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John Campbell on his book 'Roy Jenkins', longlisted for SJP 2014

John Campbell on his book 'Roy Jenkins', longlisted for SJP 2014

John Campbell
Samuel Johnson Prize
non-fiction

How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?

I’m naturally delighted, but aware that there are a lot of very good books on the list.

What research did you do for writing your book?

As well as all the publicly available sources – the National Archives, Labour Party and SDP archives, Hansard, newspapers and the papers of other political figures in the Bodleian, Churchill College, LSE and other libraries, plus a large number of interviews and conversations with family, friends and former colleagues and opponents  – I had exclusive use of Roy Jenkins’ own papers: a huge collection then still in the attic of his house in Oxfordshire where I was privileged to spend a lot of time, sometimes on my own, thanks to the generosity of Dame Jennifer Jenkins. One time I even slept in his bed - and a biographer can’t get much closer to his subject than that!  

How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?

I think the status of non-fiction and history in particular is very high, with an amazing number of wonderful books coming out all the time. Personally I am frequently disappointed by much-hyped contemporary novels and feel that non-fiction is often more rewarding: truth is usually more extraordinary than fiction.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?

An impossible question: I cannot name a single favourite. But I am currently reading Jenny Uglow’s biography of Hogarth which is certainly one of the greatest biographies I have ever read.

What are you working on next?

I don’t know. At present I am still promoting my Roy Jenkins biography and in no hurry to embark on another big book. But you never know what will turn up next year. I am still trying to turn one of my previous books, the story of Lloyd George and his secretary/mistress Frances Stevenson into a TV or film script. 

 

Jonh Campbell is the author of Roy Jenkins (Jonathan Cape)

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