Alumni Dr Andrew O'Hagan

Course studied: BA (Hons) English, 1990

Position at time of writing: Novelist, non-fiction author

Interesting fact: Andrew launched his first book, The Missing, aged 26, at the People’s Palace in Glasgow, not 400 yards away from the site of the slum tenements where his Irish ancestors first arrived in Glasgow

Tell us about your background

I was born in Glasgow City Centre in 1968. My mother was a school cleaner and my father was a joiner in Paisley. I was the youngest of four boys and was the first in my family, the first ever, to get the chance to go to university. It wasn’t a question of ability but of opportunity. But I grew up with a pencil in my hand and my first real birthday present was a typewriter. 

Why did you choose Strathclyde?

I loved the idea of a modern university at the centre of an old city. It appealed to me, the commercial and technical origins of Strathclyde, part of the ambition of the country, and it was my first choice.

I was one of those students who felt they really grew up at university. I loved it from the first day, the variety, the intellectual engagement, the buildings, the bars. It always felt to me, and still does, like a higher education with its head among the stars and its feet firmly on the ground. 

What is the best part of your job?

The freedom. I’m my own boss, and every day I get to interact with the world on my own terms. I’m a natural worker, I think, not afraid of graft, and whether I’m working with a foreign publisher or with barristers at the Old Bailey, I feel completely independent and that’s in the DNA of my job. I’m paid to be an independent thinker and my readers would insist on it. 

What has been your most memorable moment from your career so far?

I have a quite flooded memory. Launching my first book The Missing, aged 26, at the People’s Palace in Glasgow, not 400 yards away from the site of the slum tenements where my Irish ancestors first arrived in Glasgow; being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in my 30s and signing the register with Dickens’s pen; chairing an event with Gunter Grass and Norman Mailer in New York, not long before they each died. Touring New Zealand with John Peel. Finding the subject of latest book, Mayflies, in a request from an old and dying friend from childhood. So many incredible memories. 

Any final points or words of wisdom?

Every day counts. Every day is a production. There’s no time for regrets or doubts: the next thing you do will be the defining thing. I learned at Strathclyde how to be a practical thinker, turning over a problem until it catches the light. The fun you’re after is the fun of getting it right, when you can, and sharing in the achievements of other people.