20 QUESTIONS... OLIVER BULLOUGH

To mark 20 years of Hay Festival Winter Weekend, we are asking speakers and performers to answer 20 questions. Here's how investigative reporter Oliver Bullough responded...


1. If you could put one question to anyone on the planet, who would you choose and what would it be?

Vladimir Putin: how rich are you?

2. What was the last book you read and loved?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (to my six-year-old) by JK Rowling.

3. What are you most proud of?

My pizzas.

4. What was the best question you were ever asked in an event and how did you answer it?

“If you know so much about money laundering, why don’t you just go and do it?” from a 17-year-old at a school event. I don’t remember my answer but, whatever it was, it wasn’t worthy of such a great question.

5. What one piece of advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?

If you ever have kids, and one of them when he's eight years old accidentally sets fire to the living room rug, go easy on him.

6. What's the most famous book you've never read?

Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre... The list is embarrassingly long.

7. What author or book do you think is most underrated? And why?

Mikhail Lermontov. People go on and out about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but I think Lermontov was at least as interesting, and far more original. Perhaps the fact he only wrote one masterpiece counts against him, but that hasn’t stopped us feting JD Salinger, so it seems unfair.

8. Which writers today will still be read 100 years from now?

Julia Donaldson, John le Carré and Thomas Piketty.

9. Favourite word?

Brook (as a verb). I like any word with only one application.

10. Least favourite word?

Accommodation. I can never spell it.

11. What is the first thing you wrote?

A poem for the school newspaper called “I wish that men have babies”.

12. What one thing should each writer know before they begin?

You learn to write by writing, and being edited.

13. Where's your favourite place to write?

My desk is the only place I can write, so it’s both my favourite and my least favourite place to do so.

14. Pen and paper, or laptop?

Laptop. I think by typing.

15. Favourite book of 2019?

Joe Country by Mick Herron.

16. Favourite book to read at Christmas?

A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

17. What is the best book you've ever been gifted, and who gave it to you?

A World Atlas, from my great grandmother. I travelled across continents in my mind.

18. What books are you most excited about reading in 2020?

The new Piketty looks like it’ll be fascinating.

19. Best Hay Festival memory?

Seeing Ted Hughes reading poetry in a storm, which he took on directly and defeated in a straight fight, sweat pouring down his face. I was about 10 and it was awe-inspiring.

20. What are you working on right now?

A history of Britain’s offshore industry. I’m supposed to finish it by the end of next year, so wish me luck.


Oliver Bullough is author of The Last Man in RussiaLet Our Fame Be Great and the recent best-selling deep dive into dirty money, Moneyland. He appears in conversation with Russell Kane at Hay Festival Winter Weekend on Thursday 28 November 2019 - buy tickets here.