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Q&A with Jessie Childs, longlisted for 'God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England'

Q&A with Jessie Childs, longlisted for 'God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England'

Jessie Childs
Samuel Johnson Prize

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

I’m thrilled, astonished and grateful.

What research did you do for writing your book?

Over eight years, I immersed myself in a great deal of recusant scholarship. I trawled archives, big and small, and I crawled into a fair few priest-holes. Some manuscripts had been immured for centuries. The Tresham Papers, now in the British Library, were only discovered in 1828 by builders knocking through the wall of a house in the midlands. The letters of a Spanish noblewoman who came to England around the time of the Gunpowder plot were a revelation, not least because she’s fabulously rude about everything and everyone around her. At Stonyhurst in Lancashire, I found myself eyeball to eyeball with the relic of a priest executed in 1606. And I spent a lot of time thinking, almost anthropologically, trying to peel back the layers of these faithful, sixteenth-century lives.

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

I’m pretty sanguine. Non-fiction is an umbrella term and, by definition, a negative one, but there’s no reason why it can’t be as creative as fiction. I think the other books on this list prove that.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen - because of the beauty of the prose and the way it sang to me at a particular moment in my life.

What are you working on next?

I’m heading for the Civil Wars. I may be some time.


Jessie Childs is the author of God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England (Bodley Head)


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