Q&A with Lucy Hughes-Hallett, author of 'The Pike'
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
What research did you do for writing your book?
Years of reading. D’Annunzio’s works fill 48 volumes and besides he always had a notebook in his pocket, and scribbled so much in it that it’s possible to know his most fleeting impressions as well as his inmost thoughts. It was crazy to undertake a book for which all the research materials were in another language, but a pleasure to have a reason for frequent visits to Italy. Because d’Annunzio was nearly always in flight from his creditors, or from an aggrieved woman or two, he had many homes, and because he had a genius for living on nothing a year they were all in beautiful places.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
There’s no reason why a biography or history shouldn’t be as formally inventive and as exciting to read as a novel. I welcome many recent books which have defined the conventional limitations of their various genres, and I’m glad that the reading public welcomes them so enthusiastically.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Impossible question, but Plutarch’s Parallel Lives is where it all begins. Plutarch is not afraid to acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a definitive version of historical truth. For all that, he’s a diligent researcher and scrupulously tells us when he’s passing on an unlikely story. Best of all, he’s a brilliant conjuror-up of characters.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a book about two walls, one built around a deer-park in Oxfordshire at the end of the 17th century, the other the infamous one which sprang up overnight in Berlin in 1961. It’ll be my first novel.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of The Pike, (4th Estate)