Find out more about longlisted author Harriet Tuckey
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
It was so unexpected it feels like a dream. I am overjoyed that Griffith Pugh has escaped from obscurity and found his way onto this distinguished longlist.
What research did you do for writing your book?
If he had lived my father would have been 94 when I began researching his life, so my first worry was to try to interview his surviving friends and colleagues before it was too late.
I tracked down nearly 80 people including the eight surviving members of the Everest team (all but one have since died), as well as Olympic athletes, professors of respiratory and high-altitude medicine and exercise and sports physiology, former colleagues, and the few surviving friends and relations of his generation.
I went all over the world to find them – New Zealand, America, Australia, Portugal, Switzerland and the length and breadth of the UK. I was taken aback by how enthusiastic and willing to help they were – how they felt that Griffith Pugh deserved a biography.
Only then did I move on to the archives. My father’s archive has ended up in San Diego. I went there with my husband. We took three weeks to photograph all the relevant papers and I came home with them on my computer.
After that I turned to the large archives of Everest papers at the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club – and many other archives, 15 in all, including the British Library, the National Archives at Kew, the Archives of the British Olympic Association, the Royal Society, the Imperial War Museum, the BBC Film Archive and so on and so on.
Then there were all the history books and academic papers that were required reading. Soon I couldn’t stop. I became completely absorbed by the thrill of chase – the delicious excitement, the heart-beating thrill of finding something you think no one has seen, or noticed, before.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
There seems to be a great thirst for knowledge of all kinds. I have often heard people say they have given up reading novels because there is so much to find out about the world and its people – true stories that are often just as extraordinary as fiction.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
I don’t have favourites. I like different books for different reasons, but there’s nothing better than a non-fiction book which completely overturns the accepted wisdom, the cosy cultural prejudices so many of us hold dear – for instance Correlli Barnett’s books in the 'Pride and Fall' sequence which seek to do exactly that.
What are you working on next?
Aha – it cannot be spoken of before I have secured permission to do it.
Harriet Tuckey is the author of Everest: The First Ascent (Rider Books)