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Ben Judah interview

Ben Judah interview

The Baillie Gifford Prize 2016 longlist

Ben Judah tells us he’s excited to be longlisted for This is London and that he wanted to write a foreign correspondent’s book about home. 

This is part of our series of longlisted author interviews. 

What does it feel like to be longlisted?

I felt surprised, humbled, and if I’m going to be honest – excited.

How did you research for your book?  

I slept rough with Roma beggars, worked on Polish building sites, lived in Romanian doss houses and wormed my way into the circles of Russian oligarchs. I spent weeks circling the A406 in a beat-up Ford KA trying to get myself lost in every postcode. I must have sat down to record the stories of hundreds of people, Londoners born in over a hundred countries – only a handful of which are in this book.

Which non-fiction authors do you admire?  

British non-fiction today has the stamp of the New Yorker all over it but I don’t feel what Christopher Hitchens used to call the ‘gravitational pull of the great American planet’. I wish I could write like the Italian, French and Polish masters of reportage. I was bewitched as a teenager by Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt and read, re-read and underlined Jacek Hugo-Bader and Ryszard Kapuściński. Nothing British or American compares to the Polish school of reportage or Limonov by France’s Emmanuel Carrère.

What are you working on next?  

After London, the only book I wanted to write next was about Britain. 

In an interview with The Guardian you said: ‘I have to see everything for myself…I don’t trust statistics’. How did you achieve this with This is London?

I worked as a foreign correspondent in Russia. Shuttling back and forth across those vast expanses I met inebriated gangsters, crooked officials and the occasional saintly figure. Doing this made me realise that the foreign correspondent isn’t just an increasingly rare job it is also a literary style. One where you give a voice to the poor and one whose whole point is to show the country is not what it seems. When I came back to Britain and started scrolling and opening the newspapers I found we didn’t write about our own country the same way. There were mostly polls and pundits – with the pundits getting bigger and bigger and bigger – crowding out real reporting and real voices. This is why I wanted to write a foreign correspondent’s book about home. 

 

 

Ben Judah

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