Blackbird Book Club: Malachi O’Doherty

Watch a video of the Writer in Residence at Queen's University read from his memoir Under His Roof

Malachi O’Doherty, recently appointed to the BBC Louis MacNeice Writer in Residence post at Queen’s University, joined us at the Blackbird Book Club lately.

He will be well known to many viewers of Hearts and Minds as one of the programme’s most original and witty commentators, but O'Doherty is no one-trick pony.He has made a range of contributions to the world of media and broadcasting and political analysis over many years.

O'Doherty was with us at the Blackbird Book Club to talk a bit about his memoir, though in truth the conversation encompassed a wealth of subjects. O'Doherty has taught a very popular class in the Open Learning programme and his own memoir of his father, Under His Roof is a funny, challenging read.

And this may be because, as O'Doherty candidly told us, the writing of a story about his father was no easy matter. A picture emerges of a thoughtful, sometimes droll man who perhaps never quite adapted to the big city and whose drinking did not always generate the most pleasant of domestic atmospheres.

O'Doherty, characteristically, was very open, disarmingly so, and yet the writer in him strove to find a shape to that life. And, perhaps, reflecting parts of himself as a journalist, he chose not to fasten neurotically on personal anguish but to imagine how Barney, his father, would view and ‘commentate’ upon various aspects of the wider world around him. This more objective perspective makes for a book that allows for the subjective but avoids undue narcissism.

The new Writer in Residence had, as you might suspect, some thought provoking ideas about the position of memoir writing within the wider literary world. For O'Doherty, distrustful of elitism in any arena, the memoir is regarded as a form which poses challenges for the writer, alpine enough.

It is not a simple matter of either personal factual eyewitness documentary or of creating a beautiful shapely fictional pattern, but of moving between these two more fixed forms.

In a hugely entertaining session, full of humour that casts itself between the puckish and the caustic, there were moments too of poignancy. Our abiding memory is of the compassion, warmth and capacity for self-deprecation of this sharp-tongued chronicler. And that all combined into a spirit of very unique graciousness. 

Check out video extracts from previous Blackbird Book Clubs.