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World Book Day: How NI's well-known figures have been shaped by delving into the world of great page-turners

To mark World Book Day today, Stephanie Bell asks seven well-known figures about the books that have meant the most to them throughout the years

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Booked up: reading novels remains popular in today's world

Actress and comic Nuala McKeever is writer in residence for Libraries NI during creative writing month in March. She says:

"My new favourite book is The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows which I read last year. I didn't know the author and just picked it up in the library because I liked the look of the cover.

"It is set in Virginia in 1938 and told from the point of view of 12-year-old Willa Romeyn who is trying to work out what adult life is all about.

"There is this eccentric cast of characters in her family and a glamorous young woman comes to stay and is drawn into the lives of the family.

"You just fall in love with Willa who is on the edge of adulthood and is not sure what life is all about yet.

"It is funny and poignant and I loved it for the writing. It is one of the few books where I would go back over a paragraph and re-read it.

"I have recommended it to loads of people and I don't have my own copy yet but will have to go out and buy one.

"It is one of those books that when you finish it and are standing doing the dishes the next day you are wondering what happened to the characters. You don't want it to end."

Playwright Leesa Harker lives in Belfast with her two daughters Lola (10) and Lexi (7). She says:

"I recently read The House Where It Happened by Northern Ireland author Martina Devlin. It is fiction although it is based on a true story about the last witch trials in the UK which were in Carrickfergus.

"There are three women accused of being witches because of birth defects and they are put into a dungeon-like prison where they all died. They were starved, beaten and tortured.

"Martina Devlin started a campaign to get a plaque put on Carrickfergus Castle to remember them and I really believe it is something we should have.

"I found the story very interesting and I even drove down to Islandmagee to see the house where it is set and which is still there.

"The book gripped me. I couldn't stop reading it and I really think it should be made into a film.

"It was very sad and as a massive feminist it really got to me."

Belfast lecturer and author Olivia Rana has just launched her debut novel Elastic Girl. She says:

"Around the time I started to write my first novel I felt the need to read the work of some Indian authors and I read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

"It was his debut novel and it won the Man Booker prize which was absolutely fantastic for a first book.

"I loved it because of its dark humour which I really like. It is set just as India is emerging as one of the big economies and is written through the eyes of Balram and how he rises from poverty to become a successful entrepreneur.

"He is trapped in this life of poverty and goes on a journey to try and break out of it, and as he reinvents himself, he gets involved in all sorts of corruption and even murder.

"It is very cleverly written as it takes the form of a letter written over seven nights to the Chinese head of state and you are wondering how he is going to sustain it.

"It is very cleverly written as it takes the form of a letter written over seven nights to the Chinese head of state and you are wondering how he is going to sustain it.

"I like the way he weaved the back story of what was happening in India at the time into it and it gave me ideas on how to do that in my own book.

"I also like it because it gave a voice to the underdog and I tend to be drawn to those types of stories about people on the edge of society.

"Even though he is dealing with some big issues in society there is humour in it and it is not too heavy.

"I envy him for writing such a fantastic debut novel which not only helped me in my own work but has opened a whole new area of literature as it encouraged me to read the work of more Indian writers and more international authors."

Radio Ulster presenter Vinny Hurrell was 13 when he read Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World. He says:

"The story is about a kid whose mum has died and he lives with his dad in a caravan. His dad is a poacher and poaches pheasants from a grand estate nearby. I loved the excitement and the adventure. Usually in films or books the characters are perfect but in this book they were just average kind of people.

"It was about the boy out having adventures with his dad and they got up to all kinds of mischief.

"The story builds up to them drugging the pheasants and after they fall asleep, they go round and collect them.

"There is a great father/son relationship which appealed to me at that age and the way they both looked out for each other even though they didn't have a lot in the world.

"There is one part of it where Danny has to drive his dad's car and he is only a kid and I remember thinking 'oh my goodness this is wild what they are getting up to in this book'."

Paula McFetridge is artistic director of Kabosh theatre company. She says:

"My favourite has to be Bernard MacLaverty's Grace Notes. It is quite brilliant and one of those books which undoubtedly speaks to women from Belfast.

"The main character is from Belfast and it is about the journey of her life.

"I went to hear Bernard read a bit from it in Linen Hall Library and that made it even better for me. I love him as a writer. I have bought the book for loads of people.

"There is one section in the book when the main character is at a concert in Belfast with traditional Irish musicians and Lambeg drummers and it is hard to describe, but you feel that you are at the concert.

"That's the bit Bernard did a reading on and he even made it sound like music. That is how brilliant he is. The rhythm in the way he wrote it and read it is quite brilliant.

"I did buy a copy for my best friend and she didn't like it and I remember it took me ages to get over the fact that she didn't like it. I couldn't understand how. Maybe I just connected with it. Sometimes it is when you read a book that matters as well as it can resonate with you more."

David Maxwell, presenter of Gardeners' Corner on BBC Radio Ulster has fond memories of reading Roald Dahl's The Vicar of Nibbleswicke when he was eight years old. He says:

"My dad was a vicar and as the lead character in the book is one, it appealed to me. The story is about a vicar who moves to a new parish and due to stress and anxiety he says certain words back to front.

"It was very funny. As a child I wasn't an avid reader and anything with humour in it, drew me in. I remember one incident when the vicar was talking to a group of knitters in his congregation and he referred to stink instead of knits. As a child it caused side-splitting laughter.

"He also referred to himself as eel instead of his name which was Lee and called God, dog. In the end he discovered if he walked backwards he would be able to say things the right way round."

Poet and playwright Maria McManus from Belfast has just brought out a new book, Available Light, published by Arlen House. She says:

"As part of the O-level curriculum at school I read Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I still have the book and have read it umpteen times over the years, although not recently.

"It is set in South Africa during the time of apartheid. It is a very powerful statement on the experience of people in the region at that time. Sometimes I think the lived experience in fiction comes through closer to the truth than we get in politics or on the news.

"It's the story of a black pastor whose son leaves home to go into the city to get work where he gets into trouble. It is a very powerful statement and it helped me to understand - as good literature often does - the country and its policies much better."

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Booked up: reading novels remains popular in today's world
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Nuala McKeever
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Leesa Harker
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Olivia Rana
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Vinny Hurrell
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Paula McFetridge