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