Rónán Hession on the success of Leonard and Hungry Paul and his new book, Panenka

Two years ago a very special book came along that has warmed the hearts of many – and they got to enjoy and cherish it thanks to a small, independent Yorkshire publisher.

Rónán Hession whose second novel Panenka, published by Bluemoose, is out now. (Picture: Steve Langan).

Leonard and Hungry Paul was the debut novel from Irish writer Rónán Hession and was published in March 2019 by Hebden Bridge-based Bluemoose Books.

A beautiful story of friendship, family, ordinary lives and everyday kindness, it was a slow-burn word-of-mouth success, receiving much richly deserved acclaim from critics and readers alike. Its accolades include being selected for Dublin’s 2021 One City One Book, an annual month-long celebration of a book connected to the city. Hession has now joined previous literary luminaries such as Bram Stoker (for Dracula) and James Joyce (for Dubliners). Not bad for your debut novel.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Hession has been delighted by the response to the book. “It was a real surprise,” he says over the phone from Dublin. “I thought as a first-time author with a small publisher it would be a bit under the radar, but then a small number of people bought it every day. And then they were passing it on to others, which was very fitting for the type of book it was.”

Given its still growing reputation, with new readers discovering its unique magic all the time, Leonard and Hungry Paul is a tough act to follow, but Hession has produced a book that is equally affecting and notable with his new novel Panenka out this month, again published by Bluemoose.

It tells the story of a retired footballer in an unnamed small town who is haunted by a past mistake and is struggling to come to terms with news of a serious health condition. It differs subtly from Leonard and Hungry Paul but has the same quiet intensity.

For many years Hession was a successful songwriter under the name Mumblin’ Deaf Ro on the independent music scene in Ireland – he knows all about the notion of the ‘difficult second album’ and was mindful of falling into that particular trap. “I’m still very new to writing and I’m interested in developing as a writer,” he says.

“I felt that your second book has to be almost a statement about what kind of writer you are going to be. I knew I wanted to do something different from the first one so that people would get a sense that ‘we hope this writer will always surprise us’. I wanted to try to be inventive rather than delivering something that is comfortable.

"Creativity is a living thing – you have to treat it that way, and sustain and nourish it.” Hession has a demanding full-time job as a senior civil servant and writes in the evenings after his children have gone to bed. “I think it works because I try and integrate it all. Whether I am parenting or working or writing or with my friends, I don’t really shift gear, I’m always the same person.”

He is, however, taking a short break from writing. “It’s been a busy couple of years and I need to pace myself. I want each book to be coming from a slightly different place. I’ll be starting work on the next one, Ghost Mountain, in January.”

When Bluemoose publish it in 2024 there is certain to be a queue of readers lining up to get their hands on it.