Barrister’s best…

Best books, favourite films, top tracks and an essential: Counsel invites barristers to share their cultural influences. In this issue, we talk to criminal barrister Tony Wyatt, who also writes as Tony Kent

Tell us about the books that have inspired you

The book that had the greatest influence on me is not the best I’ve read, but it changed my life. David Baldacci was a lawyer in Washington DC when he published his first novels and The Winner – which I read aged 18 – was fast-paced and gripping and exactly my kind of read. But it was the biography on the back page which had most impact on me. Until then I was torn between two careers. That bio made me realise I could be both a barrister and a writer (although the ‘writer’ part has taken a little longer than 18-year-old me might have expected!)

In terms of great books, my all-time favourite is Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Defying easy description, it reads like an insight into the mind of an unstable genius. Brilliantly written. Utterly original. Absolutely hilarious; it remains the only writing to make me burst into loud laughter on the Tube! The fact that life at the criminal Bar increasingly resembles life in the 256th Squadron is, of course, purely coincidental…

And any films you’ve found life-changing?

I still remember being asked during a pupillage interview: ‘What is your favourite film?’ Wanting to create a good impression, I lied and said The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a very good film, but not my favourite. The reaction I received was unexpected: all eyes thrown to the ceiling. It didn’t take any fine forensic skills to know it was a poor answer. A few chambers later, I was interviewed by 2 Bedford Row. The same question was asked. I bit the bullet and told the truth: ‘Superman I & II, watched back to back as one movie.’ I hastened to add the nostalgic explanation for this, which must have deflected the inevitable incredulity as they gave me a pupillage and then a tenancy.

Finally trusted to sit on pupillage interviews, I asked the same question and discovered that every single answer was indeed… The Shawshank Redemption! Seems it was the safe choice: obvious quality, universally liked, based around crime and punishment. The moral of the story: if you’re asked that question, even if Shawshank actually is your favourite, say something else!

We hear you were a champion boxer?

I was, yes, and I believe I owe boxing for much of my life. As a boy I lived and breathed the sport. Instead of going out and getting myself into trouble like so many others from my background – including my older brother, whose robbery trial as a teenager was where I watched the cross-examination that first made me aspire to a career at the Bar – I was training in the boxing club or fighting in the ring. I also later discovered that boxing earned me a pupillage interview; with so many applicants for four places, the committee looked for something that stood out in otherwise identikit applications. In my intake they found three such features: one of us was a boxer, one had been in the Israeli Army and the third had been a fire-eating barman.

What music do you listen to?

My musical tastes are the subject of much justified derision. If I have a musical inspiration it’s Bruce Springsteen; every book and script I write starts out with a Springsteen number as its working title. None of his songs, however, hits me like The Book of Love by Peter Gabriel. Quite simply, it’s the song to which my wife and I had our first dance at our wedding. And that puts it ahead of every other.

Are there any inspirational pieces of architecture that leave you speechless?

It must be St Peter’s Basilica. Literally awe-inspiring; the only building to leave me speechless. I made the mistake of visiting the Basilica before the Sistine Chapel, and as a result I couldn’t see what was so special about the latter. It takes something extraordinary to have that effect.

Finally, if you were stranded in the middle of a trial in Nowheresville, what’s the one piece of kit, luxury or comfort you can’t do without?

My laptop. Killer Intent took a long time to write, completed in spare moments between trials or during train journeys. My second novel – Marked for Death – took three months. The difference? A three-month trial in Bristol. Four nights a week in a hotel room provides the perfect, distraction-free opportunity to write. What a disaster it would be if I were stuck there without a laptop.

Tony Kent’s novel Killer Intent was published by Elliott & Thompson in January 2018. It opens with an apparently botched assassination attempt in Trafalgar Square and grows into a life or death chase across the Capital and into Ireland, as an intelligence agent, an ambitious journalist and a barrister with a secret past search for answers while fighting to stay alive.

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