New Journalism

Over 100 hours of digital tape went into the interviews I carried out for Hood Rat.  The transcribing alone was time-consuming. The accounts of events and reported speech were written up in a fictional style, using the present tense.  This technique is nothing new. It has its roots in the New Journalism of the 1960s. In 1973 Tom Wolfe edited an anthology of New Journalism (published by Picador) which included Norman Mailer’s article “Armies of the Night”, a first person account of the 1967 march on the Pentagon. Mailer used transcripts of tapes for the dialogue and wrote in a novelistic style. An excerpt from Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is included as an example of the writer’s determination to reproduce the techniques of the novel in non-fiction. Wolfe notes that Capote probably had enough information to use point of view in a sophisticated way but was not ready to let himself go in nonfiction the way he did in his novels. It’s a compelling true-crime classic.  Wolfe first encountered the technique of New Journalism in a 1962 feature in Esquire magazine:

“My instinctive, defensive reaction was that the man had piped it, as the saying went … winged it, made up the dialogue … Christ, maybe he made up whole scenes, the unscruplous geek … The funny thing was, that was precisely the reaction that countless journalists and literary intellectuals would have over the next nine years as the New Journalism picked up momentum. The bastards are making it up !”

It is inevitable that a critic, who is unfamiliar with this technique, might have a similar response to Hood Rat.  I am extremely grateful therefore to the Irish novelist Michael Collins who wrote in the Literary Review:

“In its approach and style, Gavin Knight’s Hood Rat follows the New Journalism that revolutionised the form in the 60s. Suddenly reporters were bringing the techniques of fiction to broadsheet writing, and in the process experiencing the lives of the subjects they wrote about.”

Here is a film clip of one of the main subjects of the London section, talking about his life on the streets.


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