Michael Russell grew up in England, with a Donegal granny whose mantelpiece had two pictures on it - one of the Sacred Heart, the other of Eamon de Valera. He was never sure which she venerated more. After studying Old Irish at Oxford, he was ideally qualified for his first job, as script editor on Emmerdale Farm. He later worked as a producer and writer on A Touch of Frost, Midsomer Murders, and The Bill. He has written six novels featuring Stefan Gillespie, an Irish detective in the 1930s and 1940s. His latest novel, The City under Siege, has just been published. He lives with his family in west Wicklow, not far from his fictional detective's home on Kilranelagh Hill.
Film: Huckleberry Finn
Hollywood's first Irish director, Carlow man William Desmond Taylor, was murdered in 1922. He directed 60 silent movies, most lost in studio bonfires after sound came in. Huckleberry Finn, rediscovered in 2005, is an adaptation of Mark Twain's novel uniquely capturing its comedy, depth and darkness. Taylor fought for a black actor to play escaped slave Jim - and after George H Reed's wonderful performance, it was over 40 years before Hollywood let a black actor carry such weight again. My son and I saw it when he was 10. It still stays with us.
TV: All Creatures Great and Small
Sometimes what's quiet and generous in spirit is heard. All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot's books and the old, sometimes creaky BBC series, is all that. I wrote for the series when I lived in north Yorkshire. All Creatures had exceptional actors in Peter Davison and the extraordinary Robert Hardy. The man who transformed Herriot's stories into a TV icon of Englishness was Johnny Byrne, a northside Dubliner.
Book: John Buchan's Richard Hannay novels
Great writing isn't so much plot, subject, character, as a magic that makes words in one order great prose, in another just prose. Revisiting the Richard Hannay novels, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Mr Standfast, etc, I found the joy of John Buchan in Scotland's wild, empty landscapes. The chase along the roads of the Borders in The Island of Sheep, is a small masterpiece.
Music: Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob Dylan
At almost 80, Bob Dylan's Rough and Rowdy Ways stands with his best work. Murder Most Foul, bleak reflections on JFK's assassination, becomes an elegy for American culture, all culture - rich, chaotic, contradictory, dark, light, sacred, profane. Each line asks if the idea of 'appropriation' of any kind can mean anything in art. For Dylan, there is only 'Love and Theft'.
Artist: Willie Bester
Years ago, I was able to travel in Africa, in ways no longer possible. I drove alone from Kenya's coast to Lake Victoria. On the eve of South Africa's first election, I drove from Namibia, through the Kalahari, to KwaZulu. Everywhere I met generosity and kindness. The skies of Africa haunt me. So do its sprawling townships. Willie Bester is a great South African artist who captures those townships' dualism; oppressive poverty, hope-filled vitality. Near apartheid's end, the found objects of Migrant Miseries pit repression against unbowed hope.