, The World Tonight and sixteen years on the Today Programme. He lives in London with his wife and has two grown-up children living in Glasgow.
Why I Write
I write – first and foremost – to entertain. But the books I like to read (and attempt to write) also try to help the reader know the world a little better.
I think thrillers are particularly well suited to this – a good place to wonder and worry about things that matter.
What kind of things? In my books I’ve looked at the relationship between the media and the security services, about how you tell the truth in a time of war and who gets to decide which stories are told and which are ignored.
My latest book – A Cursed Place – asks how we reconcile new technology with timeless human needs. How do you decide what is true and what is not in an age of misinformation? How worried should we be about the implications of a total-surveillance society? (My answer to that last question – very!)
At a time when serious journalism is in retreat, with local and regional newspapers closing and broadcasters and print media shedding jobs, who will keep asking the awkward questions?
My answer is William Carver. An old-school journalist who is neither lovable nor charming but who has a nose for a good story, an appetite for hard work and the habit of getting into trouble. He, Patrick, Naz, McCluskey and Co. are walking, talking, embodiments of the sort of journalism that a healthy democracy requires.
I hope that you can find time to get to know them and that you like them (warts and all) as much as I do. Most importantly I hope you enjoy the books.
(a brief tribute to eight great hacks: broadcast and print, living and dead, real and fictitious)
From The Face of War: ‘It took nine years, and a great depression, and two wars ending in defeat, and one surrender without war, to break my faith in the benign power of the press….Good people, those who opposed evil wherever they saw it, never increased beyond a gallant minority. The manipulated millions could be aroused or soothed by any lies. The guiding light of journalism was no stronger than a glow-worm.’ Typically good stuff from one of the most gallant of the gallant minority and the brightest of glow-worms.
The king of Gonzo journalism delivers many useful lessons including how to properly prepare for an assignment Stateside: ‘We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-coloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers…and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.’
‘I became a journalist because I didn’t want to rely on newspapers for information.’ Intellectual, contrarian, orator and a great reporter and journalist. I saw him talk a few times and interviewed him once, before he’d let me start he pressed some crumpled notes into my hand and told me to go round the corner and buy some Smirnoff blue label vodka. When, during the subsequent conversation I apologized that some of his ideas were going over my head he was patient and kind: ‘Not over your head, around your flanks perhaps. Hopefully you’ll broaden.’
The original fast talking newspaperwoman brought to life brilliantly by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Also delivers an object lesson in how to talk to your news editor: ‘I wouldn’t cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up. If I ever lay my two eyes on you again, I’m gonna walk right up to you and hammer on that monkey skull of yours ‘til it rings like a Chinese gong.’
He wrote six novels, great reportage, took fascism, Soviet communism and imperialism to task and came up with one of the most important and pithy definitions of journalism you could wish to read: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” What else? Oh yes, he also taught us how to make a proper cup of tea: Indian or Ceylonese and never, ever with sugar in case you were unsure.
Dame Ann Leslie
One of the most special of special correspondents…fifty odd years of foreign reporting, stamps from seventy different countries in her passport. She’s been ‘chased round the furniture’ by presidents, dictators, film stars and fellow journalists and always come out ahead. A living legend with a wonderful way with words…I worked with her on a special Today Programme recently and escorting her through Broadcasting House, cynical hacks bowing and genuflecting as she passed, we came across Allan Little who told her how great she looked (she did look great) her response: ‘Oh shut up Allan, we both know what that is, it’s a fuck of a lot of slap. My spinal column is like the rubble of Aleppo.’
A jaded, middle-aged, opium addict, wannabe bigamist and accomplice to murder. The sort of journalistic hero that only a genius like Graham Greene could conjure up. And if that wasn’t enough, The Quiet American also delivers the unhappiest happy ending you could ever wish for.
I saw her speak at a Radio 4 World Tonight event at Cheltenham Literary Festival last year alongside Jeremy Bowen…not a bad double bill and they both had an eight hundred strong audience rapt. Lyse is not just smart, analytical and ridiculously well-informed, she is also compassionate. As long as there are people like that plying the trade, there’s hope.