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Ronan Bennett (born: 14 January 1956) is a Northern Irish novelist and screenwriter.
Bennett was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family headed by William H. and Geraldine Bennett at 420 Merville Garden Village in the Whitehouse area of Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland. He attended the Christian Brothers Grammar School in West Belfast (generally known as St Mary's CBGS). In 1974, while still in school, Bennett was convicted of murdering Inspector William Elliott, a 49-year-old police officer in the Royal Ulster Constabulary during an Official IRA bank robbery at the Ulster Bank in The Diamond shopping area at Rathcoole, close to his Merville Garden Village home, on 6 September 1974. His conviction was overturned on appeal in 1975 and Bennett was released from Long Kesh prison near Lisburn, Co. Antrim. Later Bennett apparently displayed a sympathy towards the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which made its name after it killed Margaret Thatcher's Northern Ireland advisor Airey Neave in 1979.
Bennett then moved to London. In 1978 he was arrested for conspiracy to cause explosions and spent 16 months in prison on remand. Bennett conducted his own defence, and he and his co-defendants were acquitted in 1979. He studied history at King's College London receiving a first class honours degree, and later completed his PhD at the college in 1987.
Bennett lives in London with his family. His partner is Georgina Henry, editor of guardian.co.uk. Since 2006, he has co-hosted a regular Monday chess column with Daniel King in The Guardian, which seeks to be instructive, rather than topical. Through test positions taken from actual games, their amateur and expert assessments of the possible continuations are discussed and compared. It has been supposed that Nigel Short's column was axed to make way for the new feature and the justification for this change has been the subject of some debate in chess circles.
Bennett has published five novels and two non-fiction works. It was his third novel The Catastrophist that brought him into the public eye. This novel was set in the Belgian Congo just before independence, with the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba as political backdrop, The Catastrophist is the story of a doomed love affair between novelist James Gillespie and a fiery idealistic journalist, Inès. Critics hailed the novel, which drew inevitable comparisons to Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad and John le Carré's African novel, The Constant Gardener. It was nominated for the Whitbread Award in 1998.
The Catastrophist is a bleak book about the impossibility of love and of political peace in certain circumstances. The central character, James, (who changes his name from the Irish 'Seamus' to the Anglo form when he moves to London) follows Inès to the Congo as the Belgian colons are preparing to leave and the Communist sympathiser Lumumba is about to be killed by a rival "tribe" vying for control (with clandestine US support). James writes some pieces for the Observer in London as the political situation gets much worse, and he becomes more involved because Inès herself is heavily engagé, reporting for the Italian Communist Party newspaper.
Their sexual relationship is handled with great frankness, and their love appears very real, but she moves away from him, into the cause, and takes a young African supporter of Lumumba as a lover. She asks James to help them escape as their lives become threatened by a dangerous CIA man and the black tribal group he supports. Despite his own bitterness about losing her, James refuses to tell the American and his African co-conspirators where Inès and her lover are hiding. He is jailed and badly beaten, but eventually the CIA man believes his story that he does not know where Inès is hiding, and lets him go. Inès consoles him with one final sexual act before escaping with her African lover.
The sub-text is about James' impossible task in holding a woman who throws herself into a cause that the detached novelist cannot join. There is considerable poignancy in the scenes where he realises that she has gone for good, and no longer loves him.
Bennett's fourth novel, Havoc, in its Third Year, was published in 2004. It is a dark tale of Puritan fanaticism, set in a town in northern England in the 1630s, in the decade before Cromwell and his Roundheads took over the kingdom. Havoc was also well received in the press.
Bennett was an uncredited co-author of Stolen Years, the prison memoir of Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four who were wrongfully convicted in 1975 for the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings the previous year. Bennett has also written several acclaimed screenplays for film and television, among them The Hamburg Cell and the controversial Rebel Heart. He contributes regularly to the British and Irish press.
In 2006, Bennett's new novel Zugzwang, was published week-by-week in the British Sunday newspaper The Observer. The novel was written in weekly instalments with new chapters being submitted to the newspaper close to publication date. Each chapter was accompanied by illustrations created by British artist Marc Quinn.
- The Second Prison (1991) – shortlisted for the 1991 Irish Times/Aer Lingus prize.
- Overthrown by Strangers (1992)
- The Catastrophist (1998) – shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award.
- Havoc, in its Third Year (2004) – winner of the Hughes & Hughes/Sunday Independent Irish Novel of the Year award.
- Zugzwang (2006)
- Stolen Years: Before and After Guildford (with Paul Hill, 1990)
- Fire and Rain (broadcast on Radio 4, 1994)
- A Further Gesture, aka The Break (1997)
- Lucky Break (2001)
- Face (1997)
- The Hamburg Cell (2004)
- Public Enemies (2009)
- Love Lies Bleeding (1993)
- A Man You Don't Meet Every Day (1994)
- Rebel Heart (2001)
- Fields of Gold (2002)
- Hidden (2011)
- Top Boy (2011)
- Do Armed Robbers Have Love Affairs? (2002)
- 1999 interview with Salon magazine
- Zugzwang on The Observer website
- Bloomsbury author information on Bennett