Recommended reading

Newspaper novels


After reading the Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman on holiday, I asked for recommendations for other novels based around a newspaper or about journalism. It struck a rich vein with contributions coming in from all quarters. Terry Ramsey, formerly of The Northern Echo and Evening Standard, compiled a fairly comprehensive list much of which I have included below. Other recommendations are from journalists including David Kernek, Mike Watson, Elliot Pinkham, Jason Gibbins, Jon Welch and Frank le Duc. Keep them coming.

The History of Pendennis W M Thackeray (1850) - novel about Arthur Pendennis, who, newly arrived in London, ends up taking work in Fleet Street. Hugely influential (and simply huge) account of Victorian journalism.

New Grub Street George Gissing (1891) - about a writer with writer’s block, but circles round journalism and portrays several seedy hacks.

Psmith, Journalist P G Wodehouse (1915) - Rupert Psmith and pal in New York find themselves running boring weekly, Cozy Moments, and reinventing it.

Scoop Evelyn Waugh (1937) - the definitive journalism satire. Nature Notes columnist William Boot is mistakenly sent to cover an African civil war.

Picture Palace Malcolm Muggeridge (1933) - based on Guardian of the time; publication was delayed by libel concerns (people at The Guardian felt they had been libelled).

My Turn To make The Tea Monica Dickens (1951) - amusing story of a young girl struggling as a cub reporter on a provincial newspaper and her life in a grotty boarding house.

The Northern Light A J Cronin (1954)  - story of a provincial editor’s attempt to preserve his paper’s integrity.

A Crooked Sixpence Murray Sayle (1960) - a seedy world of recognisable characters of the time. The book was withdrawn after libel concerns but republished by Revel Barker

A House For Mr Biswas V S Naipaul (1961) - fantasist Mr Biswas bluffs his way into journalism on the Trinidad Sentinel.

The Quiet American Graham Greene (1962) - short anti-war novel set in the Vietnam War and narrated by cynical British journalist Thomas Fowler.

Yea Yea Yea Angus McGill (1963) - the author of the long-running Augusta comic strip in the Evening Standard wrote one of the funniest accounts of life on a provincial paper after his time at the Shields Gazette in the early 1960s. It was filmed as Press for Time by Norman Wisdom and the cast included a young Helen Mirren.

Don't Print My Name Upside Down Michael Green (1963)  - amusing storyline and characters based around the Chronicle and Echo in Northampton. 

Friends in Low Places Simon Raven (1965) - caper involving journalists and incrimination.

Towards the End of the Morning Michael Frayn (1967) - classic satire of 1960s' Fleet Street.

Clancy Frederick Mullally (1971) - young and principled hack finds his way in the gritty world of journalism. Became a TV series Looking for Clancy starring Robert Powell.

No Better 'ole Walter Green (1982) - Shoe-maker launches weekly paper, later turning down Fleet St for love of local. The birth of the Daventry Express. Strictly an autobiography rather than a novel - and difficult to get hold of - but worth including.

Pratt of the Argus David Nobbs (1988) - the Reggie Perrin author mines his stint as a junior reporter on the Sheffield Star for this comic tale.

Country Reporter David Foot (1990) - a fictionalised coming of age account by the veteran Guardian cricket writer of his time as a copy boy and young reporter at the Western Gazette in Yeovil in the late 1940s.

Shame about The Street Diane Langford (1993) - tale of a tabloid exposé.

Fullalove Gordon Burn (1995) - sleazy story centres around burnt-out newspaperman working for a mid-market tabloids specialises in finding new angles on police-killer and sex crime stories.

Cycle of Violence Colin Bateman (1995) - comedy thriller in which reporter Miller annoys his boss and is exiled to a sister paper in the town of Crossmaheart in Northern Ireland to replace a colleague who has gone missing in mysterious circumstances. He is soon mixed up with the missing man's girlfriend and some very shady characters.

A Vicious Circle Amanda Craig (1996) - satire of journalism and ambition; held up after intervention of David Sexton, who believed he was portrayed unflatteringly.

Quite Ugly One Morning Christopher Brookmyre (1997) - dirty hack can't help but investigate murkiest of murders. Corruption, medicine and brutality add to the laughs - honestly.

Stop Press Tim Heald (1998) - comic tale of a press trip to Central America.

Bliton Andrew Martin (1998) - satire of lifestyle journalism.

No News at Throat Lake Lawrence Donegan (1998) - not strictly a novel but a romp through the author's time as a reporter on the Tirconaill Tribune in Donegal. Worth including as I worked with Lawrence briefly at The Northern Echo - but mainly because it is very funny.

The Truth Terry Pratchett (2001) - although it's set in Ankh-Morpork, it may owe more to the former Bucks Free Press reporter's early career than his other Discworld novels.

Ink John Preston (2003) - tale of jaded Fleets Street’s last days (set in 1987).

The Silly Season Bernard Shrimsley (2003) - raucous tabloid satire.

My Name is Legion A N Wilson (2004) - Waugh-ish satire set on a celebrity orientated title.

The Rum Diary - Hunter S Thompson (2004) - an early novel by the gonzo journalist and a film staring Johnny Depp. Drink is taken.

Who’s Who in Hell Robert Chalmers (2005) - “inspired” portrait of life on the obits desk (the word "inspired" was used by the Indie; Chalmers is one of its own writers).

The Man Who Hated Football Will Buckley (2005) - sportswriter’s cry from the heart.

Overexposure Hugo Rifkind (2006) - satire on media and celebrity.

The Sportswriter Richard Ford (2006) - the novel that made his name but not the one that won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Still Lives Brian Page (2007) - comedy about an old hack on a northern paper resisting the new management-speak ethos of a younger editor.

The Accidental Time Traveller Sharon Griffiths (2008) - romantic novel in which journalist Rosie Harford is transported back into the newsroom of the 1950s and has to get back to the present for the sake of her love life. 

The Financial Lives of the Poets Jess Walter (2009) - in which the mismanagement and decline of regional newspapers is featured hilariously, along with those who wrecked the banking industry and the property markets. It's set in the States, but it - as they say - resonates here.

The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman (2010) - novel based around a declining English-language newspaper in Rome. As the paper falls apart, so do the lives of its individuals.

According to Bella Sally Murrer (2010) - story about a single mum and local newspaper reporter who finds a dead body and sets about trying to outsmart the police to deliver her editor the scoop of the century.

Russell Wiley Is Out To Lunch Richard Hine (2010) - satrical insight into the desperate world of a modern newspaper - clueless publishers, declining circulations, endless cuts. Sound familiar?