Q&A with Douglas Hurd and Edward Young
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Great – not least as we think that we may be both the oldest and the youngest authors on the longlist, with over fifty years between us.
What research did you do for writing your book?
We were lucky really because the majority of Disraeli’s papers are on loan from the National Trust to Oxford University, so we spent quite a lot of time down in the basement that houses the archive. One of the discoveries we made there was Disraeli’s bookseller invoices from the 1850s and 1860s – intriguing documents which show how fascinated Disraeli was by race and religion. To add spice to the mix, we made several trips to Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire. One of the amusing books we read there was an early biography of Disraeli which Gladstone had graffitied with angry notes of protest in the margins.
Meanwhile, in Canada, a team of scholars have steadily been assembling detailed editions of Disraeli’s letters; this year, they published Volume 9. These letters make for hilarious reading and were a great encouragement to our enterprise. Between the two of us we also read all of Disraeli’s novels. These vary hugely in quality but we felt rather pleased with ourselves to have achieved the feat.
We also built on the sturdy work carried out by Robert Blake in his 1966 biography of Disraeli and by Monypenny & Buckle in their original six-volume monograph. Ours is a different kind of book to these biographies – we’re as interested in the myth of Disraeli as the man – but they gave us a firm foundation for all our research.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
It’s booming. There seem to be literary festivals, book clubs and lecture series popping up all over the country. In particular, there seems to be a revived interest in history which can only be a good thing.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Douglas: Curzon by David Gilmour. It’s got it all: intelligent, well-written, and not too long.
Ed: The Culture of Power and the Power of Culture by Tim Blanning. Changed the way I thought about history, plus Blanning was an inspirational teacher at Cambridge.
What are you working on next?
We’ve been working as literary partners for almost nine years now; Disraeli is the third in a little trilogy of political histories which began with Douglas’s life of Robert Peel. It’s been great fun, hard work, and we’ve learned a huge amount.
This is the last book we’ll do together as a duet, but Ed is now considering ideas for his first solo performance.
Douglas Hurd and Edward Young are the authors of Disraeli (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)